Click photo to enlarge
The West Coast Green residential green building conference and expo opens Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007 in San Francisco, Calif. The expo features the mkLotus house, a modular construction green house set up in Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. (Joanna Jhanda/Contra Costa Times)
SAN FRANCISCO — The green weekend has begun.

West Coast Green, one of the nation's largest residential green building conferences and tradeshows, opened to audiences Thursday with speakers such as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Apple founder Steve Wozniak and "The Not So Big House" author and architect Sarah Susanka. Saturday's events are open to the public and aimed at homeowners.

Newsom, amid partisan politics and bashing President Bush's environmental policies, unveiled his plan for San Francisco to have all certified gold buildings by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Susanka, who wrote "The Not So Big House" on how to live more harmoniously in a smaller footprint, was promoting her new book, "The Not So Big Life." "I felt completely driven by my obligations," she said as she lay awake at night, stressed out. "Igot that cosmic two-by-four. I was in a cage of my own creation."

Realizing she was part of a much larger system caused her to write her books, something she said resonates with a quarter of the population labeled "cultural creatives," a term coined by sociologist Paul Ray, describing people who also view their relationship to the planet as caretakers.

Perhaps some of those people were at the tradeshow Thursday, looking over prefabricated homes, recycled glass, reclaimed wood and solar power. Others looked at cotton insulation, landscaping and low-flow toilets.


Advertisement

But the central figure of the tradeshow was the mkLotus, the newest modular home designed to be a second home or guesthouse by michelle kaufmann designs.

The house stood like a wooden boxcar in Civic Center Plaza surrounded by lush landscaping and metal barricades. Around a dozen or so people walked through eyeing the one-bedroom, one-bath cottage with an open-air living room and a full garden on its flat, rectangular roof. Designer Michelle Kaufmann said a special membrane keeps the roof from leaking or breaking down underneath its rooftop planters.

Visitors might not see its solar panels or irrigation system using rainwater. That didn't seem to matter, a 20-person line waited patiently behind metal barricades as rain fell Thursday morning.

"West Coast Green is a great place where people are coming together with those great ideas and show the results," Kaufmann said. "Green can be beautiful and accessible."

She said that people want to see all the healthy solutions out there for their families, and West Coast Green demystifies it for them.

Kaufmann said that she designed the mkLotus as a smaller alternative for clients wanting a guesthouse or second home.

"It doesn't have to be big to feel big," she said. "The accordion glass walls open to the outdoors, so we borrow from the outdoors and blur the boundaries."

Frances Knight, a San Francisco-based interior designer, came to look at the mkLotus house early Thursday morning as a possible alternative for a client who wants a prefab home to live in while her house is under construction in Sonoma County — and to later keep as a guesthouse.

"I'm impressed," she said of the 725-square-foot modular home. "It feels much bigger."

Barbara E. Hernandez covers real estate. Reach her at 925-952-5063 or bhernandez@bayareanewsgroup.com.