Designed by New Urban Guild members

US and abroad

Project:SmartDwelling is an initiative begun by the New Urban Guild in the dark days just after the Meltdown, when the Great Recession was getting into full swing. We realized that with mortgage lending largely shut down, something had to be done to change the status quo. SmartDwellings were designed to change that by designing so smart that a customer comparing a SmartDwelling and a conventional house would prefer the SmartDwelling over the ordinary house even though it was only half the size.

SmartDwellings employ many space-saving techniques we learned working on Katrina Cottages, so they can store more stuff in a much smaller footprint. We knew we could not build the cottages for half the price of the larger house, because some of these things cost money. But our intent was to provide SmartDwellings half the size at 60% of the cost of the ordinary house.

The other side is the green side. Many New Urban Guild members have been longtime advocates of sustainable construction, and we quickly realized that a SmartDwelling half the size of an ordinary house has many inherent green advantages. For beginners, it has only half the area to condition. And smaller houses are a breeze to daylight and to cross-ventilate because there aren’t so many rooms in the way of another room’s access to windows. It should be easy for SmartDwellings to cost only 40% as much to operate as the conventional house.

 If we could make homeowners happier with a house that cost 60% as much to purchase and 40% as much to operate, surely some of those bankers would open their vaults and start making loans again. The SmartDwellings picked up steam in April 2009 when the Wall Street Journal published my design for SmartDwelling I. Things were looking bright for SmartDwellings.


Or so we thought. In reality, necessity focused us so much on survival for the next few years that most of us had no time for anything that didn’t produce income. And so the SmartDwellings languished. By 2012, not a single one had been built that I’m aware of… not even SmartDwelling I. So at CNU 20 in West Palm Beach, Eric Moser, Julie Sanford, and I (all Guild members and all board members of the Sky Institute) decided to create a design firm with the intent of implementing the ideals of the Sky Institute, which included SmartDwellings. Today, there are over a hundred SmartDwellings at Mahogany Bay Village in Belize, with more on the way. The Guild is holding a summit early next year to share what we’ve each done to develop SmartDwelling ideals, and to arrive at a set of criteria where we all can do buildings that are explicitly SmartDwellings.

It is ironic that SmartDwellings, direct descendants of the Katrina Cottages and originally intended to make hometown housing more affordable, have first been built in bulk at a resort village on foreign shores. But Seaside, which launched the New Urbanism, is a resort as well, so thousands have visited over the years and developed the desire for a neighborhood like that in their hometown. So maybe it’s OK that the SmartDwellings started out this way as well. Time will tell… stay tuned!

© New Urban Guild 2017