Developer advocates 'spiritual' approach to building
Sand fencing protects the beach on Dewees Island, and houses are set back
February 23, 1999
Web posted at: 5:27 p.m. EST (2227 GMT)
By CNN Interactive Editor Stephanie Siegel
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Homebuilders in the new millennium will need to abandon some of the wasteful and damaging practices common in the 20th century and return to the more resourceful and respectful ways of our ancestors, said John Knott, developer of Dewees Island.
"How we choose to design, build and develop is a statement about our value system and communicates to our children and grandchildren how we value them," he said. "We are social engineers whether we like it or not."
Knott spoke Monday at Greenprints '99: Sustainable Communities by Design, an annual conference presented by Georgia's state energy office and Southface Energy Institute, a 20-year-old nonprofit organization that educates builders and communities about energy and environment technology and policy.
The conference offered builders, architects and government officials a look at recent and developing models of land and tree conservation, walkable communities and energy-efficient construction technologies. But Knott warned against trusting in technologies.
"Technology is what got us where we are today," he said, in reference to urban sprawl and overuse of limited resources.
America has developed around the automobile. Making photovoltaic and geothermal technologies the new gods won't solve the problems, he said.
Passive solar construction lets the winter sun in and shades the summer sun out
"What is most important is growing sustainable cultures, not building sustainable developments or green buildings. We should be thinking in terms of serving our human community first," said Knott, who described himself as "a philosopher and builder."
"Development is not about sticks and bricks," he said. "I am a community developer that views my role as serving the five basic human needs -- economic, functional, aesthetic, social and spiritual."
Knott said people used to have a spiritual connection with the land they lived on. They ate the foods that grew locally, and their money and work supported their local economy.
"Effective stewardship requires us to rebuild our intuitive sense of integrating with the environment," he said.
Dewees Island, Knott's model upscale development near Charleston, South Carolina, landscapes with only native plants and employs a full-time naturalist to teach the children and adults about the plants and animals that share the island.
Sewage is treated through an innovative system on the island. Eventually an organic garden will provide food for an island restaurant.
From preservation of historic buildings, Knott and others have moved over the years to emphasize preservation of the Earth.
Only native plants are used in landscaping on Dewees Island
Sustainable construction is not New Age, not the latest trend and not going to go away, Knott said. Seventy years ago and more, everybody knew which way the wind blew, and which way windows should face to get the most sun (south, in the United States), and built their houses accordingly.
Knott reiterated a bedrock theme of the conference,
co-sponsored by Greater Atlanta Home Builders, Sierra Club, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and others. "Development and environment are natural allies," he said. "All this makes economic sense." Leaving old-growth trees enhances a property's value; building on a natural grade is cheaper than flattening it, he said.
At this point, only the high-end communities like Dewees Island have had the resources and political clout to demonstrate new -- or resurrected -- ideas on a large scale, he said; but a nonprofit organization, The Harmony Project, will share what he learned there for use in more affordable housing.
Other resource-efficient projects like New York's 4 Times Square office building, Atlanta's EarthCraft House and Village Habitat Design's cohousing conservation communities include such innovations as energy-efficient insulation, water and air filtration, or hydronic heating, aiming for healthy, nontoxic construction processes and buildings for humans and the environment.
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