March 17, 2008
Laredo Blueprint Demonstration Farm
The Laredo Blueprint Demonstration Farm, constructed in Laredo, Texas in 1990 by the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS). The Laredo Demonstration Farm was created for the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the community of Laredo, Texas. It employs a flexible building system designed to respond to farmers' changing needs due to climatic variation, market demand, and added value potential.
Located on the U.S.-Mexico border, the farm was conceived as a community-based demonstration of sustainable building, water, energy, food, and waste systems appropriate for semi-arid areas of Texas and the southwest. At the center of the project are five structures housing offices, classrooms, workrooms, and storage areas, which take shape from the way they harness climactic elements and from the materials used to build them. Surrounding the buildings are twenty acres of vegetable-growing area. A wind-generated electric system is used to pump water from the Rio Grande River for irrigation.
Reflecting a decade of political changes, the farm has experienced a complete transformation in use and purpose. It currently serves as the headquarters and environmental education center of the Rio Grande International Studies Center (RISC), a living museum representing the fauna and flora of the lower Rio Grande River valley and featuring a variety of specimens within a simulated river habitat for the public. Over 40,000 people, a majority from the local community, visit the RISC facility each year.
The project's design is based on a 30 by 30 foot grid cell system, a fundamental component of CMPBS' master planning approach based on the Plate Carre projection system. CMPBS incorporates this system into its planning projects because of its equal area and infinite grid procedures. The building is efficiently cooled using downdraft evaporative cooling towers modeled after those in the Mid-East, and is built with plastered straw bale walls, a folded sheet metal roof, and stabilized earth floors. The extensive shade system, a principal design element, is built over the grid, creating a 3-D environment enabling many plant and animal species to thrive at multiple elevations, and supporting a variety of farming activities. The envelope, consisting of light filter, plant trellises, variable shade cloth, and bird netting, becomes part of an integrated pest management system, as well as a micro-climatic environment suitable for plant growth in this semi-arid region. Beneficial insects are surrounded by a protective envelope and birds are kept in, as in an aviary. Additionally, the 3-D context becomes the basis for an input-output simulation process that can be analytically applied to the farm, through which major material and energy flows can be directed within the farm and connected to the adjacent urban environment.
The building system's success is reflected in the local community's embracing its inherent flexibility, as evidenced by the successful transformation from farm to the RISC office/educational center, and the adoption of several core design and construction principles as the site and facilities are expanded. These include the stuccoed straw bale walls, the shading system, and the pole-based structural grid. Today, the facility provides an opportunity for thousands of local school children to experience both the wonders of their local environment and the ability of design to provide a meaningful context.
Advanced Green Builder Demonstration
This demonstration project, which serves as our office and studio, links building design and construction to the central Texas region, integrating the supply and use of water, food, energy, waste, and material resources with local and regional businesses and utilities. At the building scale, it represents the best example of how our Eco-BalancePlanningTM methodology operates, reflecting the spatial footprints resulting from the life cycles of sustainable technologies incorporated in the project. These spatial planning footprints of technologies, coupled with those footprints reflecting human requirements, become the basis for the building's design.
The AGBD is designed as an open, flexible building system that can be modified to adapt to changing needs and working conditions while keeping the basic spatial life cycle footprints as efficient and site-dependent as possible. For example, all infill walls are removable (straw, unstabilized compressed earth block, recycled EPS, etc.), all partitions and work surfaces are adaptable, and even the kitchen is mobile. Sustainable design features include: climatic design and orientation, daylighting, rainwater harvesting, on-site wetland wastewater treatment, composting toilets, solar photovoltaic panels, straw bale and straw panel walls, caliche block, fly ash concrete, recycled content steel post and beam structure, and food-producing landscaping.
The Laredo Demonstration Farm is a great example of a successful sustainable system on a relatively small scale.
The farm serves as a model for how to efficiently use local resources as well as a model for a building system that can adapt to changes in use and purpose.
The CMPBS has several projects around the world that provide great examples for sustainable building systems and agriculture