Architect of Good Health
Bruce Millard employs recycled materials
& a holistic philosophy
By Sandy Compton
Sandpoint architect Bruce Millard is enthusiastic about what he does
that is taking a holistic approach to designing buildings, particularly
for health-conscious people who are concerned about their indoor environments.
Various alternative construction materials sit on shelves and tables around
his office to demonstrate what's available for healthy construction and
invite questions from clients and visitors.
"The main thing I'm trying to do with architecture is look at it
differently," Millard says. "What are we building? Where do the
materials come from? What is the final product?"
Millard grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Temple University;
he moved west in 1985, settling in Sandpoint. His small office upstairs
in one of Sandpoint's historic downtown buildings, the Farmin Building at
111 Cedar, has some of the more typical items in an architect's office,
too: elevation drawings of some of the buildings he has designed; a computer
system hooked up to an electronic drawing pad; photos of finished homes;
copies of newspaper and magazine articles; and academic memorabilia.
But his departure from academic architecture is still the most evident.
"The single-family home is at the core of the American dream, but
we have lost the sense of home in the housing we build in this country.
The houses don't grow out of the soil and rock.
"I want to build buildings that, when the building goes down, it
goes back to the soil. When you take a 1990s building down, it's like a
toxic waste dump. Now is the time we need to begin to learn how to live,
build, design, manufacture without waste; with the idea that the house's
decay will be beneficial to the earth."
Reflecting those ideas are the material samples around Millard's office:
insulation made from surplus denim from a jeans factory instead of spun
glass (very hard on the lungs) or petroleum-based foam; a furniture-building
board made of pressed straw that contains none of the formaldehyde found
in chip board or particle board, manufactured in a plant that costs 25 percent
of a wood-based composite plant; pavers and building block made by mixing
a minimal amount of cement powder with soil from the building site and pressing
in a simple-to-operate hand mold; practically indestructible 2-inch-by-6-inch
decking made from recycled plastics and the fine sawdust generated by furniture
His favorite alternative material, though, is one of the cheapest, most
easily obtained materials in any agricultural country and already a time-honored
ingredient in buildings all over the world: straw.
"There are straw-bale houses in Nebraska that were built in 1915
and are still being lived in. There are mud-and-straw building centuries
old standing in Europe," Millard says. "A straw bale has an R-value
(measurement of insulating quality) of 45 and takes three months to grow.
If architecture reflects the reality of the society, we should be building
And he is.
Among other straw-bale projects, he has designed a prototype house for
SNAP (Spokane Neighborhood Action Program.) Construction was finished in
the spring. The prototype is used to demonstrate the insulating and sound-proofing
qualities of straw as well as long-term energy savings and low maintenance.
Millard points out that the use of straw also means cleaner air
straw is an agricultural waste product that is often burned and reduced
demand on our forest reserves.
Architecturally, Millard is also a sun worshiper. "I think we need
to bring in the sun, let the house breathe," he says. "Lots of
people, including a lot of architects, place their houses with no idea where
the sun is. That's a very basic thing. I got involved in the solar design
business in the early '70s, and I've worked with the sun ever since.
"The sun is constantly in my mind in design ideas. As a heating
element, the sun is great in spring and fall, and also in the cold clear
days of winter.
"Light is very important in a building. That's why I design buildings
with big windows and high ceilings."
If it seems that the physics of heating and cooling would make such a
building hard to heat, Millard suggests using one of the most efficient
means of heating an in-floor radiant system.
Millard is also concerned about architecture that uses climatary design,
regional design elements and fits the building site.
"In any city in America, the houses look the same. There's something
wrong with that," Millards says. He adds, "Some of the most beautiful
sites have some of the most poorly planned buildings. The beauty of the
site is gone once they build an oversized house and garage and park too
many toys on it.
"It doesn't need to be that way. To be an architect for the community,
you have to be concerned about the health of the person (you are designing
for) and the community more than filling the site."
Millard says that building the right product for clients means you have
to ask questions.
"I really try to do a very personalized design, and that means asking
questions, sometimes difficult questions about lifestyle.
"Where are your priorities? Are your priorities toxic boxes or spiritually
lifting, sun-filled houses? What about health? I see people taking care
of their health, but they are building unhealthy houses. If our livers are
absorbing petrochemicals and we're being bombarded by electromagnetic fields,
how can we be healthy?"
"We go to Disneyland, Mexico, Europe; all to escape the environs
we live in. Why don't we build what we want to escape to?"
Sandy Compton is an editor and freelancer and a regular contributor
to Sandpoint Magazine.