Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Anyway, anyhow, anywhere

Photos courtesy of PassivDom Corp.
As a follow-up to my previous post, "Going Mobile," I thought I'd explore the way PassivDom Corp., a Ukranian manufacturer of sustainable solar 3D-printed houses, is truly going mobile with the modular prefab home, to the extent that it captures the spirit of an additional song by The Who: "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere I Choose."
That, says PassivDom, is just how you can live when you place their "first totally autonomous house in the world" anywhere you choose to live in the world, from the Alps to the Andes to the Acadian to the Atlantic to the Arctic (provided, of course, that the land is unowned). Unanchored, untethered and ungrounded, its essence is best expressed in that song:

'Nothing gets in my way, not even locked doors'
PassivDom unlocks the world to you, and its portability lets you go on vacation without leaving home! (No more hotel bills!) Locked doors are a strength, too: a burglary protection system of tempered-glass windows and doors, a stronger-than-steel fiberglass-carbon frame, and a GSM-alarm system that lets you mind your house from your smartphone.

'Don't follow the lines that have been laid before'
The water, sewer, phone, electric and gas lines, that is. This fully solar-powered house takes you off the grid, frees you of utility bills, frees your world of pollutants, yet keeps you warm any- where with 7.33-meter-thick insulated walls and state-of-the-art thermal windows. A water-storage system harnesses rainwater for all your bath and kitchen needs.

'I get along anyway I dare'

Dare to live free? You'll get along, thanks to the house's self-regulating micro-climate system that sets and sustains the right indoor temperature and humidity and controls oxygen and CO2 levels, reducing the carbon footprint and keeping your living space healthy. All operable from your smartphone's magic touch.
You'll also get along in the house's compactness. The sleeper sofa morphs your living room into your bedroom. The handy kitchenette and small bath, with just enough space for off-the-grid gastronomy and daily routines, free up the main space for many uses, showing how big small can be when planned carefully.
Not big enough? The picture-window-wall and the front-deck capacity on the open land expand your space outside, so you and your guests can drink in the scenery at your housewarming, as a reminder: you live in the world, not just at home. Also, the modular design allows expansion into a PassiveDomicile, if you decide to settle down.

Home, sweet home
With the autonomy, flexibility, mobility, self-sufficiency and sustainability of the PassivDom House, your home is your castle and your climate simultaneously. Like a bird nesting in the north and then taking off to re-nest in warmer climes in the winter, this residential novelty freely lets you "go anywhere, for something new" (in The Who's words) in a way that spares you the purchase-and-sale encumbrance and expense a big move mandates. 

Which puts to rest that old chestnut John Howard Payne hammered into our heads for generations in his 1823 song of the above title:
'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Now your humble but hardy home can roam with you—anyway, anyhow, anywhere you choose!
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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Going mobile

Allston and Brighton present such a wildly eclectic hodgepodge of buildings modeled on places with well-established architectural identities—the New York of Commonwealth Avenue, the Oxford of Brighton High School, the Cambridge of Harvard Business School, the Rome of Harvard Stadium, to name a few—that these Boston neighborhoods lack central defining elements, the way brick rowhouses signify Beacon Hill and bay-windowed brownstones characterize the Back Bay. That was why, in my ramblings through Allston and Brighton's architectural admixture as a resident there, well-landscaped mobile homes like this stood out for me. For they capture the core characteristic that has defined these villages for years: transience with potential for permanence.
"Movin' in, movin' out" typifies Allston-Brighton across the generations, as graduate students and greenhorn professionals land pro tem digs there and move on up and out in a few years (as shown by the mountains of couches and whatnot usurping the sidewalks come September). 

Yet this blue dwelling shows how one can homestead with a mobile home: place it on a sizable plot of land and landscape it imaginatively. Thus an ordinary prefab house truly becomes home, giving incentive to stay put, unlike The Who's ideal of the peripatetic "home on wheels" vagabonding hither and yon in their 1971 song "Going Mobile."

Homesteading, indeed—this mobile is a ranch with all the dressing: a rail fence gives the garden a western twang, and topiary balances the ranch-rough with French finesse. Home, home on the range and le jardin de délices—reasons enough not to go mobile from Allston-Brighton.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Expo in retro

Photo by Guerinf, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Constitution Act unifying Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as the Dominion of Canada in 1867. So Canadians have another reason to sing "O Canada": it's the golden anniversary of Expo 67, the landmark Montréal world's fair that marked Canada's centennial by flaunting futuristic fantasies in a panoply of new architectural forms showing how science and technology can stretch the imagination and ally diverse world cultures in common goals.
Photo by Marc-André Desrosiers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Yet Expo had scant effect on my imagination or aspiration when my parents took me there. All I remember from it are the two exhibits pictured here: Buckminster Fuller's Geodesic Dome (the United States Pavilion) and Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67 community. Perhaps I resented being pulled out of Kindergarten for a week, hence missing my friends and a "Leaves Change Color" Crayola-crayon/construction-paper project my whole class had done while I was away. 

But the Red Maple Leaf was the better choice for me in retrospect. For Expo 67 was my earliest exposure to modern architecture and the ways it can enrich our lifestyles while protecting our natural environment by economizing on building materials and land use. And the Tinkertoy framework of Fuller's "world" and the block-building playfulness of Safdie's "city" did captivate my young imagination more than the other exhibits (which may partially explain why they're virtually all that's left of Expo).

Habitat for humanity

Photo by Xavier Comtois, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo taken in 1967, courtesy of Shawn Nystrand and Wikimedia Commons
Habitat must have recalled the "big blocks," "interlocking blocks" and Lego bricks I loved in Kindergarten. For this Jenga-like hodgepodge of 354 prefab concrete modules fused the spirits of all three. (A Safdie spokeswoman said Lego played "a role in the design—initial models of the project were built using Legos; subsequent iterations were also built with Legos.") 

Photo by Stilfehler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
1035 Park Ave., NYC (1925-26, Henry C. Pelton)
This helter-skelter of bump-outs, cantilevers and shifting block-stacks gave each unit individuality that intended to feel like a house as well as a unit to the resident. This radically challenged my traditional view of the apartment building as a solid, straight-up streetwall of the sort I was living in on Park Avenue in New York City at the time (right). For Habitat was not only more jagged and fragmented—like a basalt rock, an Aztec ruin, or a Mykonos fishing village—but also lighter and loftier in external appearance and internal feel. This made some of its units seem to float in space, Jetsons-style.

Photo by Brian Pirie, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
And I did feel in space-travel mode as I walked its connecting paths, bridges and catwalks, observing how sea and sky views streamed in anywhere I turned, how one family's roof was another one's garden, and how the interlinkage forged a sense of intimate community among the 158 units.
Photo by Stilfehler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Exploring the units themselves as I went along the walkways felt like my Kindergarten games of "Go In and Out the Windows": each unit felt like a logical extension of the next, and all were indelibly interconnected to one another so that one unit's roof was another one's terrace and one unit's floor was another one's awning. This achieved a delicate balance between light and shade, airiness and groundedness, privacy and community—an immaculate reconciliation of opposing yin-yang forces that made the development a cohesive yet individualized "habitat" in the truest sense. Also, the development's clean-lined, smooth-planed modernism fondly reminded me of some of my father's designs. With that I decided I wanted to live in Habitat when I grew up—which was not to be, or ever will be, given how pricey the units have become, according to a report in The Guardian.

Geodesic genius
Photo by Laurent Bélanger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Dluger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The United States Pavilion grabbed most of my attention at Expo, probably because it immediately recalled the Unisphere (right) that had been my strongest memory of the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens, two years prior. In both cases I was awestruck by the way a slender web of crisscrossed steel arcs (right) and a steel honeycomb of hexagons and triangles (above) sculpted majestic globes with space-age auras that appealed to, once again, my fascination with space travel...which would become a virtual reality when my family rode high on the minirail that was transporting us into "the world," as we called it...
...a world of space flight, high-tech, pop-art, op-art, and other funky, folky, chic, cool, hot, hip exhibits of the USA as the world leader of innovation across the universe, kudos to the design daring of Peter Chermayeff and Cambridge Seven Associates and, yes, the engineering ingenuity of Bucky's bubble.

Photo by Guerinf, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Space and structure
Photo by Guerinf, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Those two spectacles of space and structure made all else at Expo pale before my eyes. For the ultramodern of many of the pavilions was bent on showing off the shock of the new and the wave of the future in world architecture, with more style than substance. Others were simply dull, and historical hubris marred the Algerian, Chinese, Egyptian and Maine pavilions.

Photo by Wladyslaw, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
But Moshe's mountains and Buckminster's ball did it differently: they innovated space and form solely from the architectonic sciences and the characteristics of materials: moldable concrete with glass for Habitat, tensile steel trusses with acrylic cells for the Dome. They made more space with less material, preempting sprawl and skyscraper.

Photo by Alex Faris, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
This model for both conservation and wise use of natural resources ripened the Geodesic Dome for repurposing as the Biosphere Environment Museum. Fuller's original steel-web shell encases a complex of sustainable buildings, green roofs, and indoor gardens. Designed mainly by Eric Gauthier, they showcase the aquatic ecosystems of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, conserve threatened indigenous plant species by restoring their natural ecosystems, and demonstrate the capacity of planted roofs to mollify heat islands and carbon footprints, muffle sound, increase energy-efficiency and purify water and air. Also in and around the dome's biosphere are exhibits on water conservation, climate change, biodiversity, ecotechnologies, and the type of sustainable building development pioneered by forward-thinking architects like Fuller and Safdie.
Photo courtesy of the Archives of the City of Montréal
So, yes, the sacrifice of an inessential Kindergarten leaf project to witness Canada turn over a new leaf in architecture history was worth it. Habitat and the Geodesic Dome were models for the eco-building we now need more than ever to save the very world that Expo 67 was honoring—socially with global exhibitions, symbolically with the Dome.
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