The idea of home has always been centered around the Hearth–it is where we nurtured our soul and our body.

After World War II we began to modernize our world, communications improved, transportation got faster, our food got safer–and architecture became international. We began to use technology to modify our world in ways we had never dreamed of. Some innovations can be said to have improved our civilized existence greatly; others, have been proven to have diminished our very existence.


In the decades following the war, the food industry began to modify and improve our food so that food could transport easier and have a longer shelf life. Food was pasteurized, bleached, and chemically modified with additives and preservatives and then packaged and branded. Most foods, such as bread, lost all of their nutritional value. We then “fortified” it artificially, and the “fortification” became the brand. The food industry was set on capitalizing on market growth by destroying our food culture and addicting us to a life of processed food.

food-velveeta-family 0d9fc1e6e19918ca5d01482b3963723d

Most of us grew up eating and drinking things that we would never now feed our children, given the un-natural and un-nutritional make up of the food we had consumed in our youth. Foods like Tang, American cheese, Vienna sausages, white bread and Captain Crunch filled our pantries. Did any of us even realize when our drinks became sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup instead of real sugar? Suddenly, we faced new and challenging food related health issues, both on a private and public level.


Americans now spend less time in the kitchen cooking then any other country.

Today, we are too educated to simply eat and drink what we are sold. We eat non-GMO foods, drink water instead of soda and go to the farmer’s market on Saturday. The hippest restaurants have bi-passed the system in order to resource their produce from local farms and their meat and cheeses from free-range animals. Even supermarkets know the value of “Eat Local”.  Most recently, after a consistent downward trend in their stock, McDonalds announced that it would remove all artificial additives from their food and all high-fructose corn syrup from their buns.


With real food, we have rediscovered the basic elements of what it means to be human- that which is inherent to the evolution of our DNA. It isn’t just back to basics- it is actually back to who we are deep within. Whether or not you live in Mumbai, Paris, Egypt or New Orleans, what we eat is who we have become.


Primo, a farm to table restaurant in Maine

Like our ability to harvest natural and traditionally nutritious foods, our ability to build naturally is essential to what made us human–it is what allowed us to evolve beyond all other species. For millennia the food we ate and the buildings we built represented who we were as a people. We built buildings from the resources available from the land and we built our buildings to protect us and connect us to the environments in which we live–and in this way, we adapted to the world around us and created a common bond as a people. We lived naturally and buildings nurtured us with their warmth and with their culturally meaningful beauty.


If we have come to know what “real” food is, why then, do we continue to believe that buildings can be packaged and sold for mass consumption?


Just as in food, buildings have now been packaged by the big corporations.  Home builders today are large corporations thousands of miles from the locations in which they build. They have no interests in the cities, neighborhoods or people that they build for- their only focus on density per acre and profit share. What happens outside the gates of their developments is not their problem, or even in their interests. Therefore, our cities have uncontrolled suburban sprawl that our infrastructure (infrastructure taxed to the people) cannot sustain. Corporate building  has permanently changed the culture of our communities and the way in which we build.


In the US architecture is a cottage industry made up of primarily 1-2 man firms focused on domestic architecture, however the American Institute of Architects is dominated by large corporate firms; thousand-man architectural firms that are tightly associated with the building materials industry make up the funding, and hence, the policies of the organization. The AIA has no interest in cultural continuity. Their social contribution has been “innovation” and the “Green” brand, in which AIA members are required to become educated, requiring so many learning units per year on the subject. Who provides the courses that earn the learning units required? Why, the corporations providing the “green” technology and materials, of course.


An typical modern urban infill apartment irrespective of its cultural context. This project in historic Charleston won the Builder Magazine’s Marvin Hall of Fame for Excellence Award.

As the population becomes ecologically and socially conscientious, the building industry and architectural community alike have responded to sustainability in building with the “Green” brand. But who can afford green buildings? Not many; certainly, not the common homeowner. So, the industry has replaced the homeowner by convincing municipalities that Green, or LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), certified buildings must be built for tax paying citizens for the good of the community. Yet, after spending many millions of dollars above normal budgets, buildings are often left short of the mark, never actually becoming certified “Green”-buildings such as schools that cost tens of millions of dollars, only to be replaced in 30 years due to outdated technology. That’s the industry’s version of sustainability- and the magic of “innovation”.


The Building Industry’s “ASTM standards” effectively destroyed competing cottage industries, such as hand-made brick- a sustainable and local resourced material.


Is the green building boom actually green? Is the question asked in USA Today’s video examining the truth behind LEED certification and ratings, exposing that tax cuts are the primary benefit behind LEED ratings and that–although they claim that higher ratings leading to less waste–the Science does not support the claim.

If we are to build sustainably, truly sustainably, then we should look at what has happened to food. We should get back to the basics and build in a way that is local; responding to local culture, building with local materials, building buildings that are meaningful to our communities, and building them naturally (not with artificial technology) to respond to the environments in which they are being built.

T Anchor Ranch, Medina, Texas Michael G. Imber Architects

New Construction featuring re-used terra-cotta roofing and local resourced rock and timber.

If we are to build buildings beautifully that reflect who we are as people and community, and respond to the environments in which we live, why then would we need buildings packaged by big industry? Just as our food that is grown locally tastes better and is more nutritious, I believe by building Local we will find our buildings more nurturing, and in the end, much more sustainable.