Design

Rethinking the Art of Living Green | Sustainable living with friends in your golden years

Building with the environment in mind isn’t just about using green materials, using land efficiently, and reducing waste. It’s also about lifestyle. Whether we’re talking a multi-generational farmhouse, an urban co-operative created for retirees, or a development based on villages of years past, these new builds laud the notion that there are no rules when it comes to rethinking how we want to live. Each design speaks  to new — or revisited — approaches in construction while making community the central focus: Juniper Farm’s rammed-earth dwelling; Fostering community in Hendrick Farm’s new old village; Sustainable Living in New Edinburgh

Architect Linda Chapman tackles the downsizing dilemma by rethinking the social side of sustainable living in New Edinburgh

New Edinburgh's 308 MacKay St. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen
New Edinburgh’s 308 MacKay St. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

As architect Linda Chapman pulls up in front of her New Edinburgh condominium, her husband, Barry Cooper, jumps out of the car and yells good-naturedly to a foursome sitting on the front deck. “Hey Morry! I’ll be back for dinner by 7 p.m. What’s on the menu?” The group erupts into laughter and sends jabs back Cooper’s way before he jumps back into his car with a grin and drives off.

Meet the residents of 308 MacKay St. Unlike your typical friendly neighbours who meet through happenstance, these six have consciously chosen to live side by side — the set-up is Linda’s brainchild. Well known locally as a green architect, Linda, 57, has been thinking for some time about where, and how, she wants to grow old. Her reflections have led her to design a new kind of sustainable-living arrangement for the baby boomer generation — one that embraces high standards of green building while addressing the social side of sustainable living. “I’ve got a lot of friends who are downsizing to condominiums but who are not happy because there’s no community there,” explains Linda.

Judith Andersen , left, and Linda Chapman. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen
Judith Andersen , left, and Linda Chapman. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

Her solution to the isolation conundrum is MacKay Mews, a four-unit condo built to net zero standards and completed in 2016. Linda kept one condo for herself and her husband and sold one unit to long-time friends Christine and Morry Appelle. They, in turn, asked their long-time friends Judith and Keith Anderson if they’d be interested, which is how the third condo came to be sold. At the time, they were looking for buyers for the fourth unit.

Linda’s green design reflects a long-term vision shared by its residents. Located within walking distance of grocery stores and restaurants, the condo is built with aging in mind. The Andersons, both in their 70s, requested an elevator for their three-storey unit, despite the fact that they are not currently dealing with physical challenges. “Keith said to me, ‘They’re taking me out of here in a pine box. I’ll be here forever,’ ” Linda says with a laugh. “That’s the goal. We’re planning ahead.”

Morbid? Maybe. But it’s also brilliantly astute to think through a plan that will allow you to live out your so-called “golden years” in peace, familiarity, and comfort. “We felt so privileged that Linda invited us to be part of it,” Judith says.

Christine and Morry Appelle. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen
Christine and Morry Appelle. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

Linda wore several hats throughout the project — architect, developer, even head of construction. She praises the skills of the builder, Engel Construction, but it’s evident that this project wouldn’t have happened without her very specific skill set, experience, and vision. MacKay Mews, unlike most other condos, boasts a built-in community. That’s comforting to the couples who have chosen to live here. “I call it assisted living where you get to choose who assists you,” Morry says with a chuckle.

And while none of the condo owners expect their neighbours to feel responsible for looking after them when and if they start to ail, there’s comfort in knowing they live near friends.

“Down the road, we will have an understanding of our neighbours’ situations — and probably added compassion,” Christine explains.

The community. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen
The 308 community. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

Community is important at MacKay Mews, yet the ties remain casual. Each couple owns their own unit, complete with kitchen and bathroom, but they share parking, storage, and a communal exercise room. Linda says the group is working toward setting up habitual communal dinners. And as each couple downsizes to a single car, they’re considering purchasing a communal electric vehicle — a charging station has already been installed.

Set on a lot that formerly held a duplex, the three-storey 6,000-square-foot building looks almost like two stacked townhouses smooching, as Linda likes to put it. Each unit varies in size and shape, but they all adhere to the green principles of net zero design, the latest design standard in the world of green construction.

The well-insulated building makes use of passive solar heating, with triple-glazed, south-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows that make the interior spaces feel luxuriously wide open. An on-demand hot-water unit replaces both the traditional tank and furnace, and each home is outfitted with the latest in energy-efficient appliances and LED lighting.

Ottawa architect Linda Chapman designed the four-unit condo, which upholds the highest standards of green building and offers a vision for downsizing with community in mind. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen
Ottawa architect Linda Chapman designed the four-unit condo, which upholds the highest standards of green building and offers a vision for downsizing with community in mind. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

Down the road, the plan is to install photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate electricity from the sun. “The amount of renewable energy we generate will be equal to, or more than, the actual amount of energy expenditure we spend to heat and cool this building,” Linda explains. It’s that sweet spot that net zero design aims to hit — create enough energy to cover your usage. She has also settled on xeriscaping over traditional lawns; in the spring, she will plant drought-resistant native species, such as the honey locust tree, that need little to no care.

And while MacKay Mews is not your typical condo experience, Linda wouldn’t be surprised if her idea for a more holistically sustainable style of downsizing catches on. She bashfully acknowledges that she has always been a few years ahead of the curve and opines that many baby boomers might not stand for what’s currently on the market. “It’s about quality of life. It’s about having autonomy, having control, but still having community.”

Linda Chapman and Barry Cooper. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen
Linda Chapman and Barry Cooper. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen