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WSJ’s Green House of the Future

The Wall Street Journal, one of Inside the Brackets’ favorite publications, came out with a feature article today called “The Green House of the Future.” Full text available here (may require a subscription log in after a few days). They challenged four architects to imagine and design the house of the future “without regard to cost, technology, aesthetics or the way we are used to living.”

Image from Mouzon Design home, included here because of its emphasis on practicality.

What’s the deal?
[1016] Architecture thought that it was interesting that despite some forward looking technologies (self-healing building skin, thin-membrane photosynthetic layers, color-changing cladding, etc), the article emphasized several things that are already being implemented in good sustainable design: the importance of urbanism (which we believe should be mostly infill architecture), the importance of efficiency of space, and the importance of incorporating proven technologies (even if they are ancient).

Importance of Urbanism:
The article paraphrased E.O. Wilson by saying, “No matter how advanced we get with technologies, there are things that make the human feel good no matter what. People like to see a horizon view and feel safe.” In other words, “aesthetics and the way we are used to living” are not something that can be discounted, even in a futurism competition.

One of the houses incorporated a front porch and another was arranged on three levels to allow denser, urban arrangements. These are hallmarks of the way people are used to living, and the continued trend of the world’s population moving into cities means that forward-looking residential architecture and design will improve existing urban environments and acknowledge the continuum of human aesthetic taste and daily needs.

It is impossible to judge the sucess of a building without understanding its context. Architecture and urbanism are completely linked.

Efficiency of Space:
One entry emphasized the use of movable walls and furniture on wheels to allow for traditionally under-utilized square footage (like bedrooms) to be more flexible. [1016] likes this idea a lot, though it is hardly new. It is best expressed in hard loft spaces in urban environments which are some of the most flexible and adaptable spaces available.
The easier a current, or future, user can adapt a space to her needs, the less likely she becomes to tear it down. The greenest building, after all, is the one that’s already built.

Improving Proven Technologies:
Despite advances in our understanding of building materials’ impacts on the environment, as new materials and technologies are developed and produced, the law of unintended consequences will apply, and sometimes not in a good way. Chemists and scientists did not develop CFCs as a way to harm the ozone layer, after all.

This is not to say innovation should stop, of course, but rather to emphasize the importance of using what we already know works. Even if something already works, the process by which we make it work can often be improved for increased sustainability, as outlined in William McDonough’s “Cradle to Cradle.”

Conclusion:
As the article touched upon, but did not concisely conclude, the green house of the future should be a natural extension of current spatial arrangements and urban locations, not a brand new prototype which represents a break in the way people are used to living. A few break-through technologies will be incorporated into flexibly designed homes, though they should be substantially built with proven ideas in mind.
These are guiding principles of our design philosophy at [1016] Architecture. Improving within authentic environments looks smarter and smarter.

Credits:
Credit and compliments to the four design teams which produced the content for the WSJ piece, Cook + Fox, William McDonough + Partners, Rios Clementi Hale Studios, and Mouzon Design, as well as to Alex Frangos at the WSJ for putting it together. By the way, Mr. Frangos, next time you are looking for residential architecture and sustainable design commentary, feel free to contact us.

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