Design Forum’s Cazú Zegers: Ecocentric not Egocentric

Changing our egocentric culture to an “eco-centric” one, says the Chilean architect Cazú Zegers, is when we  see ourselves as part of a complex system that needs to be treated with humility. It’s a message she shares as founder and director of Cazú Zegers Architecture and Foundation +1000. Named among the Latin American architects who break down barriers by Forbes Magazine in 2020, Zegers is a featured speaker for Design Forum: South is Up! June 3-4  at the Ballston Center at Marymount University in Arlington. Register and join her at

In a recent Madame Architect interview, you said “The territory for America is just like monuments for Europe,” and yet student sketchbooks are still not filled with topographies and river paths today. Why are we still stuck on architecture’s monuments elsewhere to contemplate a vernacular future here?

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ARCHITECTUREFIRM’s Three Hills House is a Meditation on Simplicity in Cedar

Three Hills House occupies the middle hilltop of the eponymous triad, positioned squarely in a glade’s clearing. The approach to the 5,000 square-foot Fredericksburg by car circumnavigates the hill until it sharply turns into the entry path that takes us directly to the heart of the home, in a procession reminiscent of Aline Barnsdall’s 1922 Hollyhock House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Three Hills, designed by Richmond- and Brooklyn-based ARCHITECTUREFIRM, is subtler than Hollyhock, however, in its nod to the Mayan Revival of a century ago. There are no abstracted flowers in high relief, no images of the rain god Chac seen at Uxmal, and no stone serpents — just an unadorned frieze that makes the home appear a little grander than the term “one story” suggests.

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Reader & Swartz’s Crooked Bow Tie is Dressed Up Down Home

photograph of the exterior of Reader & Swartz's award winning Crooked Bow Tie House
“You have to know when to shout and know when to be quiet with your design, because there’s always a context to respond to,” says Chuck Swartz, FAIA. Photography: Nathan Webb, AIA, Reader & Swartz Architects, P.C.

Bow ties are still worn today, but not as popularly as they were two generations ago. For architects, bow ties have always been sartorial and functional — the less fabric dangling over your mayline, the better. Beyond fashion (and architecture), bow ties can signal class, disposition, vocation, and political allegiance. Bill Nye and Tucker Carlson are both passionate devotees, as were Karl Marx and Groucho Marx. Wearers spark uncommonly strong reactions by non-wearers, from endearment to hostility. One New York Times correspondent called the bow tie a “red flag that comes in many colors,” while one Virginian-Pilot correspondent concluded that, “bow tie wearers are not like the rest of us.”  Pre-tied and self-tied divide wearers, as do different styles such as the butterfly, the batwing, and the diamond point.

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Gehrung+Graham Design Durable Net-Zero Houses for this Millennium

Homes that are certified or recognized as “passive” to achieve net-zero status produce as much energy as they consume, and consume energy in efficient ways thanks to design strategies that take advantage of light, heat, circulation, and airflow to be uniquely sustainable. The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) has certified or pre-certified more than four million square feet of projects, most of them in the last five years. Virginia is home to 20 certified or pre-certified projects, which must secure third-party quality assurance, meet the Department of Energy’s standard for net zero energy efficiency, and gain recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency for indoor air quality, among other qualifications.

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Accessibility and Amenities Define Beachside Senior Community

In 2019, Millennials vaulted past Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. That year there were 72.1 million Americans between the ages of 23 and 38, and 71.6 million Americans between the ages of 55 and 73, according to Pew, and this trend will only continue. While their ranks are diminishing, Boomers may enjoy a trend that seems to be going in their favor: Senior communities are also booming and available in a range of options along a spectrum of care, from assisted living to independent living. As Senior Housing News recently reported, even “independent living” is becoming passé in favor of “active living” taglines.

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The Aya Alleviates Troubles for D.C. Families in Transition

The District of Columbia’s General Hospital had been an anchor institution since Thomas Jefferson’s second term until George W. Bush’s first term, and its closing in 2001 after more than 200 years sent shockwaves through the community. For one, it was the only public hospital inside the District. But, since its founding as an almshouse, it has also become a lifeline for the sick and indigent. Its final chapter, however, would not be written until 15 years after it was officially decommissioned as the de facto short-term housing option for hundreds of marginalized Washingtonians experiencing homelessness.

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Deep Energy Retrofit: Spencer Carriage House

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this 1905 structure is one of the last remaining stable/carriage houses built to serve the large mansions in the Dupont Circle area. Originally horses and carriages were housed below, and servants above. Over the last hundred years the building has been used as a garage, a car dealership, a fashionable restaurant, and in its last incarnation, a popular nightclub. When the current owner acquired the building, it lay empty and exposed to rain and weather. No original interior trim or features remained and the original layout had long been abandoned.

The design team at Peabody Architects was challenged by the owners to preserve this D.C. landmark, create a home for aging in place, and achieve as close to net-zero energy use as possible without sacrifice to comfort or lifestyle.

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