By Amy Knight

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


In case I needed more reasons to love Tucson: every year we have a massive festival of books. There are readings and signings from some pretty big names (Colson Whitehead! T.C. Boyle! Terrain.org friends Allison Hawthorne Deming and Steven Church!), exhibits, books for sale, and thousands of people spending the weekend celebrating books. The crowd is diverse in age, gender, race, and book preference. The offerings are diverse too. But everyone is here to celebrate reading.  

This year, Terrain.org had a booth, where I spent the weekend with editor-in-chief, Simmons Buntin. I got to talk to lots of people, friends new and old, about my house. It’s been really fun to hear reactions and questions from a new crop of people who don’t already know about the project. It’s easy to forget, deep in the project, how unusual it is. How many people still don’t believe a house could approach water-neutral in the desert. And how many people who do.

The second day of the festival we had more visitors who wanted to tell us their stories than who wanted to talk about our site and what’s on it. That, too, was fascinating. We learned about historic preservation. We heard about factories. We heard about Zion National Park. Something about our little booth bade people tell us these things. Who knows what. But these people had selected those from among their stories, pieces that fit into Terrain.org’s worldview.

In some ways designing the house has been like that. There are times to talk, for me to give my input, to explain, and times to listen and absorb. I don’t always know what makes it one kind of day or the other; I can have a day listening to something I already know a fair amount about, or I can end up doing my best to explain something I’m only beginning to grasp. I can’t have one without the other. This project makes me both a teacher and a student of sustainability.



Amy KnightAmy Knight is the fiction editor for Terrain.org. In this weekly 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. Visit her website, or follow her on twitter @amypknight.

Photo of books courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Amy Knight by Richard Whitmer.

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