February 21 2012

Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute: A Look Into Our Sustainable Future

cob cottagePickards Mountain Eco-Institute (PMI) should spark the interest of  Global Site Plans readers interested in all aspects of sustainable living. Essentially, PMI operates as a working  laboratory where new theories and ideas about sustainable farming and architecture are developed and taught to growing numbers of local residents and visitors. The site was originally purchased as a five hundred acre lot by Tim Toben in 1999. Most of the land within the original sale became protected forest land, however a portion of the site was developed into the Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute.

Part of the focus at Pickards Mountain is on developing sustainable architecture and creating models for retrofitting existing conventional housing. Volunteer Thomas Weikel described the building experiments being done as, “primarily focused on creating renewable, sustainable and also recyclable materials, and making examples of modified conventional housing.” Weikel notes that the aim is also to create appealing architecture for everyone, not just a person interested in green living.

As an ongoing project, Pickards Mountain has implemented different structures and strategies for green building. The main structure is powered by a joint system of solar panels and wind turbines. PMI houses volunteers in campsites using tents and yurts. Yurts, for the uninformed, are semi-permanent structures originating from central Asia. Early in 2011, volunteers at PMI began refurbishing an old house on the property with the help of a contractor using the latest advances in conventional green home building including lightweight modified concrete, structural insulated panels, and natural stains.

From an architectural standpoint, the most interesting bit of building going on is the continued development and experimentation with cob houses. Cob building uses clay mixed with straw and a few other materials to produce a sort of natural concrete. While producing a cob home is labor intensive, it is inexpensive, locally sourced and fire resistant. The first cob structure at PMI is a small residence for the gardmodern yurten manager and was built by a team of students and volunteers.

Pickards Mountain also exists as part of a larger urban planning model. Located eight miles outside of the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the dense efficiency of the city contrasts with the rural agriculture in outlying areas. Chapel Hill and its surrounding areas, including Pickards Mountain, is part of the transition town movement. This movement seeks to increase local resilience and lower the effects of climate change, peak oil, and possible economic instability.

How would you implement some of the developments made at Pickards Mountain in your daily life?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Jordan Meerdink

Jordan Meerdink, a former GSP blogger, is a graduate of the The Ohio State University. He holds a B.S. in Architecture with a minor in studio art. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Jordan inherited an early interest in mechanics and construction from his grandfather, a developer who was one of the early practitioners of prefabricated housing, and his father who is a retired store owner and highly capable D.I.Yer. Currently living in New York City, he continues to produce art and furniture with a focus on smart, ecologically responsible design. Jordan has a special concern for design that serves people outside the traditional clientele of architects, with an interest in architecture that deviates from the beaten path, ranging from Baroque churches to dismantled bomb shelters.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 at 8:06 pm and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Energy, Engineering, Environment, Environmental Design, Infrastructure, Land Use, Social/Demographics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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