by Michael Cockram
In the rolling hills just east of Austin, Texas, a small compound of experimental buildings makes up the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS). Here, Pliny Fisk III, his partner Gail Vittori, and a cadre of researchers and interns explore the depths of sustainable building.
A functional aesthetic greets the visitor to CMPBS, but the eclectic montage of structures makes a diverse choir rather than a dissonant jumble. Flanking the entry path is a progression of rebar trellises and large metal tanks garnering storm water.
The work at CMPBS stretches to encompass a broad spectrum of natural and human systems. Trained at the University of Pennsylvania, in the school of visionary landscape architect Ian McHarg, Fisk takes a large view of the layering of the landscape — overlaying variables and dividing maps into grids of various scales as a means to segment resources and problem areas.
A conversation with Pliny Fisk is literally all over the map. While explaining one of his projects, he is likely to diverge to a sustainable village in China, expound on the strategies for relief housing in the Gulf of Mexico, explain a connector detail, and illuminate the potential for paint-on photovoltaics. But if the listener is patient, the elements in the matrix of his work begin to coalesce, much as the layers of his gridded ecological site maps fill in over time to form a larger picture of sustainability.
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The main building at CMPBS. The water tanks supply all of the water used in the buildings on site.
Photo: Paul Bardagjy
Using standard prefabricated components, Fisk and students experiment with the aesthetic potential of various materials.
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