News Brief

A Place in the Sun: The Evolution of the Real Goods Solar Living Center

by John Schaeffer and the collabora- tive design/construction team. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, Vermont, 1997. Paperback, 190 pages, $24.95.

The new retail store and educational center of the renewable energy and healthy living company Real Goods Trading Co. is, in many ways, a revolutionary building (see Case Study,


Vol. 5, No. 1). Now you can read about how it came together.

A Place in the Sun contains chapters written by each of the main players in the process—company owner, landscape architects, architects, project managers—providing an insider’s view of the process. Although unabashedly self-promotional, both for Real Goods and for those who created the building, the book is also wonderfully candid, revealing “lessons learned” in addition to successes.

A Place in the Sun starts with stories about Real Goods. It then follows the evolution of the Center, from its beginnings as the kernel of an idea, through its evolution to a functioning retail and educational space, and then into the future with a vision for more to come. The meat of the book is in the middle chapters, in which the project’s landscape architects and architects reveal their creative processes. Husband-and-wife landscape architects Stephanie Kotin and Christopher Tebbutt admit their first reaction to the site was negative (when purchased, it was a dump site for the highway department). They then describe how, by experiencing the place at the magical periods of dawn and dusk on the summer solstice, they came to appreciate its possibilities. Finally, they offer many details and sketches of their design and planting process.

Lead Architect Sim Van der Ryn begins by noting that the low honorarium Real Goods offered to participants in the design competition suggests “a low valuation of architects and what they do.” Fortunately he found the program and client compelling enough to overcome this objection. Along with David Arkin, Van der Ryn describes how he applied his “Eco-Logic” design process to the project, giving the reader a real sense of how the design came together.

This insider’s story continues through the construction process, the design and installation of the renewable energy systems, and into store operations. The Solar Living Center breaks new ground in many ways. Having their story so accessible will make it easier for others to follow.

Published January 1, 1998

(1998, January 1). A Place in the Sun: The Evolution of the Real Goods Solar Living Center. Retrieved from

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