Common House

The Common House will be at the center of the community – physically, socially, and functionally as well. It will hum with constant activity in several quite different multi-use spaces, as members gather for all manner of social activities, suite-dwellers cook meals in the kitchen, together or side-by-side, while groups of friends or teenagers hang out at the big family-style kitchen table, work on laptops or argue about cabbages and kings in the cafe, small kids play in a flexible space just off the lobby, while some of us just do our laundry and read the paper in the laundry area. On one side will be a quiet space alongside two guest rooms – also usable for meetings or study when not in use by guests –  while on the other side of the building will be our large multi-use space, meant for everything from regular large-group dining to full community meetings, opening out onto a large screened porch in turn, with an outdoor kitchen just past its edge as well.

Here is a the current floor plan for the Common House (zoom in to see it better in detail):

This and all drawings on this page are by Jonathan Lucas, our architect, of What on Earth Architecture in Asheville.

Here are some things to note. First and most notable may be “the Wheelhouse”, the big circular structure on the southwest side. We envision this as a story-and-a half tower (see images below) enclosing a lofty round space of about 20+ feet in diameter, with a multitude of different uses, from yoga sessions to Circle meetings –  what better shape of room for our sociocratic circles to meet, after all? Wheelhouse walls, we hope, will be especially thick and earthen. In the multi-use space across the lobby, tables may be set up as shown for meals, but they can also be stowed and the space filled with up to 65 chairs, in many different configurations. Or the floor may be cleared for square or salsa dancers, or artists painting huge posters on the floor, or… who knows? Note the cafe in the SE corner, with a double-sided fireplace that also can warm porch-users (where the tables can be moved or removed too) on cool spring nights or blustery autumn days. The kitchen is meant to be ample and inviting and is meant to allow the ready preparation of meals for the whole community as needed but also to offer separate stations for individuals or families cooking on their own. On the kitchen’s west side, as mentioned above, we envision a family-style kitchen table that can serve for everything from food prep to small crafts or kids’ homework area. (This is actually a “dream kitchen” – it started with an actual dream – ask us for the story if you’ve not heard it yet.) The stairs on the NE corner descend to a partial basement under the kitchen that will serve as a root cellar, for further storage, and also house water heater and other utilities.

Now – everyone’s big question – what is this thing going to look like? Here’s how the Common House could look from each side:

About now you’ll probably be wondering what is that spiral structure on top of the round tower on the left-hand side. It is a vertical axis windmill! Think of it as a sculptural but moving and functional element, merrily spinning away as you approach the building, flashing a bit in the sun and powering some of the building’s lights inside when needed.

Meanwhile… as to the rest of the facade… we like the strong horizontal feeling that mirrors the style of the residences. Clerestory windows will bring light into the middle of the building. There are multiple access points to the outside on the south side (Jonathan’s suggestion is that this reflects the openness and variety of a community of diverse paths, rather than one single official entrance; on the north side there is a single entrance, more muted and facing the parking area). We need to note that finishes and colors are by no means decided at this point, but the aesthetic presented is our best guess at a sort of earthy but slightly jaunty look that the community might settle on.

Greener Together

Like all of our structures, the Common House will be built to high performance standards. We expect it to be very well insulated, for example, and it is carefully positioned to make use of southern sun for heating and lighting without overheating in the summer. On the roof are photovoltaics (solar cells) that help power the building. Appliances will be efficient and require minimal water. The building will open readily to breezes and offers permeable boundaries between inside and out. Again, specific materials are not yet determined, but we hope to make major use of on-site or local wood and clay and draw on local alternative-building experts.

However, the most significant “green” feature of the Common House is not actually a feature of the building per se, but rather of its function in the larger community. By offering a large kitchen, meeting spaces, guest rooms, and laundry facilities, the Common House will enable individual and family dwellings to be much smaller than most of us would expect or require otherwise. With such an inviting and functional Common House, every individual dwelling will not need a large kitchen or dining area, or guest rooms, or even its own laundry space (though that can still be an option). All of this can be provided better and at much less total cost in a single, well-equipped, high-quality shared facility. Total cost is therefore greatly reduced, and so too is the ecological impact or “footprint” (literally too) of the village as a whole.

That’s the key thing: we are looking at the whole. “Green” is not necessarily a matter of living the same way we do now except with lower-impact appliances and the like. Something more radical is afoot here. We’re “greener together”. The aim is to design the whole village differently to enable a mutually-reliant and dramatically more socially as well as ecologically considerate way of life.

Design Process

Here are  few notes on the process of Common House design up to this point. General desires and needed functions were developed through community process during our first attempt at Common House design. Substantial feedback was added from an ad hoc “Common House Noodling Group” of interested members who responded to the call for some lengthy updating of the Common House program in January 2019. Multiple discussions with General Circle followed and the current Design Program consented — you can find a copy here. Iterative work with Jonathan produced further adjustments. PDD worked extensively with Jonathan through 2019 to develop kitchen designs – aided by another ad hoc design group over the summer – and integrate the entire building design.

And…  this is still only a schematic design, meaning that it may change substantially before we enter into the next phase of design development. Indeed, if we build the village in phases, the Common House will not be in the first phase, so that by the time we come back to it to take the design farther, some of us will already be living in the village, and we will probably have learned a great deal more about our needs in a Common House than we know now. The schematic stage is a good stage to stop at for now. This also means, as we said above, that specific choices about materials, construction techniques, finishes, and the like are not yet made, and they too may be affected by new learning – new possibilities are continually coming on line – and by the passage of time.

Think of this not as a finished product, then, but as a clear visualization of our best imagining of the Common House at this time – an attempt to capture the spirit of the community, as well as plan to meet its many functional needs, in one very special future building. Please consider also that this means that the planning process is very much open to member feedback. Feel very welcome to share your reactions and thoughts about the Common House and about these designs with members of PDD.