Nine Lessons

By Amy Knight

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The House We Live In: A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona


Matthew came to visit this weekend. He was here from about 9 p.m. on Friday until about noon on Sunday but we managed to get quite a lot done, including visits to the lot, a tour of a local nonprofit’s rainwater harvesting setup, a long meeting with a builder we’re seriously considering hiring, and looks at a whole bunch of houses. Plus some time to talk and draw and refine our ideas.

Architect Matthew sketches an idea at a local craft breweryHere are nine things we learned:

  1. It is possible to meet many more of your water needs with harvested rainwater than I had realized. (Thank you, Watershed Management Group!) We had to this point been very focused on energy and hadn’t put much thought into water but now we are.
  2. There is a saguaro cactus on the lot that will probably have to be moved. Hey, little guy! Don’t worry, we’ll find a good place for you.
  3. I am even worse than I thought at rotating things in my head.
  4. Local building markets are more fragmented than I realized–what’s normal one place might be completely unheard of somewhere else, but not necessarily because it wouldn’t work or wouldn’t look right or doesn’t make sense. We will have to strike a balance between doing things the local way and bringing in ideas that we’re excited about even if they’re unusual here.
  5. Sometimes talking about something over a beer at your local craft brewery shakes loose some new ideas. (Okay, I knew that one already, but we confirmed it).
  6. We both like things that have real corners, rather than the rounded-off sort.
  7. We want to build something in the house out of steel. A counter? A table?
  8. Something happens occasionally in our communication where we come out of a conversation with him thinking I really want something that I don’t actually care about. We’re not sure how or why but we seem to be doing okay at catching it through a process of continual sketching, commenting, and revising.
  9. My air mattress has a leak in it. Sorry, Matthew.

It was a good and exciting visit, one that ended with me feeling like we can definitely do this. It was fun to listen to him talk to the builder and ask so many detailed questions about things that I don’t completely understand yet but then the next minute be my old friend from about a million years ago. It can be so much fun to see someone you know well personally in their professional mode. I just hope he never needs my professional services.*

* I am a criminal defense attorney.



Amy Knight is the fiction editor for In this weekly blog series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at or leave a comment here. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.