Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, California | Leading By Design

Lance Charles

Environmental Design '98

Building “The Hybrid You Can Live In” With the WholEarth System

Lance Charles has a vision for the sustainable future, and he's making it happenright now. His company, WholEarth Development Corporation, builds sustainable models in what he says are the five ingredients necessary for long-term sustainability: housing, water, food, energy and occupation.

“It's not just about the house,” says Charles. “It's about how the house functions as a whole system.” With that in mind, Charles has built four model homes, two in Simi Valley, and two in 29 Palms, also where his lab is located. Wherever possible, the houses are built with local materials, thus reducing energy inefficiency in the building process. Water purification and re-use systems are designed into the house, as are organic gardens, with rooftop plots providing extra insulation. The houses run entirely on solar and wind power, and they're designed for the owner to work in the hometherefore spending less time (and energy) on the road.

“I want to create a new LEED standard for residential building, called LEED Emerald,” says Charles, referring to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, which currently applies only to commercial and institutional building projects. “The Emerald standard would include all five elements of the WholEarth system.”

With its bold colors and mid-century modern design, Charles' first house in 29 Palms is also stunning to look at. That might be due to Charles' unique training. He earned a B.A. in Fine Art at UCSB before going to work as a journeyman construction worker and contractor. When he decided to bring his fine arts and construction skills together, Charles returned to school to earn a B.S. in Environmental Design at Art Center, which he finished in 1998. It was at Art Center that he realized the potential for sustainable home design. “I met all these great peopleSteve Diskin, J. Baldwin, Gloria Kondrup, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Instituteand they really opened my eyes to the possibilities of sustainability in building.”

WholEarth Builder came out of that experience. “I want to design these houses as beautiful little self-sustaining packages,” he says. The affordability of those packages is paramount. Charles is currently building small houses made from local natural resources for about $5,000 each. He hopes more people will take him up on his patented WholEarth system as they build or renovate their homes. “Energy efficiency is less expensive than trying to save energy,” he says. The key, says Charles, is to keep it simple.

“You ask yourself at every stage, 'Is this good or bad for the Earth? For Humanity?' And, if it's bad, then that's not a viable solution.” Charles sees Art Center as an important touch point for the future of sustainability. “Art Center can lead the way toward sustainable living,” he says. “They have the resources and the talent to do so.”

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