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Lakiya Culley, 29, and her three children live together in a typical city apartment in Southeast Washington, D.C. Back in the fall, she and her family were selected by Habitat for Humanity D.C. and Parsons The New School of Design to live in the newly created Empowerhouse, a passive solar house created to increase inhabitants’ living efficiency. Built with solar panels and effectual insulation, Empowerhouse will help keep the Culley’s warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and lower their energy bills all year round.

Winner of the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, Empowerhouse was designed as a model of sustainability, built alongside other competing projects on the National Mall. Habitat for Humanity D.C. and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development are working together to build Empowerhouse in Deanwood in Northeast D.C. where it will become a two-family residence and a “model for affordable, net-zero housing that can be replicated around the globe,” says the Parsons’ website.

This semester I have chosen to document the Culley’s as they prepare to move into Empowerhouse as well as document the house under construction through to completion. I want to find out what about the Culley’s current life shapes the environment they live in and what they seek to change by moving into Empowerhouse.

Last semester I found out about Empowerhouse from D.C. Greenworks while looking for another project. I made a few phone calls and ended up using Lakiya’s pre-interview answers in a paper I wrote about city farming. Graciously, she and Habitat for Humanity D.C. have agreed to let me document the process in a new project and I am hoping to present it as a film and photo multimedia documentary, a lá Scott Strazzante’s 2008 Common Ground.

Todd James, Senior Photo Editor at National Geographic and guest speaker during a Seminar II class, says we must “first see.” When I look at this project I see wonderful and necessary advancements and changes in the way we live, that, unfortunately for the people but fortuitously for a budding photojournalist, are not being documented and shared. In researching green building in D.C. last semester, I found website after website lacking pertinent and helpful information. This project will help to shape my thesis: ultimately I want to create a fully functional website that includes all of the information someone would hope to find about green building initiatives: where to find supplies, examples, contractors, tax laws and incentives, how to build your own; the information abounds. Most people don’t realize how economically and environmentally beneficial these changes can be. As a resident of Washington, D.C., and formerly of other large American cities, I am always looking for green ideas in the concrete jungle.

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