Final Report: The New Norris House: A Sustainable Home for the 21st Century

EPA Grant Number: SU833947
Title: The New Norris House: A Sustainable Home for the 21st Century
Investigators: Ezzell, Tim , Herbert, Thomas H , Hooten, Arklie Levi , Luster, Daniel James , Matuliauskaite-Morales, Ramune , Monaco, Joan Kathleen , Mortimer, Samuel Allen , Stuth, Tricia , Wild, Bethany Lynden , Wilt, Catherine
Institution: University of Tennessee - Knoxville
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2009
Project Amount: $9,889
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , P3 Awards , Sustainability


In 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority created a model community in Norris, Tennessee as part of the Norris Dam construction project. A key feature of this New Deal village was the Norris House, a series of home designs built for modern, efficient, and sustainable living. In light of the 75th anniversary of the Norris Project, we reinterpreted the Norris paradigm and created a New Norris House – an affordable and sustainable home designed to address the needs and constraints of the 21st century.

As with the original Norris designs, the home created in this project uses state of the art technologies and techniques. The structure incorporates green materials in construction and addresses many of the community and legal constraints that often deter sustainable home construction. The design also reflects local needs and aesthetics and was created in consultation with the Norris community. Local residents played an active role in the design process and helped the student team define the Norris concept and identify key concerns.

Project objectives include the following:

  • The creation of an affordable, sustainable, and replicable home design derived from the original Norris paradigm
  • Identification and resolution of legal and community constraints to the construction of sustainable homes and structures
  • Development of strategies to increase the sustainability of the Norris community in accordance to the city’s 2008 strategic plan
  • Development of a model for civic engagement in the sustainable design process
  • To test green technologies and modeling approaches in a real-world setting

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Original Norris houses were clustered around shared spaces with shared garages linked by a network of walking paths. Garages are gone, many paths remain; however, they are underutilized. The project proposes the reactivation of paths by placing new community nodes in the locations of the former garages. Each node has a unique function serving the town as a whole, including the following: Food and Energy Production, Child Care, Gallery and Performance Space, Information Exchange, Bicycle and Car Share Programs, Art Studios, Workshops, Outdoor Gathering Spaces, Guest Accommodation, Recycle and Material Salvage, and Recreation and Conservation.

These community nodes provide amenities to the town at large as well as to existing houses, providing a communal space for uploading (the creation and distribution of ideas, goods, and services). This arrangement fits well in the context of the original Norris plan in which residents shared certain amenities such as open spaces and garages while creating a modern environment that is a productive part of the Norris landscape while serving to strengthen community identity.

The addition of community nodes enables a new housing type -one that relies on the communal program of the node- to be integrated into the existing Norris fabric. This symbiotic relationship between individual houses and community amenities allows efficiencies of space and function without sacrificing amenities or privacy. This project explores the potential of this new housing type on one specific site in the town of Norris. The site originally accommodated one of the original shared garages, but is now a vacant lot owned by the city of Norris.

Three houses are proposed for the site to accommodate the diversity of demographics that the new plan for Norris will foster. Each house begins as a small dwelling for one person or a couple and is designed to expand in three phases as families grow and spatial needs change over time. The houses are positioned on site to allow for this expansion.

Thorough analysis of solar access, trees, and topography on site determined ideal location and orientation of the houses. Passive and highly efficient active systems were explored and incorporated to provide thermal comfort and ventilation, lighting, water supply and waste-water treatment. Strategies include the natural day-lighting, directsolar gain incorporating thermal mass, exterior shading devices, natural ventilation, solar water heating, rainwater harvesting on-site gray-water treatment, and efficient building envelope design.

Local and Regional materials are incorporated into the design to reduce environmental impacts associated with transportation and shipment. Tree species found on site are incorporated to achieve a unique sense of place allowing the regional identity of Norris to be sustained.


Even after 75 years, the Norris paradigm continues to offer a valid model for sustainable community design. The garden city model, which was the basis for Norris, continues to present valid and replicable opportunities for low impact design and development. On a home scale, lessons gleaned from the original Norris houses can be incorporated into modern and more efficient designs. Green constriction can be applied to the existing built environment in a meaningful and affordable manner. Successful implementation of green housing, however, requires sensitivity to the existing community landscape, an appreciation of local history and aesthetics, and consultation with community members.

Phase II objectives and strategies include the following:

  • Provide students and faculty with the opportunity to participate in a conceptually rigorous and environmentally innovative multi-disciplinary design|build project.
  • Provide The Town of Norris with a demonstration 21st century cottage, the first of three expandable base units which will comprise a model site with communal and private infrastructure and living spaces.
  • Participating students will gain skills and abilities that are acutely needed in the architectural profession at this time – ability to work in an interdisciplinary group, insights into how environmental and cultural strategies are embedded into design, and in-depth knowledge of alternative construction delivery methods.
  • The Town of Norris will receive a demonstration project that can be visited by current and potential residents and that offers a model of how the town might address future growth and land and resource use.
  • Faculty who administer the New Norris House will gain experience planning and executing a project of enhanced scale and complexity, building capacity within the design/build program for future projects.
  • The project will provide potential homebuyers, homebuilders and developers with a case study as to how the Town of Norris (and with modification, similar towns) might achieve the multiple goals of environmental, historical, cultural, and economic stewardship within this unique community.
  • The demonstration project will seek certification by the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) rating program, which provides, “provides independent, third-party verification that a development's location and design meet accepted high levels of environmentally responsible, sustainable development.” LEED-ND is a collaboration among USGBC, the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Currently only three buildings in the state of Tennessee are seeking this rating as part of the pilot program.
  • The project will also be submitted for multiple peer-reviewed venues for validation of the project and promotion of the planning and housing design concepts. These will include: an AIA/ACSA Housing Design Education Award submission, submissions to conferences and journals including the national Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and American Planning Association (APA) Conferences, the Journal of Architectural Education, the Journal of the American Planning Association, and Places, the journal of the Environmental Design Research Association.
  • Public Auction of the Phase II New Norris House Construction will ideally produce funds to continue with construction of the 2nd and 3rd unit designs as well as the communal building, site infrastructure and original network of pedestrian paths.
  • The full build-out will offer a demonstration project, the 21st century New Norris cluster that will impact planning for future growth in and around the Town of Norris and guide continued development of the town’s long-term planning guidelines.

Supplemental Keywords:

Built environment, green building, architectural design, sustainable urban planning, environmental planning, environmental policy, decision making, energy efficiency,

Relevant Websites: EPA

P3 Phase II:

UPLOAD: The New Norris House – A Sustainable Home for the 21st Century