Collaborating for the future in Savannah

“You don’t have to eliminate affordable housing from a historic district and you certainly don’t have to eliminate LEED from affordable housing or from a historically appropriate house,” says Virginia Brown, executive director of Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity in Savannah, Georgia.

Coastal Empire Habitat is partnering with the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Historic Savannah Foundation to prove exactly that. The U.S. Green Building Council is joining in to help make this Coastal Empire Habitat’s first LEED certified home.

The plan is to build an infill home on a vacant property in Savannah’s Cuyler-Brownville neighborhood, which is a National Register Historic District dating back to the late 1880s. Beginning in March, students in SCAD’s historical preservation program thoroughly researched and documented the neighborhood’s history and guidelines for building.

That documentation — along with input from Coastal Empire Habitat, the Historic Savannah Foundation and the U.S. Green Building Council — served as the basis for a two-day design charette. During the charette, SCAD architecture students created three design plans. A professional architect used elements from all three to develop the final plan for the home.

Fortunately, the lot where the house will be built is within walking distance of SCAD, making it very easy for students to be involved throughout the entire project. The project provides opportunities for students in multiple programs to get real-world experience in working together. “The future is the city, and we are seeking new ways for diverse teams to collaborate,” says Christian Sottile, dean of the SCAD School of Building Arts.

Brown looks forward to seeing just how many groups end up collaborating on the home, which they hope to begin building in early 2014. “My big goal is to have this worldwide audience come to our doorstep in October 2014 for the national conference of the National Trust of Historic Preservation and have them think, ‘I can do that. I’m going to go back to my home city and partner with my Habitat because I saw that they can do it in Savannah, so we can do it, too,’” she says.

“That’s what I really hope happens. I hope this is a catalyst for Habitats all over the country.”

Megan Frank