Landscape & Architecture


The landscape design at SVI comes from a land ethic based on preserving and recovering the natural biodiversity of our bioregion through the land-use and community-building movement known as permaculture. This design philosophy encompasses ecological landscapes that produce food, support energy-efficient buildings and promote recycling of materials. These components are placed in an order that is synergistic and in harmony with the land and people.

At SVI, over four acres planted in edible landscapes are integrated with the forest ecosystem. Hundreds of fruit and nut trees, vegetable, herb and flower gardens, and vines produce organically grown food, teas and medicines.

Nestled between the forest and gardens are ponds with myriads of creatures, places for nature study and quiet reflection. We continue to maintain and improve the edible landscape as an educational experience for visitors. The gardens also provide outdoor laboratories for new techniques in ecological agriculture. Through our workshops, we illustrate that edible landscaping and the creation of permaculture designs are rewarding, creative and exciting endeavors.

Acknowledging the world’s ever-growing need for food and fiber resources, we support and encourage the reclamation and sustainable use of land, which is currently deteriorating in the hands of industry and modern agriculture. Low-input high-yield forms of food production used in SVI gardens can be adapted to a wide range of conditions throughout the world. As informed citizens of the world become disenchanted with factory farming techniques that rely upon chemicals, our example offers agricultural alternatives that work.

Natural Building and Architecture

Architectural goals are to develop and maintain the property and facilities as examples of technologically appropriate and ecologically friendly design, harmoniously integrated with the forest and edible landscape. Handcrafted buildings utilize native and salvaged materials. Passive solar design and attached greenhouses provide heating, cooling and daylighting. The structures inspire visitors and serve the needs of all who come to SVI to learn. Interns and workshop participants share in design, construction and maintenance.

Moonshadow, the main facility on the property, provides meeting spaces, kitchen, a library and staff residence. Other structures include Tipple, a timber-framed wood-working shop; Mud Dauber, a cob (clay, sand, and straw) residence; Como Se Llama, the llama barn and crafts gallery; Anole, a craft workshop, meeting space and guest space; Alpenglow, a pottery kiln shed; FourOaks and Crow’s Nest, bungalows for staff; a tool shed; a hoop-house for winter gardening; two cob bread ovens; kiwi and grape arbors and composting toilets. An earthen bag/earth ship hybrid called “Earth Shag” is under construction. It will be another residence for staff or interns. Research, design and fundraising is underway for the Barking Beetle Conference Center. This structure will also serve as a library, dormitory, laboratory, workshop and performance space and classroom. Please contact us if you would like more information about this “green” building project.

Alternative Energy

The sun provides electricity for Moonshadow and surrounding buildings. An array of solar panels tracks the sun to collect energy which is stored in batteries to provide electricity. A stream has been diverted to a small reservoir which will eventually power a micro hydro (water) system. In order to round out the energy design, a wind charger system has been added to the system.

All structures represent exemplary passive solar design. Large areas of glass in south-facing walls admit the sun in winter. The sun’s heat is stored in architectural rock and water and in attached solar greenhouses. North walls are well-insulated with few windows. Energy-efficient rock fireplaces and stoves provide supplemental heat. Deciduous trees, overhangs, and venting provide summer cooling. These innovative designs are favorites with the public during tours.

During the annual National Solar Homes tour, our staff provides informative tours of the alternative energy systems and architecture at SVI. We publicize the tour and arrange visits to homes and businesses which use sustainable energy in our five-county region. Up to 60 people attend the tours every year. We have sponsored the tour in Southeast Tennessee for many years. In 2001, more people attended the SVI-sponsored tour than all other tours in Tennessee combined.

6 thoughts on “Landscape & Architecture”

  1. Is it affordably possible to use solar to heat a home approx. 2,000 sq. ft.? By affordably, I am thinking around $5,000.


  2. Teresa, that question would best be answered by Patrick Ironwood, or by our friend and benefactor Thomas Tripp at Big Frog Mountain Alternative Energy Sources, a Chattanooga-based solar energy contractor.

    A lot depends on whether you are thinking about solar electric or passive solar design. Adding a greenhouse as a solar “wing” onto an existing structure is one option. New construction can definitely benefit from passive solar design, probably at no additional cost. From what I’ve learned from Thomas, if you are thinking solar electric, you should factor in total cost of ownership. While the initial investment is high for the infrastructure, batteries, panels, power management, etc… when you consider the long-term savings amortized over the time span of the home loan, you can easily break even, and if also using passive solar design, see a cost benefit over a grid-bound home. If your home is in a remote area where the power provider has no existing infrastructure or right-of-way, then solar electric installation can also show a cost benefit over linking with the grid.

    Again, Thomas would be the expert, and if you can speak with him he can explain in detail the various cost/benefit solutions for alternative energy production.

    In my own limited experience, if you can use propane for cooking, heating and refrigeration, coupled with a small solar electric installation with a “cigarette lighter” inverter, you can power low-wattage electric devices and LED lighting to get a very efficient system off the grid. This would also require a gravity-fed springwater system, due to the high loads produced by an electric well pump.

    If you would like to experience all aspects of passive solar and photovoltaic installations, please come visit us during a monthly tour, or plan to visit during the National Tour of Solar Homes. Here is some archival information regarding the 2007 Tour…

    Check back soon to see the schedule of events and come see us!

  3. Sanford McGee sent me your page address. I need to talk seriously about something of value and worth to do. I have been a teacher and sustainable farmsteader all my life. I am retired with bad knee-hip. Had to sell farmstead. Cannot find community that is up and running where we could live nearby and join them for social-economic common cause. Master’s Degree and life science-ecology instructor. Years of interpretative work Nat. and State parks. Am going crazy trapped and worthless in mainstream apartment. Cannot find solution. Can someone help me find use for my mind that gives my life reason once again?

  4. Hey guys! I am TN native and graduate of UT-knoxville. I got to know about you guys through my work with SPEAK and as an environmental studies major. After I got out of school I did home energy audits in the TN valley for a year or two and now I went back to school to get a degree in sustainable design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. One of my classes this year deals with green building case studies and I was really interested in showcasing a natural building style to my class. I thought about SVI and I would really love to put a paper/presentation together documenting some of the innovative techniques you guys use down there for your buildings and structures. If you guys think you could work with me I would really appreciate it. The kind of material I would need would be measured energy use, floorplans, sketches of passive systems, wall structures or any other unique and inventive techniques you are using.

    Thank you for your time and I really hope to hear back from you. I’d like to show the guys up here in PA how we build right back home!


    Dave Epley

  5. Hi Dave, we don’t really have much material written up for the subjects your researching. You might think about dropping in for a few days to work with us on the Ulinawi building project, which would give you some time to do photography, sketches, interviews, etc.

  6. Hi Boyd, you might consider joining us for a scheduled tour or event. We could discuss your situation and see if we can find common ground.

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