An unusual Vermont company works to strengthen the connection between the natural and built environments
by Jacob Deva Racusin
Design Studio Director and Director of Building Science and Sustainability, New Frameworks
New Frameworks is a worker-owned cooperative committed to a kinder sort of building. Locally sourced natural materials like native hardwood, clay, and stone soften our impact on the planet. Our ecologically-minded building practices and comprehensive, full-service systems design make our buildings at home on earth while providing state-of-the-art comfort and efficiency for the people that rely on them.
New Frameworks is part proof-of-concept business model, part activist organization, part mini-think tank for the work of climate justice in the built environment. Our mission is to implement regenerative practices to actualize the potential of an eco-centric business in a just and equitable society; we do this through innovative education, design, building, and collaboration. Our organizational structure is modeled after a rhizome – a horizontal stem of structure and support that feeds a series of aerial bodies fed by a network of roots.
Our earliest buildings – including my own home, the first of my projects – were framed with local softwoods, trimmed with local hardwoods, insulated with local straw bales, plastered with local clay renders, and floored with local stone. Values of craft, efficiency, biophilia, durability, and creativity wove into the fabric of each creation. Many years later, we have carried these values into Gryphon Panels, New Frameworks’ newest node: pre-fabricated straw-insulated structural panels, sourced from local forests and farms.
The result is a project that is a net positive PV energy producer, stores over 11 tons of carbon in its materials, and received a HERS rating of -2. Further, it is completely non-toxic, responding to the needs of a chemically-sensitive occupant, and showcases the natural beauty of wood, plaster, and stone. Further still, a local builder with no experience in straw construction was able to finish up the entire project seamlessly – a replicable model for integrating non-standard biogenic materials into conventional construction workflows.
With this success in hand, we doubled down on the development of the Gryphon Panel node. In staffing out this division of the company, we placed women and queer folk in leadership positions, worked with the non-profit Migrant Justice to support the hiring of workers from the migrant community and provide them a pathway towards business ownership through our cooperative model, and instituted a program of language justice to support all members’ use of their native tongues while teaching each other new ways to communicate with each other.
This intersection can be found in a building’s materials – they tell the story of place, of the forests and fields and rocky soils; the story of people, of the loggers and farmers and designers and craftsfolk; the story of heat and moisture, compelling us to understand of how our buildings follow patterns of the natural world to excel in our harsh environment. More than anything, the materials tell the stories of the relationships we strive to form between our world, our community, and ourselves, and this matters because our work as designers and builders is first and foremost about caretaking these relationships.
How we work with these materials is of equal importance – our mission has always been to transform our industry, and this is as much or more a cultural transformation as a technological one. From its inception, New Frameworks has been a place of inclusion and collaboration. Our structure as a worker-owned cooperative is as important to our success as the content of our work. It is the intersection of all these spaces through which we realize our mission: a feminist anti-racist workplace accessible to all people; a cooperative organization fueled by the passion of workers with a stake in its success; and an integrated process of creativity and accountability holding architects and tradesfolk in equal value.
Visit New Frameworks.