Blending Modernism with Hippy Shacks

So far I’ve seen a lot of great ideas from both those who are striving to build sustainable homes with recycled materials (Michael Reynolds and his earthships) as well as cutting edge eco materials used in homes that are reminiscent of early modernism. In the two photos below you can get a clear idea of what I’m talking about and how the two styles seem to be very much at odds with one another.


Form and Forest

The earthships are designed around the idea that they are self contained living quarters that would provide the occupant everything he would possibly need. From water collection, to generating energy, septic system, food, and heat. They truly are an amazing concept when it comes to living and being forced to interact with the environment around you. They also illustrate a very American concept of freedom, and I don’t think it’s a mistake that the first earthships were created in the early 70s. They are the architectural equivalent of a Rolling Stones album. However I also believe that the way they look is closely linked with the materials used to build them. The walls are made of old tires packed full of dirt, and anyone can learn to build a wall out of old bottles and cement. Overall I believe the idea of living off the grid in an earthship is one that ultimately has everything to do with being free, and living in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment. Unfortunately they have much less to do with aesthetics, and I believe that the space and light of a home also has a psychological impact on the inhabitants. In earthships these things seem to be secondary. Now, I’m sure there are some people who love the organic contours of earthship interiors. and I know the first thing that attracted Jana to them was the fact that plants played such a dominant role in the home. But I was thinking, shouldn’t there be a way to get many of the benefits of living in an earthship in a more modern home. , I Imagine the ideals that really make an earthship an earthship (thermal mass, making food, water, septic, heating, solar power, etc.) could be accommodated into a more modern structure.

Take a look at the illustration below and you can see just how complex (yet still simple) and self sufficient these buildings are.

The benefits of building with reclaimed materials is two fold. For one you’re recycling and thus cutting down on your carbon footprint on the planet, on the other hand building with tires and dirt is  dirt (pun intended) cheap. And cheap is very important to Jana and I as our goal is to have as small a mortgage as possible. I’m just wondering what the best way would be to incorporate the cheapest/greenest materials with a structure that will also seem clean and modern. John Lautner is someone who comes to mind, mainly because as a student of Frank Lloyd Wright I’m sure he was a firm believer in Organic Architecture which is a philosophy of architecture which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design approaches so sympathetic and well integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition. The ideas of Organic Architecture are fantastic, however in this day and age I just wish that there could be a bridge between the Clean White Cube and the Earthship. Many green building materials are simply too expensive for Jana and I to afford which is why we’re trying to find the best possible middle ground. So far I believe that this middle ground may be straw bale construction as it is both affordable, durable, and also eco friendly.

One idea I had (which may be terrible) would be if a building was built with the intention that the occupant would finish the work on it. It could start off with the bare essentials, and slowly evolve over the years.  This way much of the labor costs could be marginalized as the occupant would be the one who is doing all the finishing work. This would also ensure that those living in the home don’t reach beyond their means and end up with a pile of debt. I’d rather trade my hours worked at a job, for money saved doing the work on my house. Perhaps it’s just a pipe dream, and we’ll see how everything progresses, however I think most wouldn’t have a problem with putting in hours to build a home for their family. Especially a super cool Modern Earthship Hybrid 🙂

Small Modern Pre Fabricated Cabins From Sweden

I really liked these little cabin made by the swiss company Add A Room . Of course I would love to see some more plants accommodated near the glass. I think one of these small houses could work well as a living room, or perhaps even a studio space. Of course I imagine something similar to this could made of shipping containers.

Radiant City

In this feature length film Gary Burns, Canada’s king of surreal comedy, joins journalist Jim Brown on an outing to the suburbs.
Venturing into territory both familiar and foreign, they turn the documentary genre inside out, crafting a vivid account of life in The Late Suburban Age.
Since the end of World War II, one of kind of urban residential development has dominate how cities in North America have grown, the suburbs. In these artificial neighborhoods, there is a sense of careless sprawl in an car dominated culture that ineffectually tries to create the more organically grown older communities.
Interspersed with the comments of various experts about the nature of suburbia, we follow the lives of various inhabitants of this pervasive urban sprawl and hear their thoughts. However at the end, there is a twist that plays on the falseness of the world in they live.

Dan Phillips: Creative houses from reclaimed stuff

Container Homes in Czech Republic

link to full article

Michael Reynolds Discusses Earthships in Prague

So yesterday Jana’s friend asked her to check out “some earthship lecture” going on at the National Technical Library. Unfortunately Jana couldn’t go but I decided I wanted to check it out. Well, to my surprise while I was looking for direction I found out that it was Michael Reynolds himself! Super cool. I arrived early and had to brave a sold out crowd. The line was very czech (which means there was no line, only chaos) however I finally managed to get a ticket in the end.

The lecture hall itself was sold out, and obviously over capacity. People were sitting in the stairways and it was standing room only. I was very happy to see many young architecture students who seemed very receptive to what Reynolds was speaking about. The older professors seemed pretty stodgy and I remembered that my friend Paul had told me previously that architects tend to be extremely egotistical. But Michael Reynolds was really great.

I had previously understood the idea of thermal mass, and the fact that earthships were built to be self contained units which were completely off the grid. Recycling their own water, generating their own food, heating, and cooling themselves, built from primarily recyclable materials, and easy to build. The main question I had lingering pertained mainly to the wall of windows (the solarium) at the front of the building and how it worked with the rest of the building. I was unaware that the solarium itself was used as a sort of a buffer zone between the outside space, and the indoor space. And I really like the idea of incorporating plants into a building, and altering the design to accomodate plants both for eating, but also for cleaning the air as well as the water.

The systems he discussed for cleaning water were very interesting, and this was one aspect where I’d have to meet it halfway. I would have absolutely no problem with recycling the grey water from the shower, or the wash, but the toilet on the other hand. I think It would end up being a huge pain in the ass and having a normal functioning toilet would be one of the little things that I wouldn’t be ready to give up.

The solar panels and the wind energy are pretty standard at this point and going solar seems like it is more of a lifestyle switch. I know of only one person who is living totally off the grid and his solar panels are enough to keep his laptop running. I also recall about ten years ago I went out into the desert outside of Flagstaff Arizona with some friends. There was a cabin out there, and it only had solar power. Nonetheless it was enough to power the turntables, a few lights, and the speakers all night. I still remember how everyone started cheering as the sun rose in the morning and we knew the music wasn’t going to end. But of course, that’s Arizona, there’s tons of sun. There’s some other small changes that can be made such as switching to LED lighting. However, I honestly don’t think taking down the amount of energy we use would be an impossibility. I want the TVs to go out the window as soon as our child is born, and other than our big energy sucker will be computers. I don’t intend to go completely off the grid but it would be nice to have some supplemental green energy coming into the house to offset our utilities bill and just make us more conscious about how much energy we are using.

At one point someone in the audience asked about Biosphere 2. Which was an attempt to create a completely contained unit that would make all it’s own food, own air, recycle it’s waste, etc. etc. Well, Biosphere 2 failed, and I think Reynolds had a great answer as to why. Biosphere was one project that cost billions of dollars to make, and if that one design failed, it meant the end of the entire project. But with earthships, and alternative bulding techniques it is important to learn from your mistakes constantly, and improve upon them. The fact that we get to play around with these same types of ideas on a small scale is really pretty cool. Of course there’s tons of money at play to the average person, but at least thousands of other earthships have been built. It isn’t just one design, it’s more an idea, and I think if some compromises were made it would be something that be incorporated into many different types of homes.

Michael Reynolds seemed like a really chill guy, and he genuinely seemed like he was trying to make the world a better place. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps some of his ideas came from a different age, and that the young architecture students were thinking of new and creative ways to incorporate his ideas into more modern designs. I think the main thing that put some people off was simply how it looked, and this part of the world doesn’t have any history of adobe buildings so they really look like spaceships to them. However I really think the basic idea of using earth as thermal mass for both cooling and heating is sound. I’ve seen the other variations of this such as earthbags, and I’m not really sold on them. I imagine it feels great to live in a home with such thick sturdy walls. I’d love to somehow incorporate elements of an earthship with other building techniques. However I imagine this is mainly a war that you’ll end up having to have with some local planning committee. I imagine this will be the most difficult battle we’ll have to fight, and it’s really sad that these sort of things are such a waste of money, energy, and time. But I’m definitely ready to take it all on, because in the end we don’t really have anything to lose.

10 easy steps to turn a backyard into a permaculture garden

1. Set up a small compost pile somewhere discrete

2. Find out what your soil is composed of. Don’t be put off here, if you have access to an extension office, they can tell you. But, use common sense. What is the organic content. What is the mineral content. What sorts of nutrients will you need to amend with? Its ALL about the soil.

3. Observe the “native” ecosystem nearby. Whatever should be there. This is your greatest teacher. Is it semi-arid perennial bunch grass? Is it coniferous forests? Is it deciduous forest? Learn the natives and how you can use them.

4. Designing an ecosystem is all about succession. What is the series of plants the complement each other while building the soil for the next succession?

5. AVOID INVASIVE SPECIES. If they are already present, use them. Many are medicines or food. Exploit them.

6. Buy food / medicinal perennials. Anything that you can sustainably harvest. Include non-native food stuff suitable to your climate. For me, that is artichoke, rhubarb, asparagus, apples.

7. Plant for the future. Imagine the plants that you plant as their mature forms. How much space will they need? What is the range of phenotypes?

8. Companion planting is an infant science, especially in light of the increasing one-world-wide-flora. Variety! Plant as many types as possible, and innovate. Don’t let yourself be crippled by the extant information. Try try try. Some plants will die.

9. Fuck lawns! Fuck pesticides! Fuck herbicides! Fuck importing all your nutrients! Build a closed system. Initially it will need inputs, but focus on cycling.

10. Plant plants that also serve a vital ecosystem function. Not only should you have plants for food and medicine, but you should also have plants that attract insects. Insects can be highly nutritive food too. They also attract birds and mammals.

*Think complexity. Avoid homogeneity. Innovate…

via Reddit

Strawbale Homes: Load Bearing vs Post and Beam

What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of building either a Load Bearing, or a Post and Beam Strawbale Home? As far as I understand it is generally easier to get Post and Beam homes approved because most people who approve building codes are more used to approving Post and Beam structures. However, this may have more to do with doing what they’re used to as opposed to how structurally sound both constructions can be.

Post and lintel, or in contemporary usage Post and beam, is a simple construction method using a lintel, header, or architrave as the horizontal member over a building void supported at its ends by two vertical columns, pillars, or posts. This architectural system and building method has been commonly used for centuries to support the weight of the structure located above the openings created by windows and doors in a bearing wall.

A load-bearing wall (or bearing wall) is a wall that bears a load resting upon it by conducting its weight to a foundation structure. The materials most often used to construct load-bearing walls in large buildings are concrete, block, or brick.

By contrast, a curtain wall provides no significant structural support beyond what is necessary to bear its own materials or conduct such loads to a load-bearing wall.

What if solar power got the same subsidies as fossil fuels?

What if solar power got the same subsidies as fossil fuels? Well, it would look something like this.

Open Source Blueprints for Civilization

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that’s only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).