As an architect, one of the most rewarding things is working with a truly special client on a truly special project. I feel so fortunate and honored to be able to work with some of the most amazing people I have met in my life to co-create beautiful dwellings with them. One such example is working with the Sisters of St. Francis to help design new housing for them on their land in Denver.
This project called Casa Chiara includes 6 dwelling units (for 12 sisters) plus province offices and was built using modular construction. In fact, this is first multi-family, modular, sustainable project built in the US that I know of. It is composed of 16 modules to create these 1 and 2-story duplexes with a center shared courtyard space and a cascading contemplation garden.
At first blush, one might not put together a group of Catholic nuns with modern, sustainable design. However, this inspiring group of women see building in a sustainable way as a natural extension of their core belief system. The Sisters are incredibly generous and gifted and give so much to their community. Many of them are teachers in art, pre-school, high school, elder training programs, hospital chaplaincy, social justice participation, and volunteer work in residential facilities. They are all involved in the ministry of prayer for peace and for the health and preservation of planet earth and all who live on it. In the province chapter of 2007, the sisters chose to adopt the Earth Charter and its principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society. As a part of their penance, the Sisters of St. Francis live “with gentle courtesy toward all creation”. The Franciscan Sisters’ have a strong commitment to conserve and sustain resources and therefore built a team (outlined below) to help them with their project that reflected their values.
Some of the Green Aspects of the Casa Chiara project:
Client: Sisters of St. Francis
Developer: Urban Ventures LLC (Susan Powers, Kate Hilberg, Dick Taft)
Planning Consultant: Anderies Consulting (Mary Anderies)
Architect: Michelle Kaufmann Studio (Michelle Kaufmann, Andrew Faust)
Landscape Architect: Wenk + Associates (Jesse Clark)
Modular Factory: All American Homes (Doug Stimpson)
Site Contractor: Core Alternatives (Scott Glahn)
(Molly Urbina, Ken Brewer, Rick Garcia, Chuck Perry and Perry-Rose LLC, Lou Raders and many, many others helped make this project a built reality)
Here is a photo of the sisters during a sacred ground blessing ceremony with the project team at end of the garden. (I was pretty much weeping during this part)
Here are some excerpts from a previous ceremony as the site construction started:
“All of creation, from the initial creative event to the arrival of humans, is a single, interconnected and interdependent whole. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. No particle is ever wasted or worn out, but eternally flowing from use to use.”
on the responsibility to the environment:
“Today, the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone. When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can understand better the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. The right to a safe environment is ever more insistently presented today as a right that must be included in an updated Charter of Human Rights. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”
-Pope John Paul II