Doug White’s Big Rock Cottage Wins National Green Building Award


Environmentally-friendly elements can be found throughout Big Rock Cottage, located on the East End of St. John.

White’s FSC Residential Award

Doug and Leslie White’s Big Rock Cottage in Privateer Bay on the East End of St. John — an Island Green Building Association 5 Star Tropical Green Building — was the 2012 Design & Build with Forest Stewardship Council Residential Winner.

FSC is the international certification organization for sustainably harvested forest products. The award was given at the U.S. Green Building Council conference “Greenbuild” in San Francisco a few weeks ago.

The residence is located on the eastern tip of St. John, on the remote and undeveloped East End. The property contains an extremely rare, endemic native plant, Machaonia woodburyana, which is protected by Privateer Bay subdivision covenants.

St. John native plant expert and horticulturist Eleanor Gibney conducted a rare plant survey of the property and identified numerous Machaonia woodburyana and approximately 55 other native species on the property that had never been cleared or developed. 

The White’s subsequently designated one-third of the property as protected areas/conservation easements and decided to develop the property with the preservation of native vegetation, (which is the most economical form of landscaping) as a major design element in the residence.

The traditional vernacular West Indian wooden cottage building form, which is extremely resource efficient and historically proven as hurricane resistant, has a single skin construction and exposed studs on the interior.

Due mostly to human attitudes, it has become virtually extinct in the US Virgin Islands, except in historic districts. 

After the Category 5 Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, the UBC Building Code was adopted in the VI, which prohibited the construction of vernacular wooden cottages with conventional lumber.    

White, who has a Masters Degree in Preservation and Restoration of Historic Architecture, wanted to preserve and revitalize the use of the charming and resource efficient vernacular West Indian wooden cottage building form. 

He also wanted to find a regionally sourced, sustainably harvested, naturally termite resistant tropical hardwood lumber to use instead of northern sourced, treated lumber for building construction.  

Also, the Island Green Building Association, Residential Tropical Green Building Certification guidelines, which White used to design the building, require that all tropical hardwoods used in construction be FSC-certified.

Several years ago White was invited by the Rainforest Alliance Smart Wood program to attend a Buyers Roundtable in Guatemala on FSC tropical hardwood hosted by FORESCOM, a group of community forestry cooperatives that have timber concessions in the multiuse zones of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén, Guatemala.

The FSC/Smart Wood Program in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, a 1.2 million acre protected area with very strict controls and harvest quotas, is a model program for sustainable forestry worldwide.

White found two species, Santa Maria and Manchiche, which “bush tests”  in the V.I. determined  were termite resistant. Bush tests are conducted by putting several pieces of lumber in the “bush” for several months, in the proximity of termites. If the termites eat the samples, they are not to be used.

The next issue was designing a traditional vernacular structure that would meet local building codes.   Using US Forest Service lumber specifications, Structural Engineer Paul Ferreras sized the members needed for the design to meet code.

FORESCOM milled the lumber to spec and shipped it to the Virgin Islands to build the residence.  White and Carlson Construction have designed and built several of these cottages on St. John.

White’s green building architectural design philosophy has also been greatly influenced by his many years of living on a sailboat in the Caribbean.

“I have always been intrigued by the fact that one can live very comfortably in small, well designed multifunctional spaces on a sailboat, yet when we get on land, we seem to require so much more space to accommodate the same living functions,” said White. 

So by incorporating nautical inspired, multifunctional space design, White has been able to create a very comfortable cottage, with several outdoor living spaces, bedroom, dining/interior sitting area, kitchen, bathroom with outside shower and ample storage all in 900 square feet.

The residence was designed in accordance with the Island Green Building Association’s Residential Tropical Green Building Certification Standards and is certified as an IGBA 5 Star Tropical Green Building.

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