Adaptive Re-Use—Living in a Learning Environment

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

By Garratt Hasenstab

Owners: Beth & Jim Masterson

Architect: Sullivan Goulette & Wilson –

Engineer: dbHMS –

Builder/ General Contractor: Crescent Rock –

The Masterson Residence, located at 735 West Willow St. in Lincoln Park, is a truly striking example of “Adaptive Reuse”—the greenest of green building practices. Projected for completion in February 2010, this charming brick building served a valuable purpose for close to a century as a schoolhouse for the local community. Now it will serve as a home for a family of seven as well as a model of green building and sustainable living.

The Masterson’s vision for this home’s design is driven by two guiding principles: family and sustainability. This 7,000+ square-foot, three-story home incorporates some of the most interesting and innovative green features, including geothermal wells that will keep the home at a comfortable temperature throughout the year. Their use of ten solar tubes brings daylight into even the deepest spaces of the home, and their strict salvage practice empowers them to re-utilize every bit possible of the existing wood and masonry in the construction of their new home.

Some of the other highly-innovative green features in this home include a solar chimney reaching from the bird’s-nest home office space on the roof all the way down to the basement, helping to alleviate unwanted heat in the summer. The home also includes the use of hydronic radiant heat throughout all of the floors and is incorporated into the laundry room in the form of radiant heat-coil drying racks, thereby eliminating the need for an energy-gluttonous clothes dryer. The home will also utilize five solar thermal panels for their water heating needs. The panels are placed on the areas of their green roof that aren’t occupied by skylights. The home also incorporates a super-zoned heating and cooling system (associated with the geothermal system) utilizing 12 heating zones and between three and four cooling zones. And my personal favorite feature: forget about central air conditioning—this home has central recycling!

When asked what inspired them to undertake such a project, owner Beth Masterson said, “Our decision-making has been guided by observing how our family lives and what makes the most sense for us.”
The Mastersons have grown weary of the tendency for their recyclables to pile up around their current house. Masterson continues, ”In the new house we are using a laundry-type recycling shoot that will send all recyclables to the central collection area in the basement where they can be sorted by the kids and taken to the Chicago Resource Center’s local drop off location.”

But on a more philosophical level, Beth explains their motivation as “setting the example for our children that their lifestyle and choices have an impact that can be felt around the world and within.”
Of course, the Mastersons are incorporating some of the more “standard” green features as well, such as the use of dual-flush toilets, bamboo plywood for all trim work and an Eco-Smart fireplace. The home also features Open-Cell (R19) spray foam insulation, concretious flooring, convenient bicycle storage and the use of LED and CFL lighting throughout.

In addition to the comprehensive sustainable measures the Mastersons have taken in the development of their new home, this project has been carefully planned around a very open, family-centric floor plan. For example, rather than boxing everyone in their own bedrooms, their five children will all have small bed-sized sleeping quarters which open into a large common area where they will share work and play space. The main living area is wide open, enabling free flow of family members from the kitchen and family room area into the music center and living room area. The floor plan is centered around the large clerestory fenestration/atrium/solar chimney that rises through the center of the three main floors.

The key factor in this project’s success is the synergy of the development team. Masterson said, “We’ve known our builders, Crescent Rock, for many years, and are acutely aware of their fine attention to detail, their infectious enthusiasm and their dedication to research and thinking outside the box (as well as keeping us on the straight and narrow, budget-wise. They introduced us to our architects at SGW who have created for us a modern and open layout exceeding our expectations, and thus far has been a fruitful and fun experience for all.”

Beth continues, “While Crescent Rock has been building homes for years with a sense of sustainability, I don’t think anyone on the team necessarily ‘specialized’ in green building at the start of the project. Common sense, dedication to change, and an eco-conscience is what has made our project worthwhile and doable.”

As in any shared undertaking, having a sense of common vision from the beginning is critical, especially when undertaking a project incorporating this magnitude of sustainability. For this project, the owners, builders, architects and engineers truly share a common vision and have been working together from the outset to cultivate that vision into a reality which will serve as a model of sustainable family living for the future.

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