What We Do
At the turn of the millennium, we committed our practice to sustainable design. Since that time we have been making buildings with a smaller carbon footprint, filled with non-toxic, recycled materials. They are comfortable and durable. Today all of our new work is built to the Passive House level, using only 15-20% of the heating and cooling energy of a code-built structure.
Our goal is to create housing, built with proportion and care, which supports the health of its occupants as well as that of the larger environment.
Future-proofing is built in
The homes we build will be around for a long time. During their lifespan styles will change, the climate will change, technologies will change, and systems will need to be replaced. Accepting this change affects every aspect of how we design.
- In regard to style, we avoid fads and what is hot in selling the magazines of any particular year.
- In regard to construction, energy efficiency and durability are baked into the building envelope for greater resilience in a harsher climate. All are airtight, heavily insulated, and thermal-bridge free, with interior and exterior finishes that can be changed or updated over time.
- In regard to technology, we try to anticipate the major changes coming in terms of how we heat and cool and ventilate, and in how we power our buildings. Ten years from now a distributed electrical grid will be a reality, powered by distant sources as well as on-site solar. Sheer economics will drive buildings to become virtual power plants, with onsite building-integrated photovoltaics, participating in a transactive energy grid.
- In regard to systems, we realize that all systems eventually must be replaced. Our goal is to understand the life-span of the various systems that make up a structure and ensure that replacement of a spent system has minimal impact on associated functioning systems.
In each project we make an effort to fit the new element to its larger environment. This may mean a new room to its house, a new house to its neighborhood, or a country house to its landscape. Whatever the scale, the relationship between the part and the whole is critical. At the turn of the millennium we started taking these ideas about context to the logical next step to consider the implications of what we build in relationship to the larger environment. Today environmental responsibility is built into all of our work.
We see the design process as a collaboration between owner, architect and builder. Its success depends upon each bringing his or her essential knowledge to the effort. This is particularly important in building affordable high-performance buildings. After defining program requirements and budget, the process continues with a review of alternative approaches, laid out in diagrammatic sketches, along with a preliminary budget. Pros and cons are evaluated with the owner, and a general design strategy and firm budget emerge. From that point forward, increasingly specific decisions are considered and incorporated into the drawings and specifications. The contractor is brought into the process as early as possible for his input on budget and construction details.
Surprises come in three flavors: construction, design, and cost. All these surprises have one common denominator: bad communication.
We minimize construction surprises by careful detailing of all conditions that are unusual or could cause confusion. We essentially build the building in our drawings, three-dimensionally using BIM software, integrating all the pieces that will go into it, from cabinetry and trim to structural, electrical and mechanical systems. Most potential construction problems are revealed and solved during this process. We recently asked a contractor if our clients saved money because our drawings are so thorough in comparision with what contractors usually see. The answer was no—that the end product costs what it costs. But what clients like, he said, is that change orders are rare during the construction of our projects.
We minimize design surprises by communicating as much visual information as possible to our client, and involving our client in all of the design decisions. We understand that not every client can visualize a space or a building from two-dimensional drawings, so we use three-dimensional drawings and models to further explain a design. These can be as simple as an exterior perspective sketch, or as elaborate as computer-generated “walk-through.” Not only do these help our clients better see what they are getting, but they inform us about issues of scale and proportion, and invariably lead to the kind of tweaking that improves the final product.
Finally, we minimize cost surprises by using realistic square footage cost figures, based upon recently completed projects, for our early estimates. Once the basic design is laid out, but before working drawings have begun, a contractor — either a future bidder or the contractor the owner has already selected — is brought into the process for input on project costs. Our client thus confronts the hard issue of reconciling “wants” with budget realities early rather than late in the process. The design is then tailored accordingly before the big investment in construction documents has begun.
Much of the work we do is by reference. People come to us because we have high standards for design and execution, and they expect that from us. In turn, in everything we design, we design as if it is we were to live in it. Because of the kind of clientele we serve and the approach we take, the product is usually something we can all be proud of. Client and contractor references are available upon request.
GREEN is a hot topic, and so has become merchandised, advertised and sold. It’s the latest way to make money by selling us things. But becoming green should really be a subtractive process; the only thing to be added is a mental attitude that sees the reality of the world and acts accordingly, in big and small ways, most of which do not involve buying things. It requires making changes: to choose a smaller car; to walk or ride a bike; to live in a smaller house closer to work; to use less energy in that house. A green house is not an exurban mansion with 6,000 square feet of bamboo flooring, solar panels on the roof, and a Tesla in the driveway. A green house is one where every decision is considered thoughtfully and in a larger context. The result is a smaller, efficient home that brings your everyday life into harmony with your convictions.
DESIGN is what architects do, and green design simply adds one more set of concerns to the usual ones of siting, budget and program. With green design, every decision is subjected to the standards of green building. Design itself is a process of integrating all aspects of a structure with an eye to beauty, harmony, and proportion. Design is also a distillation process: initial grand ideas often become more modest in light of budget and other realities, but good design can give you everything you need in a smaller structure. Good design is often nearly invisible: your new kitchen or deck can seem so right that you forget it hasn’t always been there. Good design is a process of solving problems using knowledge, imagination and an aesthetic sense, so that your environment reflects your life and makes it easier. Green design gives you a home that reflects, as well, your desire to live responsibly on the earth.
“We couldn’t be happier each time we walk into our new home. Not only is it beautifully designed and finished, but it always feels welcoming. Environmental comfort has been one the best surprises of the house—we are always more comfortable here with our thermostats set in the mid-60s than we were in our last house with the thermostat set to 72! And the utility bills have been less than half the cost of our previous, similarly-sized home. Perhaps most of all, living in alignment with our beliefs in preserving and protecting the natural environment is the best part of the house for us, something we are thrilled to share with our children in our everyday lives. From the high efficiency HVAC/ERV systems to the LED lighting, to the use of reclaimed and renewable sources of materials throughout the house, we’re proud to call it our home.” —I.K., Bethesda, MD, owner of our first Passive House
“We could not more highly recommend Peabody Architects. They quickly honed in on our vision and delivered plans that exceeded our expectations, while staying within our construction budget and demonstrating an astounding attention to detail. In addition, Peabody Architects are veterans with green building—in our case, they helped us build less while using cost-effective, energy-efficient techniques. ” —J.L. Fairfax, VA
“It has been a pleasure working with you. We love our beautiful, open, comfortable, ‘new’ house. Thank you for advancing our green education.” —K.B. Annandale, VA
“You don’t really notice that it’s green. It’s environmentally friendly from a heating and water perspective, but the cool part is, it’s like a regular, really nice house.” —P.P., Arlington, VA
“We love our renovation. We expected the southern view and the low monthly energy bills. We didn’t expect it to be so quiet—our neighbors are jealous.” —L.P., Lake Barcroft, VA
“As I review the plans, I feel compelled to mention the unusual level of attention to detail…energy efficiency was obviously a consideration at each step of the design. Every detail seems to have been covered. It’s not something we see often; it will make this an efficient and comfortable house to live in.” —David Bone, LEED Rater