A New Norris House and Landscape


Norris, TN | University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design


A New Norris House and Landscape is a university-led design/build/evaluate project located in Norris, Tennessee. The LEED for Homes Platinum project is a case study for integrating sustainable water systems into designed landscapes. Design goals include: collecting and treating rainwater for in-home and landscape use; infiltrating greywater on site; and managing 100% of site stormwater. Three years of residency and data collection produced results that are fostering new conversations about rainwater and greywater regulations in Tennessee.



A New Norris House and Landscape (NNH) is an award-winning, university-led design/build/evaluate project located in Norris, Tennessee. Initiated by the School of Architecture and Planning Department, the project engages faculty and students from architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, engineering, environmental studies, and biosystems engineering departments. The LEED for Homes Platinum project received awards for design, pedagogy, and environmental performance, including the EPA P3 Award, the NCARB Prize for the Creative Integration of Research and Practice, the ACSA Design|Build Award, a RADA Merit Award, an AIA Gulf States Award of Merit, and most recently was recipient of an AIA COTE Top Ten Green Projects Award.

A three-year residency and water systems monitoring program is concluding May 2014. This entry describes one year of rainwater quality and quantity data and greywater quantity data. Projections of water and energy use are evaluated against actual data collected during the one-year period. Data prove we are able to collect, treat, and provide rainwater that 01) is safe for human contact by EPA human health criteria, 02) meets drinking water standards, and 03) is sufficient in quantity to meet 30% of a two-person household’s needs. Preliminary greywater data indicates safe and effective infiltration into a planted landscape bed.

Project History

Norris is a model community constructed in 1933 by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as part of the Norris Dam construction project. The TVA was a technological and social experiment in which methods informed by local, empirical research were made accessible to the residents of the valley region. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “the work proceeds along two lines, both of which are intimately connected - the physical land and water and soil end of it, and the human side of it.” (Van West 2001)

A key feature of this New Deal village is the original “Norris House,” a series of experimental cottages designed for modern, efficient living. Designers responded to vernacular dwellings, yet the TVA experimented with new building materials, construction techniques, services and equipment. Designs, costs, and performance were studied and recorded by the TVA with the goal of appropriate and broad adoption of new technologies in housing. Additionally, the TVA utilized research on environmental resource conservation and planning. Norris homes were situated into the larger landscape to promote walkability, create a neighborly community, and to conserve and protect natural resources such as water, soil, and forest products.

Underlying the Town of Norris’ picturesque vernacular landscape is a history of progressive planning and design. A NNH commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Norris Project and seizes the opportunity to reconsider the shape of landscapes, communities, and homes today. The project provides a unique case study for once again making visible the powerful union of environmental, technological, and social forces.

An Integrated House and Landscape

The NNH pursues complimentary performance and design intentions where water systems provide greater independence from municipal infrastructure. Design goals include: collecting and treating rainwater for in-home and landscape use; infiltrating greywater on site; managing 100% of site stormwater; and integrating landscape elements of sustainable water systems into the fabric of a historic residential neighborhood.

The project goes beyond creation of a model home and landscape. As state and local codes currently prohibit treated rainwater use in the home, realization of the project required reforming regulatory constraints that limit green development. The process included revision to Norris' ordinances to allow treated rainwater use and started a new regulatory conversation concerning state issued permitting for residential greywater treatment. The project team worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) for two years to obtain experimental permits for the greywater system that would ensure safe operations and responsible monitoring and data collection. Experimental permits were to remain in place for only the duration of the study. As of this entry, the project team, TDEC, the City of Norris, and the Norris Water Commission are working together on deed restriction language that will allow the designed greywater system to remain in place in perpetuity, and to transfer the operation permits with ownership transfers. The ordinance allowing rainwater treatment and use systems at the NNH will also be made permanent in City of Norris' code. The New Norris House and landscape case study and research findings are catalyzing development of and advocacy for policy revisions in Tennessee by TDEC.

Rainwater Harvesting and Treatment: Objectives, design description, and criteria Water goals at the NNH began with questions surrounding the appropriate balance between public and private services as they relate to safe, convenient, efficient and environmentally responsible water use. The project team worked to find a solution that satisfied the stipulations of the temporary permits and would function without onerous maintenance by the residents. The team also obtained variances for use of treated rainwater solely for toilet flushing, clothes washing and exterior hose faucets.

Water quality of collected samples is tested at two laboratories: a state certified drinking water laboratory and a university laboratory. To date, samples of treated rainwater collected from the NNH meet EPA regulated, secondary regulated, and non-regulated drinking water standards. The rainwater treatment system provides an average of 800 gallons of treated rainwater every month for use in the home and exterior faucets. 100% of overflow rainwater is infiltrated in four terraced rain gardens.

Greywater Infiltration Bed: Objectives, design description, and criteria Similar to water supply goals, finding a balance between public and private services drove greywater goals. Greywater produced in the home from the bathroom sink, shower, and clothes washer is infiltrated on site in a vegetated infiltration bed. Existing sewer connections remove blackwater. Primary benefits of on site greywater management include reductions of required municipal energy used to transport and treat wastewater at a central facility, and re-charge of the local groundwater through infiltration.

Methods and outcomes
Consultation with technical advisors revealed the importance of bed saturation—specifically, the assurance that greywater discharged below ground would not percolate to the surface. Measurements show that the bed has yet to be fully saturated, with ample capacity to infiltrate all of the two-person home’s greywater discharge.

Stormwater Management: Objectives, design description, and criteria
Site stormwater management features are designed to integrate performance and aesthetic experience. Stormwater sheet flow is intercepted by the perimeter native grass meadow—a “sponge” that slows the velocity of stormwater and provides deep root zones for infiltration. The meadow blend includes low-growing native grasses and perennials acting as the site’s own greenbelt, a microcosm of the greenbelt that protects and recharges Norris’s municipal water supply. Overflow cistern rainwater is sent to four terraced rain gardens that provide level areas for infiltration on an existing 1:4 sloped site

Methods and outcomes
During the one-year study period, approximately 15,600 gallons of untreated cistern-overflow rainwater was infiltrated in four terraced rain gardens—providing groundwater recharge and decreasing reliance on city water by 97% as compared to the average US homes' irrigation use. A portion of the overflow rainwater was stored in a 200-gallon cistern and used to irrigate the raised vegetable beds.

Applicability to Landscape Architecture Practice and Education
Projects such as NNH that combine education, research, and community outreach are effective vehicles for catalyzing policy revisions that inhibit green development practices. Because of the innovation and commitment to research of this project, TDEC, the City of Norris and their peer municipalities have a local demonstration of the safe operation of rainwater treatment and use and greywater infiltration systems against which they may (re)evaluate their own building ordinances. Landscape architects and water resource advocates may now point to this research and tour clients through the NNH as part of their own advocacy and education initiatives, supporting their argument for such green building practices in their own projects.

NNH water resource goals are modest for parts of the US, but the reality in Tennessee demands demonstration projects that merge reliable data, aesthetic sensibility, and positive user experiences. Documentation of this project has already led to regulatory changes that will make sustainable water practices not only permissible but hopefully commonplace in Tennessee. Please visit our website for more information: www.thenewnorrishouse.com

"It's important as a model community. They pushed the boundaries of design when it was first built and here they are again, at the same site, pushing the boundaries yet again. This is the kind of project students should be engaged with more – the longer term, rigorous investigation of how design really engages sustainable systems. Students get to see what really works, and what doesn’t"

- 2014 Awards Jury



Lead Designers:
Valerie S. Friedmann, Associate ASLA
Robert C. French
Samuel Mortimer
Tricia Stuth

Co-Researchers: Dr. John Buchanan, Levi Hooten, Matt Lyle

Technical Guidance:
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Water Quality Testing Parameters Norris Water Commission
Water Quality Testing Parameters City of Norris/Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), Code Revisions
Anthony Gehl, ORNL Building Technologies Research and Integration Center, Data Collection and Interpretation
Dr. Andrea Ludwig, Biosystems Engineering
Galina Melnichonko, UT Water Quality lab
Matthew Snyder, Civil Engineering, Sunlight Gardens, Construction and Installation
John Deere Landscapes, Construction and Installation

University of Tennessee Student Team (Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Engineering)


Plant Material, Overhill Gardens
Terraced Infiltration Beds, Deltalok GTX bag and connectors
Water UV/Carbon Filtration Treatment System, BRAE Rainwater Harvesting
Site Furniture, Room and Board