Originally published Sept. 2019
When architect Jason McLennan set out to design a home for him and his family, he wanted it to be incredibly functional and beautiful, but also very, very green.
As the founder and creator of the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous green building certification program (think Bullitt Center in Seattle) and CEO of McLennan Design, a regenerative architecture and design practice, McLennan has dedicated himself to green building architecture and advocacy. He’s even won the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Prize for his work. When it came time to design his own family’s home, McLennan wanted it to reflect and demonstrate these green values.
It took a couple years to find the perfect piece of land on Bainbridge Island (it ended up being down the street from their old home) and then several more years designing and building the house, but in 2017 it all came together. Today, McLennan, his wife Tracy, and their children, Rowan, 11, Aidan, 14, and Declan, 16, all live in the home on about an acre of land on the south side of Bainbridge Island, very close to an idyllic estuary and restored salmon stream.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
The McLennan kids find inspiration in their new green space.
“It was definitely a labor of love,” said McLennan. “I was trying to showcase how you can build one of the greenest houses in the world, and yet anyone who comes to visit wants something like it, just because it’s beautiful and attractive to be in.”
Called Heron Hall in tribute to the beautiful birds that reside nearby, the house has an alluring mix of high ceilings, striking reclaimed wood walls and incredible views. At the same time, McLennan said, it is also the first certified residential Living Building Challenge project in Washington.
Thanks to rooftop solar panels, the house’s energy comes from the sun, while its water comes solely from rainwater. It also has composting toilets and a rooftop garden, and the materials used to make the home were specifically selected because they’re local and have a low environmental footprint.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
But the house has done even more than simply benefit the environment. McLennan said its design and location have actually helped to connect his children to nature.
Each of his children’s rooms face east, so that the sun helps to wake them up every morning. The rooms look out on the green roof, so they can see plants and animals outside their windows. The house also offers views of the estuary, where they often spot herons, deer and ducks. And just recently, McLennan said, they saw a coyote in their yard.
“It’s connecting them to I think what’s essential in life, which is other life, and allowing the kids to have that constant connection,” he said.
From the beginning, McLennan’s children have been part of the design and construction process. They helped ram the rammed-earth walls, an ecologically friendly construction technique, and installed a variety of species of plants on the green roof. The whole process has taught them about green construction, according to McLennan.
Another sign of the success of this project? McLennan said their new home seems to always be filled with kids from the neighborhood.
“It’s become kind of the local hangout for my kids’ friends,” he said. “I’m not sure why that is, but they seem to really like being there.”
Editor’s note: This was written before COVID hit and indoor gatherings became a thing of the past. But take heart: They’ll be a thing of the future, too!