Home » Environment »Events/Meetings »Planning & Design »Politics/Policy »Real Estate »South City » Currently Reading:

Mayor Slay Opens EcoUrban’s LEED-Registered Modular Home (w/video)

For a few hours yesterday afternoon and evening the crowds of people toured EcoUrban’s first project, a modular construction green home located at 3140 Pennsylvania in the City of Saint Louis.


Mayor Slay and 9th Ward Alderman Ken Ortmann helped with the grand opening festivities.


Talking above is Amos Harris from Brady Capital, the funder behind EcoUrban, Kathy Hale, special assistant to the Mayor, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and on the right is EcoUrban’s leader Jay Swoboda. Against the wall at left is Sgt. Ron Danbeck, a driver and guard for the Mayor.

Amos Harris introduced Mayor Slay who spoke briefly to the group assembled inside the home:

The home is not yet LEED-Certified but is currently LEED-Registered. EcoUrban is expecting to be the 5th home in the US to be certified at the highest level, Platinum.

I will have a much more detailed look at the home and other modular construction projects in the city later this month, including pictures of this home before and during construction. To see more images from the opening event yesterday click here. Also, check out Toby Weiss’ take on the EcoUrban home from May 23rd.

As an aside, I could have used this post to talk about a lack of real progress from the Slay administration on the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement but as Scott’s mother said in Baz Luhrmann’s 1993 film Strictly Ballroom, “I have my happy face on today…” So there, I have my happy face on today.Hmmm, now that I think more about the film Strictly Ballroom the more I see a relation to St. Louis. Young Scott wants to dance his own routine but the old guard establishment has a set formula that if you dare stray they will punish you, going so far as fixing a big competition to favor a drunken has been who always followed the rules. Scott dances with the homely girl from the wrong side of town rather than the beautiful girl that will surely further his career under the established guidelines. The general public, much to the chagrin and surprise of the status quo, loves the engery and excitement of Scott’s bold new moves.

In one of the best exhanges in the movie the old guard leader Barry Fife asks young Scott, “Where do you think we’d be if everyone went around making up their own steps?” to which Scott quickly replied, “Out of a job.” Exactly!

Some days I feel like Scott & Fran, learning and performing the Paso Doble in a town of people blindly doing the same waltz over and over again without questioning why. The best lesson from the film; “A Life Lived in Fear is a Life Half Lived.” So true. Click here to watch one of the most romantic scenes from the movie.


Currently there are "37 comments" on this Article:

  1. environment says:

    Amos Harris has been one of the most prescient trend spotters in St. Louis. He was among the first to bring risk capital to downtown. Seeing him move to neighborhoods, with a visionary product, can only mean good things. Will we see more of the downtown crowd start to explore opportunities in neighborhoods? This is what we need. And Steve, about that dance step, dude, you’re figuring it out! There is a plan. There is a way. Slay knows it. Amos knows it. Now you’re seeing it. Don’t fight it. Be it!

  2. Joiner says:

    “Don’t fight it. Be it!”

    Yeah, Steve — stop criticizing the establishment and join it already.

  3. Joe Frank says:

    Sorry to sound cynical — but I’d like to see the mayor or the other dignitaries that attended — and I guess had valet parking for the event, if I’m reading that sign correctly — come down into our Benton Park West ‘hood without his “guard and driver” like the rest of us do.

    If he really wanted to demonstrate environmental-friendliness, he could hop on the #10 Gravois bus on Tucker in front of City Hall, and only 17 minutes later hop off at Gravois and Arsenal, then cross the street and be at the EcoUrban house. That’s what I do, 4 or 5 days a week.

    That house is a great project, as is the nearby ongoing rehab of the formerly vacant and collapsing tavern at the NE corner of Nebraska and Juniata.

    But come a block south, on the 3200 blocks of Nebraska and Pennsylvania, and things are not progressing so fast. Early Tuesday morning (about 1 AM I believe) a 17-year-old was shot and killed, I suspect for gang-related reasons, in the alley between Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Over on Oregon, on Memorial Day two doors down from the front of our house, somebody let off 10 shots — and that was very scary, as we had our windows open for ventilation rather than using a/c. Nobody was injured in that case.

    I think BPW will be a great neighborhood in, say, 10 years. I’m just not sure we can hang on that long, and be worried about getting shot all summer.

    Anyway, it’s not enough to just build LEED-Registered housing in established neighborhoods. We also need a transit system that works (this area does have that), public schools that work (they are, to be sure, a mixed bag currently), and most of all, a sense of personal safety (right now, this area does not have that).

    Sorry if folks think I’m being a Negative Nelly, but I think my frustration is reasonable. I bought into the idea that this was an emerging neighborhood, and things are taking a lot longer to improve than I’d thought. If anything, the crime situation in my pocket of the neighborhood seems to be a little worse.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Boy, you are more cynical than usual.  I personally overheard the mayor making a cell call from this house indicating he meet with the next person in about a half an hour.  The man is busy, I can’t see him conducting city business on a bus.  Also, it is a strange world out there so having an officer near the Mayor is a reasonable safety precaution in my view.  

    Hopefully new residents in the area will help drive greater demand for a better transit system and to help with some of the problems nearby.] 

  4. Willie says:

    That house is unreal! Can’t believe this is happening downtown!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — At the risk of responding to someone just yanking my chain, this house is not downtown.  It is located in the Benton Park West Neighborhood which is a few miles from the border of downtown.]

  5. Skewgee says:

    it certainly sounds like a move forward in the right direction, although i’d be interested to get the input of a learned professional like yourself. of course, you’d already have heard of this http://blog.thecommonspace.org/archives/000709.php were you still a member of the stl sydicate – ecourban has been advertising with them the last month or so…

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I’m sorry, I don’t really get your comment.  Yes, on May 13 the Commonspace mentioned the house and company — I saw that post as did many other people (thank you RSS feeds).  I’m not sure if you are trying to suggest that I just learned of this project?  If so, you are quite mistaken.]   

  6. Matt B says:

    Just wanted to note that the mayor has the same police protection whether he is in a mansion in the CWE or an eco-friendly house in the Benton Park West.

  7. Sorry, but I think it’s rather ugly.

  8. 70grand says:

    As a former resident of BPW, I have to agree with everything Joe said in his comment. We lived in the 3100 block of Pennsylvania, and while it’s wonderful to see development period (green or not) this kind of reminds me of suburban housewives feel good about shopping at Whole Foods.

  9. I have not yet toured the home but I am very excited out it, hopefuly this will be something we all can learn from. But I have to concur with Douglas, the design is not as attractive as it could be. I like the basic design well enough, it is the details that throw me off. First, I think they chose a poor bond for the brick portion, a flemish bond would have looked great applied here. Second, I liked it better before they installed the wood trim to the exterior. From the street this gives the appearance that the home is constructed from 1x2s. Hopefully the next one will be slightly more attractive.

  10. Adam says:

    thank you. it IS ugly. i appreciate the green but it looks like wooden dowels and dry-wall.

  11. Webby says:

    Wow. That’s one of the least attractive new residences I’ve ever seen. Surely you can build “green” without being so bland? It looks like the outside walls haven’t been finished.

  12. rolo says:

    It seems strange to me that a project like this that would satisfy “urban design” critics that comment on this site, is not enough??? you know, these types of things have to start somewhere. Hopefully this is just the beginning. However, I am not sure what would satisfy critics here. What will??? Kudos to steve for this post.

  13. Maurice says:

    I’ve got to agree with some of the others. Thanks for posting on this topic. We (society in general) needs much more green buildings, but damn, this baby looks nothing more than a box from one of the big box retailers. It almost looks like something one might find along the coast in San Diego or like. It just doesn’t blend in well. They could have done better

  14. GMichaud says:

    I’m sure the developer would like to know if everyone thinks the home is ugly. Just being Green is not a pass for dropping architectural design in the trash bin. Steve has pointed out numerous times that the details in urban planning are important, and they are. In any case if the developer finds he has trouble selling his homes he would probably appreciate the uncensored comments.

    Crime, yes crime is a real problem. I live in an area that is relatively quiet off of Grand and still there was a murder two blocks away last year. It is more than police that is needed. Ultimately the widespread corruption of government and their corporate handlers sets the standard for the rest of society. Of course they make the laws so their stealing is legal, but they are fooling no one.

  15. steveo says:

    Uh, the outside isn’t done. And da%n you guys are hard to please. I’d like to see a few more windows, but building one of the most energy efficient homes in the world on a vacant lot in St. Louis City – this is nothing short of FANTASTIC!

  16. Bill says:

    First, I want to share that I am a proud resident of Benton Park West. I also have been on the Board of Benton Park West for the past three years, in various capacities from Vice-President to Publications Chair (Newsletter).

    Secondly, the seemingly escalation in crime is not just being felt in Benton Park West, but in a large majority of neighborhoods in the South City area. The crime we’re seeing today is not the same crime that we saw even two years ago. Diligent and many times vigilant residents are taking back the neighborhoods. Crime didn’t creep into the neighborhoods of South City over night. Hence, eradicating the same crime won’t happen over night. Just two years ago, there were still massive amounts of drug activity in Benton Park West. While it can’t be said that all of the drug activity is gone, I do believe that any activity now is isolated and quickly taken care of.

    Crime comes in cycles, based upon “who is in control”. When the heavy drug activity was going on, the smaller petty crimes as well as gun issues were rare. The activity was controlled by the undesirable drug activity. Now that the “heavy hitters” are gone, the young punks think they have control. They are sadly mistaken.

    We are in the “busiest” times of crime in the City. The weather is warm, and getting warmer. It is up to EACH of us as good residents to be the eyes and ears of the STL Police department. If you see “hanging” or clumping up of kids, call 911 or 232-1212. The police can’t be on every corner all the time…THAT IS OUR JOB. Don’t be afraid if the evaluators at the 911 call center know you by your first name. Put 911 on speed dial and make a difference in your block, neighborhood and City.

    Third. Back to the topic of this thread…the Leed Green house of EcoUrban Homes. While the structure and floor plan isn’t my taste, I do see that there will be a strata of home buyers who will find this house the perfect place to call home. If you were to poll the readers of this thread, I would venture to say that you would have differing opinions on the “perfect” home. For each person, there is the possibility of a different opinion.

    My personal opinion for the EcoUrban home is that it’s a cool space…except for the exterior. I personally don’t care for the wood…makes it look like a 60’s suburban build. Also, while I’m glad they chose to use some brick, it would have been nice to have found original brick to the neighborhood or at least South City to blend with the rest of the housing stock on the block. Also, to have had a less contemporary pattern on the brick.

    These differing opinions are called “diversity”. We have to remember that diversity is what will re-build and sustain our older neighborhoods. If everyone on a block were the same (same background, job status, socio-economic status, etc.), folks it would be a boring block.

    So, again, while I’m not a fan of the building for myself…there will be someone who will fall in love and call this space home.

  17. Kevin says:

    While I don’t love the baton strips, many believe a new building should reflect the time in which it was built. Is a brick facade considered a negative impact to a LEED building (or was it a budget buster)? Is this the elevetion that was presented to preservation & local boards in planning stages? What is the estimated total monthly utility bill of this unit? How much might it sell for… I should have gone. Kudos to EcoUrban for building green in the City (and not destroying a historic building to do it).

  18. his neighbor says:

    I’m disappointed. It is common knowledge with LEED designers that you can design an attractive building using sustainable practices. While I’m happy that a new building went up in benton park west, I wish he would have made it it look nice.

    I have to agree with Bill^. People need to call the cops more and more. West is not coming up as fast as I thought it would (i agree Joe). The area is really dangerous…if you don’t know *walk it*. It is common to see 12-18 kids on street corners, littering, yelling, at all hours of the day. I don’t mean to be negative but I see it alot.

    Cheers to EcoHomes. I hope you build more but with an aesthetic eye;)

  19. Jay Swoboda says:

    Well…you just can’t please everybody.

    I love the discussion and hope the feedback, both constructive and from the hip keeps coming – it is what will help me improve our design and concept and will lead to better designs moving forward. I’ve worked for 1.5 years to bring the concept of green, infill homes to St. Louis neighborhoods and I’d hate for all the good that could come from our development to be tainted by personal opinions of my choice in exterior siding. For those of you that don’t know me, I live in a 3-story 120-year old brick home just 4 blocks from our display home in the 2700 Block of Wyoming and I wanted to continue investing in Benton Park West, but I was not interested in doing so without putting my unique stamp on it. Could that be considered selfish or short-sighted? Or a step in a new direction? I imagine the first brick structure looked pretty out of place next to the log homes so long ago…

    The responses above are mixed, but overwhelmingly in favor of a redesign. Where were you guys a year ago when I could have used your input before I spent $10K on the Hardi-board and cedar??? However, my take from previous posts gives me the sense that responders would be accepting of faux-historic new construction with 2 foot brick returns and vinyl siding – am I wrong? Unfortunately, for them, I just can’t do that – it doesn’t inspire me and it sure as hell isn’t original. You can’t have your cake and eat it too for new construction under $200K…it just can’t be done. I implore you….PLEASE do not judge this book by its cover (the inside is really, really beautiful) as the siding and facade can be any material (as long as it is green) that our homeowners choose (brick, stucco, fiber-cement lap siding, etc.). What is important here is the potential of this concept: LEED-registered, new construction. So, while I completely agree with paying homage to the vernacular architecture the year is 2007 – not 1907, and I challenge you to find a eco-friendly siding application such as the fiber-cement board we used that has a 50-year warranty and costs less than $8/sq. foot. Good luck.

    I realized as the cedar was going up that even I was not 100% happy with how it turned out – but in life you must learn from your mistakes or spend a lot of cash to fix them. Fortunately, your feedback/comments have not fallen on deaf ears and I’m excited to explore some new ways that we can improve on our facade and siding selection. So, those of you with strong opinions contact me and let’s put together a focus group to inform future facades for the next round of EcoUrban Homes…(faux-historic need not apply)…otherwise, you’re entitled to your opinion I just won’t respect it if you don’t contact me and become part of the solution. I’ll have the house open from 12 – 3 PM tomorrow (6/10/07) and all next week from 4 – 6 PM.

    Thanks for all the feedback and keep it coming….

    Jay Swoboda, Project Developer
    EcoUrban Homes
    314.231.0400 ext. 4

  20. Jay, Thank you so much undertaking this project. And, thank god you are not another developer looking to doing faux-historic, wrap around brick front, vinyl sided… Though my earlier critique still stands, I have to admit that had I seen the design elements before hand I probably would have approved, and had I even seen rendering of the house before it was build I may not have had quite the same criticism. It is the case though that the real thing often looks different then the renderings would leave you to believe. I am excited that you are doing a modern project, and using readily available and affordable quality materials, that is what modernism is all about, it is also resposible building. I plan on visiting the house on Monday or Tuesday, I look forward to meeting you if you will be on site either of those days.

  21. Adam says:


    don’t get me wrong; i’m very grateful for your green efforts. they set a wonderful precedent for future development. personally i don’t find the exterior attractive but, of course, that’s just my opinion. to answer your question (“where were you guys a year ago …”), i was living in Benton Park West, but i didn’t hear of this project until now.

  22. Jim Zavist says:

    I wanted to drive by and see it in person before I commented . . . I fall into the camp of a great concept and a laudable effort, but “green” doesn’t have to equate to “different” just for the sake of being different. I undertand the major need for cost containment (and the limits associated with it), and I see a few sparks of advanced design thinking, but I’m troubled by some of the proportions (two single-wides on top of each other) and detailing (window head & sill alignment), and I don’t get the wood bands, but I did like the brick corner and the basic concept behind the fenestration. Hopefully more refinement will come in future efforts, and YES, I want to see more of this happening! (Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)

  23. M says:

    Sorry, but I must completely disagree with all posters who say that new and green doesn’t have to be “different”. I think it MUST be different. We have to quit building crap that tries to imitate what has come before. As was said above, architecture should be about the present state of mind and should reflect the time it is built, not try to imitate a previous generation. Some may not like the materials, and I myself am not completely sold on the choices, but as an architect I applaud anyone who tries to do something different and modern in old neighborhoods (I obviously mean new buildings on vacant lots, not by demolition) . The diversity is desperately needed.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I’m somewhere in the middle on this debate.  The issue is that most faux historic facades come off cheesy and half-assed.  Based on some comments here, many think this modern facade falls into that category as well.  I’m personally just so sick of the mindset that by wrapping the basic red brick around the corner of a new house for 2-4ft that somehow if automatically fits in. 

    While the EcoUrban house has some details to work out I think they are moving in an interesting and creative direction, refinement will hopefully come with experience.]

  24. GMichaud says:

    M, so you think the architecture must be different? That is puzzling, what are you building with that is new, chewing gum? The point being, early building systems (such as you find in old parts of Soulard especially), were complete, modular, energy efficient, transit and walking friendly, economical to build and in general represented a complete system that was very creative in it’s application throughout early St. Louis.
    The current Lafayette Square, Soulard, faux historic movement has nothing in common with the previous history of building that has evolved over thousands of years.
    Steven Holl came to visit my late ex-wife and myself in Soulard in the early eighties for his pamphlet architecture series. He was studying, as we were, the modular, comprehensive nature of early building systems. If you’re familiar with the work of Steven Holl, you know he designs for today, but he is grounded fully in the early systems. His most recent work, a museum opening just Saturday in Kansas City compliments the Historic Nelson-Atkins Gallery with classical overtones.
    In any case being different for the sake of being different is the same trap the faux historic movement in Lafayette Square and Soulard has fallen into, only with a different name. After all nothing is as modern as a leaf.
    For example, studying previous building practices, one might have avoided those horizontal battens on the eco-house that will trap water and more than likely become a problem in a few short years.
    While I am all for diversity, there is no reason to reject all of building history, nor is there any reason to fear utilizing appropriate elements from the past. This country is still recovering from the Le Corbusier era of modernism with its slum clearance policies and the building of high rise housing projects surrounded by park land. We don’t need another mindless era of modernism for the sake of modernism.

  25. Skewgee says:

    my apologies for the misunderstanding. this is why i made sure to complement your expertise before adding my input. in my reference to that article, i was refering to the same company, which has been advertising with STLsyndicate since around the beggining of may. i really need to remember to stop leaving incomplete/drunk comments, which when sober would not leave such incoherant comments.

    can’t wait for a follow-up post on the houses

  26. M says:

    GMichaud, exactly what argument are you trying to begin? I wasn’t arguing that the modular construction of this building are modern, and I never said that the materials had to be “new” to be modern, that is absurd, yet you assume that for some reason. Your lecture is of interest as to only listen to design-school-speak/rhetoric at its finest without saying anything substantial. I wrote my post based on comments such as the complaints about the f**king brick coursing. A little contemporary flair can fit in perfectly in an old neighborhood, no questions. A material such as brick doesn’t have to be used EXACTLY the same way as the other buildings to fit in, can be more modern, yet still be the SAME material. Simple argument and we seem to agree on that idea.

    Me arguing for modern design doesn’t mean we clear slums and build projects surrounded by green space, where the hell did you pull that argument from my post? You are reaching here just to find an argument, as those comments have absolutely nothing to do with what I said.

    You also need to read, I never said I liked the wood battens, I actually said they were questionable. I simply applaud someone doing something that isn’t the easy way out (replication). That doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING should be different and completely modern.

    And nice name-dropping, that is excellent. Since Holl didn’t visit my house so you may not understand this, but yes, I do know who he is and am familiar with his work. That also said, I am not at all impressed with his new KC work. Not all things modern are great archicture, even when done by so-called star-chitects.

  27. GMichaud says:

    M, I wasn’t name dropping; I was trying to give context to the design discussion. I doubt many people have even heard of Steven Holl, so it makes it difficult to name drop when few, if any know the name.
    As for as the wood battens and the green space around housing projects, your fatal word in my mind was must. It MUST be different. Many readers would take that as a signal to ignore the past. That brings us to urban renewal, Corbu and the modernist manifestos which ultimately resulted in Darst Webbe, Pruitt Igoe etc. It is mandating being different instead of working with the city that is present.
    Ignoring the past lessons of design and construction has other consequences. Thus you have an emphasis in early construction of keeping water off the face of a building, resulting in curved gutters and corbelling, today battens are attached that will catch that same water.
    As a culture we have yet to match the modernism of Soulard in the 1860’s and 70’s and to the 20th century. We are not close to the level of accomplishment from the era that St. Louis claims its glory.
    The design debate is good. There is too little of it. This is not a design school debate however. It is fundamental to the proper rebuilding of the city. The defects of the eco house are real and the ignorance of previous construction systems is real.
    Combining the best of the past with the best of the present will be a path of success for eco homes. Not only in design decisions for the home, but also relationships with the community.
    A real place to innovate is to allow free form zoning so that store fronts can open in most, if not all locations in the city. This not only breaks the monopoly of corporate capitalists, but at the same time returns the city to its job as an economic engine. This is exactly how Soulard operated until recent years. .
    These are the kind of issues that would begin to change the form of eco homes along with homes of other developers. Build on the past for the present.
    Yes we need something different, something to meet the needs of today, but what is the best route to accomplish that goal?

  28. Jason says:

    GM- you mention Holl’s new project in KC. I have seen it during the day and its not as successful visually as it is at night- oh and wait 10 years to see how the product discolors and you cannot keep up with changing the lightbulbs in the thing.

    Anyway- Along those lines I have similar things to say about this home. While it meets the objective and may be pleasing on the inside (I am sorry to say I have not toured the home yet so this is based on other’s comments), part of being a “neighbor” and having a sense of “community” is respecting the context into which your place your design. I applaud the side entrance which is a nod to the residence next door, but that is where its response to its context stops. Not that it needs to mimic, but it needs to set up a dialogue whether in harmony, or in contrast to the surrounding housing stock. There are many modular homes that are aesthetically pleasing so I dont think its the modular-ness that is the issue. Pick up a Dwell magazine or check out their homes line http://www.thedwellhome.com I think they are much more successful on the exterior, but of course they were not going for leed certification either, not to mention that budget is probably not an issue for their materials. The issue I have is that it looks as if you took the maximum dimension of the board then put battens on to cover the joints. Great for conserving waste, but not for aesthetics. And why the stacked bond on the brick. People go off about fake brick all the time so I guess stacking it is one way to show that its not loadbearing and that its truly a veneer. I would have just left the brick off and used the money spend on the mason to do something more unique with the exterior. If you want truly modern stack a couple of shipping crates on top of each other and cut a hole in the two for a stair, add some windows and your’re done.

    I know it sounds like I am being overly critical, and I would love to have a chance to look at future designs! Its easy for one to criticize when I was not part of the process from the beginning so for that I completely understand your desire to dismiss any of the above comments. I think overall though the house is a great first success and with some minor tweaking could be a complete package both inside and out!


  29. GMichaud says:

    Jason, I have only seen photos of Holls project, so you have an advantage over me. I was trying to say that Holl studied classical architecture and now builds modern buildings. His attempt to integrate his design with the much older Nelson Gallery is a good example.
    Personally I think his building has a look of sprawl about it. I’m not sure of the massing, but photographs are so hard to tell. I would be interested in seeing how he relates the inside with the outside with all of the edges he has created. How he works with the old.

    Yes I agree there are good examples of attractive modern homes in Dwell. Although they don’t address urban projects as often as they do detached dwellings.

    In any case forgetting about architectural history when designing for today, is a little like burning your math book because you want to discover all of the principles of mathematics yourself.

  30. Nate says:

    Just wanted to drop in and tell everybody that EcoUrban Homes was just awarded the LEED for Homes Platinum Certification, making us just the 9th builder in the country to earn this distinction.

    This is great news for the city of St. Louis, as there are currently no Platinum homes in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, and a number other larger, seemingly more progressive cities.

    We also have the **most affordable** Platinum Home in the country.

    EcoUrban Homes

  31. well, EcoUrban homes was recently completed, and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay!

  32. A daily updated magazine that's obsessed with green building and … ++Mayor Slay Opens EcoUrban's LEED-Registered Home

  33. You have incredible results, by the way.
    Very insightful tips.

  34. WOW!!!!!thank you for sharing these idea I love it!!!!

  35. Thanks for sharing your point of view, I will pass this among my mates who is perhaps interested in this topic, you have got yourself some regular readers, and I’m one of them.

  36. Your view is definitely something Id like to see more of. appreciate for this site. Its fantastic and so is what youve got to say.


Comment on this Article: