Albuquerque's South Valley, mere minutes away from Downtown, is home to an inspirational monument to the idea that we should “not harm, but enhance” our environment—that beyond mere sustainability is an opportunity to address the everyday problems of overuse, pollution and waste, and maybe even improve and beautify the world around us.
In the late ‘60s, an eco-minded architect named Paul Lusk moved to Albuquerque with a civic inclination (he was the Principal Planner for Albuquerque and Bernalillo County combined from 1969-1978) and a desire to teach (Prof. Emeritus at UNM’s school of architecture 1976-2002). What is clear to anyone who meets Paul is that his true vocation is a nuanced approach to existing environments and/or problems. Lusk's thinking doesn't attempt to replicate solutions or throw a standard “fix” on something that is broken; rather he evaluates the basic phenomena that constitute a particular problem. For instance, suppose there is a gutter that is forever filling with silt. Instead of simply cleaning the gutters every week, why not plant strawberries in the silt-filled, amply-watered trough? The run-off may drip off the entire roofline of your winter greenhouse, but it just so happens that compost piles love extra moisture. Why not place a compost pile under the food-producing gutter, right up against the wall of your greenhouse? The water feeds the compost, and the active, warm compost keeps the greenhouse from freezing in the winter. Lusk’s kind of urban eco-warrior is driven to not only reduce the burden he/she and his/her family put on the environment but also to find ways to improve their surroundings, society and the planet as a whole.
When the heat descends on Albuquerque each year, the Lusk household never wrestles to replace a swamp cooler motor. Instead, the house uses a passive “cool-tower.” Water is pumped from the ground, and wets pads on all four sides of the top tier of the tower. Any air that passes through accumulates more moisture and weight, and therefore drops down the tower and into the house, cooling it quite efficiently.
Before the South Valley infrastructure included a sewer and water treatment, Lusk created a rock marsh in his front yard. The marsh is fed by wastewater from the house, which is then diverted into a small pond packed with thriving local riverbank reeds. The reeds’ oxygen-rich roots in combination with microorganisms treat the wastewater to a level of cleanliness and potability far above the standards for local city water treatment plants.
Lusk’s South Valley property has many such examples where utmost care is exercised to not harm the environment; resources are meticulously recycled and the by-products help create a most beautiful surrounding. In this time of consumer culture and disposable living, perhaps we can all learn from his example.