TRCA/DX Archetype House Design

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Monica E. Kuhn, Architect Team Concept Home wins 3rd Prize, "Best Visual Presentation Award"

The award was presented at the Design Exchange Awards Gala Event on June 21st, 2006. Congratulations to everyone for their effort and dedication to Sustainable Housing.

Monica E. Kuhn Team Entry Description

This following "Adapt-Ability Insite" is a description of our winning entry into the TRCA/DX Archetype for the Living City, Sustainable House Competition of March 2006. Entries were invited to showcase the sustainable design possibilities as they apply to Suburban Housing. The winning entry had the opportunity to see their design built as a prototype at the Kortwright Centre, north of Toronto.


This design creates an adaptable home that can accommodate changes in family size, health and age over time in a diverse society where family takes many forms. Our base house is designed to allow for either a horizontal or vertical separation into two units with minimal renovation. Each unit maintains generous interior spaces, full daylighting and access to green space, without requiring costly changes to structure, mechanical systems or fire ratings. The result is a community that allows for both diversity and an increase in density, without ever changing its original footprint. Sustainability becomes an ecological, social and economic reality with the Adaptability Insite home.

Our project dispels the myth that “sustainable design” is a luxury few can afford. Sustainable design can be the universal standard, not the option or the upgrade. Design features ranging from the house’s orientation on the site (to maximize passive solar opportunities) to the finishes on the walls all protect the environment and help to improve human health. Base building materials include modular and prefabricated products which allow for ease of construction, mass production, deconstruction, and limited waste. All systems, assemblies and materials are selected for their low environmental impact, durability, positive affect on indoor air quality, aesthetic appeal, economics, and user friendliness.

This competition seeks to envision a “sustainable” subdivision that will sit comfortably at the intersection of environmental, economic, and social responsibility - a housing development for Southern Ontario that will exceed the needs and expectations of today’s home buyers, be built using standard construction practices, and minimize its impact on the site and its surroundings.

As Designers and Environmentalists, it would be easy to reject the suburb, but that would neither stop the sprawl, nor the cultural needs that drive it. Our approach, instead, is to accept the subdivision as a strategy for development, and turn it into “development with a positive impact.” The result: our design strategy regenerates the land, provides a healthy and flexible living environment for people of all ages and cultures, and is economically viable – both to build, and to maintain.

Through a thoughtful, integrated design process, which values the benefits of natural systems, our project demonstrates that it is possible to build a home that is beautiful and comfortable; a home that is connected to its environment and to the community; a home that costs no more, and yet is easier to operate than today’s standard; a home that is easily adaptable to the changing needs of a family over time; a home that is an asset, rather than a burden to future generations.


Water • runoff absorbed in vegetated or porous paver surfaces • rainwater reused in drip irrigation system • drought-tolerant plants reduce water need • overland drainage captured & filtered in bioswales with Living Walls

Microclimate • deciduous trees shade south side & paved surfaces • vines shade west glazing • green roof cools house & benefits regional climate • light colour paving reduces heat island effect

Wildlife Habitat • all gardens feature bird, butterfly habitat eg.fruiting hedge-row & ‘green spine’ forage planting • indigenous plant material used throughout

Low Maintenance • turf reinvented with Eco-Lawn fescue blend • drip-irrigation & mulched beds • decks & gates of no-maintenance recycled plastic lumber • Living Wall replaces board fence

Adaptability • design allows easy split into semi-detached • ramp & stairs allow two-level split with barrier-free ground floor

Family & Community • outdoor play, dining, recreation, composting, gardening areas featured • each lot contributes ‘easement’ land to ‘green spine’ communal pedestrian path

Sustainability means that a house should be no more complicated to maintain and service than today’s standard. Our Adaptability Insite home takes a low-tech, easy to live in approach so the homeowner’s work is even lighter than in a standard home. Our home is designed to reduce utility loads and take advantage of natural processes for heating, cooling and ventilation, through orientation and the use of highly efficient building envelopes and systems.

The Mechanical Core, running North / South through the house and the mechanical room below it, allows for the concentration of all pipes, ducts and vents in one central location in the house, with the ability to easily access, maintain and modify the systems as required. These systems include electrical panels, plumbing and heating manifolds, the heat recovery ventilator, the domestic hot water tank and the composting toilet tank. A filter and cistern at the South end collect rainwater for irrigation and greywater use and an earth tube below acts as a pre-heat and pre-cool for the HRV. Utilities and water are piped in from the CLUB.

The Circulation Core, running East / West through the house, contains operable windows at the top to bring day-lighting into the centre of the house and to allow for passive venting of warm air in the summer and recirculation of captured warm air in winter. This contains the stairs, as well as access to the rooftop garden and terrace.

The building envelope is designed to maximize insulation and decrease the need for heating and cooling. Insulated composite blocks, structural insulated panels, vegetated roofs and triple glazed windows with insulated fibreglass frames, in combination with other sustainable building materials, create assemblies that consistently surpass OBC thermal requirements by min. 50%.

Upgrades to the mechanical system include a wood stove for back-up heating, photovoltaics to be installed on guardrails and sunshades for additional electricity and a living wall in the Circulation Core to increase air filtration and humidity.

Beautiful, bright, airy and comfortable, the Adaptability Insite home is a dependable anchor with a flexible layout for your growing, changing family.

Our development strategy takes the burden off the municipal grid & gives back through “communal infrastructure servicing”.  A Combined Local Utilities Building (CLUB) is centrally located in the community, within a park-like setting. This CLUB supplies each of the 29 individual homes with drinking water, hot water through ground source heating and solar panels, electricity produced by a series of wind turbines (with back-up from Ontario Hydro), and waste water treatment with a Living Machine.   As individual homeowners start installing their own photovoltaics, excess electricity will be sold back to Ontario Hydro.

The money usually spent by a developer to connect to the grid is redirected to the construction of the CLUB.  The CLUB is maintained either by the municipality, a private energy supplier / micro-utility on contract, or a Co-operative.  The CLUB sells its utilities, at controlled prices, to the individual homeowners, who experience no change from the standard method of supply and payment.   The CLUB also handles snow removal, landscaping of public greenspaces, and the removal of blackwater from home composting toilet tanks.  The Municipality continues to supply fire hydrants.

The CLUB location is designed as a focus for the community – not only as the known source of the services that keep their homes functioning, but also as a vital social node. The Living Machine, with its greenhouse full of plants and aquatic life, becomes a warm destination in winter months, and is connected to a café.  Plants grown in the tanks can be sold at a weekly market, along with locally grown produce from the surrounding area.  Outside, the site includes a bus stop, a car-share pickup and drop-off spot, visitor and overflow parking, mailboxes, a courier pick up, a public phone, and a public playground.  When the density increases - as we have assumed it will - or if the subdivision grows, then the CLUB can expand to house more services such as a convenience store, a communal room, a photocopier, a daycare, a lending library, and a laundry facility.

Ground Floor Plan Description (to supplement the floor plan image)


  • Sunspace controls heat gain
  • Structural insulated panel wall system for prefabrication & ease of installation
  • High & low operating windows for air circulation
  • Locally available / manufactured concrete floor provides thermal mass
  • Reclaimed maple flooring, locally harvested and manufactured
  • FSC certified, no added formaldehyde, recycled content cabinetr
  • Certified forest paper-based and concrete countertops with no added formaldehyde
  • Energy star appliances
  • Passive, low power fume hood with activated carbon filter
  • Flexible use carport/covered terrace
  • Exterior storage cabinet for waste and recycling
  • Reclaimed brick on front façade
  • Permanent access ramp for universal design

Competition Team was made up of the following participants:

Monica E. Kuhn, Architect
Monica Kuhn, Member OAA
Eric Tomas, Intern Architect
Adam Trotter, Intern Architect

Landscape Architect:
Martin Wade Landscape Architects Limited
Martin Wade Landscape Architects Ltd
Martin Wade, OALA, Principal
Nancy Chater, OALA Associate Member

Mechanical & Environmental Engineers:
Sustainable EDGE Inc
Sustainable Edge

Mario Kani, P.Eng
Cara Sloat, Designer
(416) 477-2625

Interior Design Consultant:
Jo-Anne McCarthy
(705) 801-5077 ph

3-Dimensional Developments
Carmen DiSantis @ (905) 738-8142 ph.

Dan Malka, University of Waterloo School of Architecture

The Team Would Like to Acknowledge and Thank the Following People:

Don Noble; Greensaver for EnerGuide & Energy Efficiency Rating

Ronghui Li, Illustrator for the Concept House -

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