Conscious Design Magazine

By Mary Kroul, PH.D.


Eco Architecture Design Works, PC

Janus Welton, CSBA, LEED AP BD+C, Architect


The Eco Architecture design charrettes were fascinating:  architect, engineer, materials specialist, green technology expert, lighting designer, cultural anthropologist, and so on,  you get the idea … perspectives clashing like waves at the shoreline.  The site:  a rocky cliff overlooking a broad valley, guaranteed to take your breath away.  The challenge:  a small right sized house that is a living ecosystem.  The result:  Aerie House, a showcase of sustainable practices inspired by eagles in flight; kite-shaped, perched with birdlike “feet” to minimally disturb its site.  Aerie House harvests its own water and energy and processes its own waste, but it also enhances the ambient beauty and imparts a sense of comfort to its occupants.

A self-contained structure and infrastructure, Aerie House sits on a foundation of steel helipiles to minimize disturbance of its environmentally sensitive site—it perches into the earth.  A shell of recycled-steel shipping containers adapts available resources and alters them to work in an evolutionary strategy.  The containers both nest and expand in a patterned modularity.
The modules form 400 SF of conditioned space and offer an additional 400 SF of livable outdoor and greenhouse space.  The shell is insulated and lined with nontoxic, natural materials of Hempcrete, MGO board and lime plaster, maintaining indoor air quality and modulating humidity.  The exterior,  locally sourced, echoes regional fabrication styles.  Life-friendly chemistry is further enhanced by living green walls and a green roof to give shade, filter greywater and clean the air.  The greenhouse produces edible vegetables and herbs.  The green walls, roof and surrounding plantings are drought-resistant native plants, absorbing runoff and also weathering dry periods.


Aerie House constantly adapts with a variety of versatile strategies.  It is entirely energy self-sufficient, extracting what it needs from its surroundings while processing its own waste.  Its two-story tower is a passive-solar chimney that uses no mechanical parts; its greenhouse is solar as well.  It has a solar photovoltaic electrical system with battery backup storage, a solar thermal collection system for hot water, and a unique solar water-heating system that operates without electricity, pumps or moving parts.  In fact, it requires only minimal mechanicals:  an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) and mini-split heat pumps.

Water harvesting is another adaptive strategy:  a roof rainwater collection system supplies all water needs, storing and filtering the water and obviating a well.  The greenhouse and green roof filter the greywater, which is then repurposed.  Excess greywater is diverted to feed a rain garden and passes through mulched swale.  A composting toilet eliminates black water, sludge, and any need for a septic system.  Compost produced on site becomes fertilizer for non-food plants.  In this way, biology and chemistry cycle to enhance the site.
Porches, decks, greenhouse and gardens enhance visual and functional space while simultaneously uniting that space as a whole.  This unity of in- and outdoors amplifies the biophilic quality of Aerie House.   LED lights trace porch perimeters and interior pathways, enlarging the perception of space, using only 25 watts.  LED lights accent the vertical stair of the tower, illuminating the handrails and treads with soft light, enhancing safety and beauty at 7 watts.  And there is no internal combustion to compromise the health of the indoor air.  This coalescence of adaptability, resource efficiency and beauty also unite to demonstrate the stringent standards of the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

In designing Aerie House, the team looked to the natural world as inspiration.  The structure is adaptive to the site, in its form and through the seasons and years as well.  Over time these functional strategies will mature into an even stronger bond.  But the concepts of Aerie House are not just site-specific; it is just a demonstration that the biomimetic approach to design produces a comfortable, functional, energy-efficient and beautiful home to enhance the lives of its occupants.


Design Concept

Aerie House literally breaks out of the box with innovative systems and materials to offer an inviting living experience.
Inspired by hang gliders and eagles in flight, it is kite-shaped, perched with birdlike “feet” on the rocky slope for minimal site disturbance.  Positioned for privacy, it exploits a spectacular viewshed.  Its form expands its sensory world.
Constructed of two overlapping shipping containers, the nexus of Aerie House is a glass solar chimney providing natural ventilation, light and open views from every room.
The use of industrial detritus in a creative and environmentally sensitive manner is intentional.  The exterior displays its recycled industrial origins; the cozy interior is lined with natural hempcrete and lime.
Aerie House mimics a living ecosystem. Its wingspread and solar greenhouse harvest all its water onsite and absorb all its energy from the sun. Aerie demonstrates how one can live comfortably in a compact, beautiful home, with a minimal carbon footprint.

  • Minimal site disturbance through self-contained structure and infrastructure
  • Foundation of steel helipiles to minimize site disturbance and the need for concrete
  • Use of drought-resistant native plants enhance the site

Water + Waste

  • 100% onsite water self-sufficiency
  • Roof rainwater collection system supplies all water needs, storing and filtering it, eliminating the need for a well
  • Greywater is collected and filtered through greenhouse and green roof plantings
  • Excess greywater diverted into an overflow drain to rain garden and mulched swale
  • Composting toilet eliminates black water, sludge, and the need for a septic system
  • Compost used on site for planting non-food plants



  • 100% onsite energy self-sufficiency
  • Super-insulated building envelope
  • Two-story tower is a passive solar chimney requiring no mechanical parts
  • Passive solar greenhouse
  • Solar photovoltaic electric system with battery backup storage
  • Solar thermal collection system for hot water
  • Unique solar water-heating system requiring no electricity, pump or moving parts
  • Minimal mechanicals: heat recovery ventilator (HRV), and mini-split heat pump

Materials + Health

  • Recycled steel shipping containers provide modularity, structural integrity and low cost
  • Nontoxic natural interior finish materials enhance air quality and modulate indoor humidity:  Hempcrete, MGO board and lime plaster
  • No combustion occurs within to compromise indoor air quality
  • Living green walls and roof provide shade, filter grey water, clean the air
  • Greenhouse for freshly harvested veggies and herbs

Beauty + Equity       

  • Biophilic greenhouse bridges the two wings, enhancing visual and functional space
  • Porches, decks and gardens enhance and expand conditioned space
  • LED steplights trace the porch perimeters and interior pathways, enlarging the interior space, for a mere 25 watts.
  • LED accent lighting illuminates the vertical stair tower, lighting both handrail and treads with a soft, visible column of light, at a mere 7 watts
  • Demonstrates the stringent Living Building Challenge (LBC) standards in a livable, beautiful, cost-effective home.


EcoArchitecture DesignWorks, PC  
                                 Team Members + Consultants:
Architect/Designer: Janus Welton, AIA, CSBA, LEED AP BD+C, Biomimicry Specialist                                         
Energy/Solar Consultant: John J. Lorino, LEED AP, CSBA
Structural Engineer: Lisa Wipplinger, PhD, PE, SE, LEED AP
Mechanical Engineer: Rich Peterec, retired PE, CSBA
Lighting Design: JoAnne Lindsley, FIALD, FIESNA
Green Infrastructure/Water Consultant: Gail Beverly, CSBA, LEED GA, GRP
Green Materials Sourcing: Amy Whitman, CSBA
Anthropologist/Linguist: Mary Kroul, PhD
3-D Modeling/Rendering: Andres Carter
Drafting: Kim Koeninger









Conscious Design Magazine