By Amy Knight

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


This week we called the schematic design phase complete. That means the layout is done. We’re settled on what rooms there will be and where and about how big and how connected.

I thought I might agonize but I really didn’t. I made sure I’d thought it through and collected the input I needed to collect, but it really doesn’t feel like taking a big plunge. It feels like we’d worked at getting closer and closer and then it was right. We didn’t stop working because we were forced to. We stopped because it was how I wanted it. It felt ready.

So here it is!

Floor plan

The floor plan might require just a little explanation:

The center square is a courtyard. It’s outdoors, with no roof.

Along the left side, there is a nook for my grandmother’s piano, along with a built-in desk. And of course that space and the space around the corner, on the bottom wall (which is the north side, along the street), will be lined with tall bookshelves. We’ll probably even have a ladder. (Both sets of grandparents had houses with library ladders. Somebody has to carry that on. I volunteer.)

On the other side of the courtyard you’ll see a master bedroom with a dressing room (or a massive walk-in closet if you prefer) adjacent, and a master bath. I can’t wait for that bathtub. The roof will be constructed so the water drains off, is collected in giant tanks, filtered, and pumped back in to supply the house. There will be PV panels on the roof to supply most of the house’s electricity needs. The details of those systems are still being designed.


So there you have it. A house for one. It has two bedrooms! It has two bathrooms! It has a kitchen and a living/dining room and a courtyard! It will have a carport and a storage closet big enough for my bike!

It’s also oriented intentionally to make the best use we can of the sun and shade to keep the house as close as possible to comfortable temperature naturally, without kicking in the heat or A/C until it’s truly necessary.

Over the next few months we will be settling on lots and lots of details – what everything will be made out of, more precise measurements, appliances and fixtures, and like that. If the last phase was a couple of really big decisions, this will be a gazillion much smaller decisions. And as I progress through that stage, I’m sure things will begin to feel more and more real. I won’t just be imagining how things will be; I will see pictures of the actual things we’ll put in there (or maybe even see some of them in person). I will hold in my hand samples of the surfaces. Drawings will be become more realistic and complete. If I close my eyes I can see not just the idea of the space, but its surfaces. Its realities. The transformation of ideas into physical forms. A blank page, a non-eureka moment, becoming a house we live in.



Amy Knight is the fiction editor for Terrain.org. 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 [email protected] or leave a comment here.

Photo credit: Instruments of Torture Cropped via photopin (license)

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.