Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Future is Now

The Wall Street Journal asked a trio of designers to imagine the 'Green House of the Future', with energy efficiency as a point-of-departure. This group came up with some inventive visions - although it's telling that all of these ideas and problems could be envisioned right now with our available technology and materials. Nonetheless, the visions tell us a bit about where we're at in the mainstream and the futuristic - begging the question - what really is going to be the future. The very different visions offer a range of opportunities, from the vegetal to the technological - showing the myriad ways to solve similar problems. The question, of course is will technology or inventiveness be the key? I have my opinions (of course) but would love to hear other viewpoints.

In my opinion, the most compelling and complete entry (albeit perhaps aesthetically challenging to ones neighbors) comes from Rios Clementi Hale Studios. The project "...has a garden façade that includes chickpeas, tomatoes and other plants. The plants also provide shade and cooling. A rooftop reservoir collects water and keeps the building cool, while rooftop windmills generate energy."

I really enjoy the graphics as well - much more sketchy and visual. The green seems less integrated than 'tacked on' - sort of a growth emerging from the south facade and a traditional 3 level box opposite. It's also interesting that there are specific plants for the garden chosen... an energy, aesthetic, or personal choice?

:: image via WSJ

Next is the same story from WMD+Partners - using the powerful metaphor that has made a career - the idea of a building like a tree. Expanding the ideas of biomimicry in architecutre: "The "bark" of the house is made up of thin, insulating films that would self-clean and self-heal if damaged. A curved roof with large eaves provides shade, which lowers the heat load in summer. The "trunk," or the frame of the home, consists of carbon tubes, while the "roots" are a heat-pump system buried in the yard."

I think theoretically there is a lot of technical rigor to this proposal, as well as many of WMDs projects... and in this case it is specifically integrated... relying both of the vegetation and natural projects as well as technological adds (such as the self-healing 'bark').

:: image via WSJ

Cook + Fox take a tecno-architectural turn, with a building skin straight out of the transmaterial ideology of Star Trek. The " reacts to the weather, turning dark in the bright sun to insulate the house from heat and turning clear on dark days to absorb light and heat. The façade also captures rain and condensation to fill the household's water needs. Inside, walls and furniture are on rollers to take advantage of the fact that some spaces, such as bedrooms, are underutilized most of the day."

I like the form and mutability of space - but the reliance on technology feels like a cop-out. We try to solve so many problems with techno-fixes - when good design, based on micro-climate and context can do it without the patents and high-technology... and probably a lot cheaper.

:: image via WSJ

The most yawn-inducing, yet grounded design comes last - from Mouzon Design - looking at the natural environmental design techniques incorporated into a neo-traditional frame, the design: "...uses tomorrow's technologies -- as well as ancient techniques to reduce energy use. Solar paneling built into the roof and façade provides electricity and hot water. The house also employs a "breeze chimney," an ancient architectural tool, as a kind of air conditioning."

There are some laudable and interesting concepts, but none of this seems specifically futuristic or innovative - even what they envision as 'melon cradles' for growing vertical foods... seems like a future for a place that is still designing houses like they were in 1995... I guess saying it's sort of like a future happening right now.

:: image via WSJ

All in all, these exercises are somewhat interesting in giving some quick speculative idea generation potential to problem solving - and putting them into some quickly accessible visuals. This is similar to the work of Good Magazine - or the densely concentrated containers of competition graphics... but in the end, I'd say these are more the pulse of the present and less the vision of the future... So, what's really next?

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