04/09/2011 03:42 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2011

How to Green a McMansion? Tear It Down and Build Two Homes In Its Place

Tear down one highly unsustainable McMansion and build two small green, handcrafted homes in its place? I like this idea a lot.

Bothered by Australia's homogenous housing landscape, which is dominated by brick veneer and terracotta tile-roofed houses in every climate from the cold highlands area to the tropical north, artist Mathieu Gallois and a team of architects and experts have launched the Reincarnated McMansion Project to demonstrate alternatives to unsustainable housing models and draw attention to sustainability in existing housing. The Reincarnated McMansion Project wants to audit and dismantle "poorly built, mechanically cooled and heated" suburban homes, then use the materials to rebuild two green houses in their place.

"In our discussions with developers, urban planners, architects and home owners, the question of what to do with Australia's vast car dependant suburbs, built during a short period of cheap energy and cheap raw materials (second half of the 20 century), has been asked time and again," the project's website states.

The Reincarnated McMansion project's approach to suburban redevelopment discourages the practice of knocking down existing housing, down-cycling some materials and sending the majority to landfill, then rebuilding with all new materials. After quantifying the total embodied energy of an existing McMansion as well as the embodied energy of the rebuilt houses, the team will create a housing model that encourages sustainable lifestyle choices through passive environmental strategies.

"To be reborn as a better version of oneself-the project encapsulates a powerful symbolic metaphor," its founders state. "The project thus seeks to transcend its quantitative, aesthetic and social goals; emphasizing a spiritual reading of the processes as an architectural, environmental and cultural cleansing."

"The term 'McMansion' is clearly intended as a pejorative label, and there is much to be critical of here," says architecture critic Naomi Stead, a project partner.

"Profligate in their use of material and energy not only in construction but over the whole life of the building, these dwellings are generally over-sized, poorly sited and oriented, lacking quality in materiality and space, and usually also located in outer-suburban situations so lacking in population density and basic services that they lock their owners in eternal servitude to the car."

Knocking down big, poorly built houses and building smaller, more efficient homes offers many benefits, according to Reincarnated McMansion:

• Potential revenue income from the second dwelling.

• Reduce building footprints and internal volume by 40 percent to 70 percent per dwelling, increasing available usable land for outdoor living and garden space.

• Introduce natural ventilation strategies, passive winter solar gain, solar hot water and solar power, rainwater storage and grey water bio filtration.

• Increase building's life cycle

• Reduce site's carbon footprint, resulting in electricity and gas bill savings.

The team is currently seeking homeowners in Australia to participate in the project. I wish we could convince them to do a little recruiting over here.