'The future is not what it used to be' - Paul Valery
Campsite, canvas, network node, connection machine, boundary condition, filter, power station, net sum producer, extended organism, performance space, hotrod, physical prosthesis, play pen, social generator, magazine [makhzan]: memory storehouse, identity engine; - The problem for us as designers and architects is not so much the design of the house but the question as to what kind of society do we wish to live in? Can we make certain desires easier to accomplish? At the very least shouldn't we celebrate those activities we see as most precious and rich?
Up House - a scenario for exploration.
Saint Andrews beach is very beautiful. Windswept, rough and green. The sleepy hollow of a town is loosely strung out on a narrow winding road that leaves the main road 3 kilometres away. Vanda had bought a property siting in a small dip in the landscape among the sand dunes and a back beach road. It is heavily vegetated, in an almost pristine condition. There is one narrow sandy track in from the road to the centre of the site where a dilapidated corrugated iron farm shed had stood. She had fallen in love with the site immediately, having found it, and the garish for-sale sign, accidentally while getting lost, taking a short cut, to Gunnamatta surf beach, 5 kilometres away. With her promotion to management, this was a timely reward. Her first house; a beach house.
She had decided on a Honda, from reading the Saturday newspaper advertisements in the real-estate section. She liked the taught curves of the main volumes and the extensive features offered with the roll in bathroom module. She had decided to buy the main shell but lease the core service modules. Upgrading was automatic and she could not be sure how her demands on the house might change so reconfiguring these easily was a priority. The structural components were all stainless steel space-frame or tensegrity modules. They are always reusable and a good investment. She was assured that should she even wish to move to a new city high-rise site they would only have to go through a routine structural diagnostic before being re-knitted into a modular frame hanging off a high rise down-town tower. On this site should she wish to later extend or reconfigure its only a matter of some unbolting, some additional 'Techno-Post' screw-in footings, space-frame and appropriate body panels.
The house construction had begun on Monday with the setting out and installation of the screw-in footings. These had required no site clearing or vegetation damage. This immediate landscape was essential to her enjoyment of the location so any damage or clearing to accommodate clumsy or unwieldy construction equipment was out. The footings were screwed in using a compact auger. A small trench had been dug to accommodate the power cable, water and sewage hoses onto the site to connect the house to the grid. The power connection was mainly as an income generator, as with the house's integrated solar array covering most of the building skin and her sporadic occupancy she would be sending most of the power generated back to the grid. Power-station-holiday-homes are quite reasonable low-tax income generators. The sewage connection hose is flexible with a 50mm diameter and is part of a pump-assisted system. All fittings and connections are drip free 'dry break' valve fittings originally developed to handle toxic fluids in the chemical and petrochemical industries.
Today the two tautliners are scheduled to deliver the house, shell and service systems. Estimated assembly time by 4 installers: 8 hours. The space-frame structure, made up of 20mm diameter stainless tubing, has been factory pre-assembled into 2.4 metre square sections, light enough for two men to carry them onto site. The three way grid with it's triangular pattern can accommodate both rectilinear and curvilinear plan forms. The space-frame platforms form the main deck and the roof trusses. Tensegrity masts and struts finish the chassis of the house, ready for connection of the wall and roofing panels.
Once the deck is in place it is threaded with a flexible integrated service loom containing all service conduits, plumbing and cabling. The loom is securely clipped to the space-frame and all the currently required service terminals [including dry break connection points for water and sewage], set along the length of the loom in the correct locations in the factory, are positioned in plates to terminate at floor level. The deck is skinned in a matrix of 2.4 metre square composite panels, ranging in finishes from wood to rubber and a metalised recycled plastic depending on the activity zone and weather exposure at that point. The external deck skin carries an embedded circuit of air-ducts used as part of the thermal energy storage collection system.
The roofing and wall panels come with integrated guttering profiles, which also serve to stiffen the panels. Most are slightly curved for the same reason. The panels are made of glass, polyurethane, ETFE foil cushions, stainless steel mesh and perforated sheet, aerogel insulating cores and plastic-metal composites. Most come with eletrochromic, photovoltaic and thermochromic coatings, computer control and feedback information and power connectors to make up a dynamic polyvalent building skin. Each panel produces power from incident solar radiation which is then used to power its own computer and the surplus power is fed back to the houseÕs central fuel cell, and back into the civic power grid. The panelÕs computer controls it's performance as a filter, also responding to the surrounding panels and the demands of the occupants. Daily, weekly and seasonal patterns of use are recorded and retained as a set of precedents or 'beliefs', to be refined and followed until changes in usage are detected. Some panels have OLED or liquid crystal screens printed on them so that they can act as complex graphic transmitters. The panels are all numbered and secured in sequence to the space frame and associated tensegrity structure with water proofed proprietary fixings. Automotive style weatherproof strips join panels to each other and to the deck.
It is of course no accident that the house looks aerodynamic. It is. Square block buildings are wasteful of energy, like big square trucks. Wind broadsiding these buildings creates pressure differences that suck out the internal carefully heated or cooled air making them big inefficient thermal bridges. Increased weather from climate change has made stream lining a safety issue for architecture. The final selected house envelope design was tested in a virtual climate-modelling wind tunnel, for this exact site, to ensure its performance in very bad weather.
By 7.30pm the house shell and service core is completed. From the second truck are wheeled the completed kitchen and bathroom modules. They are transported down the narrow track on big-wheeled furniture trolleys and delivered to the deck where they are rolled into the house to the first available service ports and locked down. Vanda will roll them into the locations she wants when the installers leave. They are easy to unplug and move. They use flexible dry break connection valves for coupling to water supply and sewage and sullage systems. For the house warming party, she is already planning, she will roll the kitchen out onto the deck for a barbecue and the bathroom close to the 'back door'.As her furniture and intelligent partitions [with active sound damping and built in LED and fibre optic ambient lighting systems] are moved in she starts to scroll through the programming procedures for the house's temperature, humidity, solar, air movement and security settings. Like installing the system for a Macintosh computer, common sense options are assumed while infinite variations are possible if the user requests them. The computer controller's first task is to run a diagnostic check on the entire house to find out what systems are present and that they are all talking to each other. There is only one computer to program but the house's computer network is a semi autonomous distributed array of small computers in contact with each other [cellular automata], many self-powered from neighbouring photovoltaic membrane panels. Should there be a power cut or computer malfunction the consequences will be localised to a small area of the building and key functions like security and fire protection are reassigned or reconfigured to a temporary mode and the occupants notified. The computer program investigates the service network and the kitchen and bathroom modules and begins their operation by filling the bathroom hotwater storage tank from the mains water supply. This will be a rare occasion as the bathroom module, a 2 metre high, 2 metre long, 600mm wide stainless steel container, with foldout hydro massage bath, hand-basin and toilet, is based around a water recycling, filtration and a UV sterilisation unit. It uses mechanical vapour recompression technology, developed in the fruit juice concentrate and dairy industries, to operate rapidly and with minimum power. It will be mainly fed by roof rainwater run-off and will recycle up to 90 percent of water used in the bathroom. The toilet uses a non-mechanical pulverisation unit to break up solid waste requiring only a 50mm diameter exit pipe.
Vanda is keen to begin programming the Filter and Expression sections of the computer package. Filter controls the desired intensity and patterning of incident light entering the house, by manipulating the electrochromic layers of the buildings membrane. Beautiful dynamic dappled patterns can be programmed or selected as well as simple block filter patterns, cycled and timed to suit daily routines and seasonal changes or just keyed to desired temperature performance. Multiple patterns can be programmed using a simple menu interface. Additional energy and security modes can be selected for times when the house senses that it is empty.
The most exciting part of the program is Expression. This program controls the OLED and liquid crystal membrane coatings and allows Vanda to program the colour, pattern and visual 'texture' of the buildingÕs surface. She is familiar with the program, as she has played with them at her friends' houses, setting up for parties or just experimenting. The effects can range from awful faux Georgian or Neo-classic detailing to shifting abstract patterns of colour or text or photography. She is already planning the visual performance she wants to play on the faade for her own house warming party. She has sourced some wild new pattern programs from the internet.
They will allow her to achieve an effect across the building surface like the reflection of sunlight off water. She plans to punctuate these effects with embarrassing large-scale detail shots of her closest friends and some of her favourite lines of poetry. She looks forward to gradually crafting, accreting and evolving a character for the house, one not set by others in stone but dynamic, of her own making and one that allows her to more fully express and celebrate events important to her, festivals for her friends and neighbours. In a high rise urban context this facility of architecture functions like a kind of electronic garden or follie. As the trucks pull away at dusk she prepares an expresso in the kitchen and puts her feet up on the deck outside listening to the waves above the trees.
Michael Trudgeon, David Poulton, Anthony Kitchener