Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Home of the Future

You know the old saying that the older you get, the more like your parents you become? Well, it's true (unfortunately...) - I have started to get the Frank Lloyd Wright / Dwell architectural bug. I love the late Arthur Erickson's work and anything post-modern that isn't trying too hard.

But what I'm really into is energy-efficient low-footprint housing. I've been fantasizing for years about building my own hay-bale insulated cob home with solar and wind power, a green roof, a composting toilet that isn't gross and which captures methane for other uses (natural gas use maybe?), and freakishly energy-efficient appliances (including a good old fashioned laundry line). Throw in enough land for me to till and grow veggies, and I'd be the most content human being on Earth!

I wanted to go into architecture when I saw the fruits of labour of Emily Carr's students (see a short CTV video of their very, very impressive and socially-minded work here - love it!), and I love what many designers have done with the ubiquitous shipping container, including architects working for BC Hydro's "Home of the Future" project.

The display home is located at 333 Dunsmuir St near VCC,  and features mountain pine beetle reclaimed wood and cedar siding, a green wall (good for insulation and food production purposes!), solar panelling, and all sorts of crazy energy-efficient circuitry and computerized monitoring of energy consumption. It is also made of reused shipping containers, but it's a lot less boxy than you'd expect with the slightly askew arrangement.

Would I want to live in such a tiny house? Of course! Do you think my apartment is any bigger anyway? I love the idea of living in a small but efficient and well-designed home and would much rather have something small and quaint than a large, ostentatious edifice. Of course if it was a beautiful English manor on sprawling acres, or if by some freakish twist of fate I had the chance to live at Falling Water, I certainly wouldn't turn it down! But I find big is definitely not beautiful when it comes to housing (with a few exceptions). There's nothing tackier to me than a new, towering stuccoed single family house with decorative (but functionless) ionic-styled plastic columns and a plastic knock-off of an Italian cherub and seashell fountain. To me, this screams "I wanna be rich! Look at us! We're well off" when all I'm hearing is "A fool and his money are soon parted". There are so many more worthy things to spend your earnings on, and ghastly, pretentious new houses trying to pass off as small-scale Bel Air mansions are not among them! Just say no!

I am really sorry to hear that the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster have all turned down the Emily Carr student-designed homeless houses that could so easily fit in empty lots or laneways (more articles here and here). Giving someone a place of their own for $1500 seems like the right thing to do, and I for one would be happy to share "my" alley with such a person. The Nimby's (not-in-my-backyarders) can all take a hike for all I care; if it's a human problem, it's OUR problem and our concern! I always wonder about the sort of people who loudly complain that there's a bottle depot in their neighbourhood for the "bums it attracts" (one horrid old hag said so and was trying to start a petition to have it moved) - what will life be like for them when "the Big One" strikes and those that survive have to sleep on the streets rather than their semi-collapsed houses? Or if there's a violent revolution? That may seem unlikely here in Lotusland, but they say that every society is just three meals away from revolt - deprive people of food for just three meals and expect total anarchy. I believe it - you should see how grumpy I get if I skip lunch! With the world food crisis looming, it's not all that hard to imagine.

So I move that we start embracing this ecodensity plan, get the cities onboard with the Emily Carr houses if it's not too late, and start building green walls and rooftop gardens. Sure, it may only be a drop in the bucket, but there's how many of us living in the lower mainland? Enough drips to fill a bucket and then some! Anything is possible if you suck it up and get to work!

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