Thursday, March 04, 2010

the practical of radical

I am always startled to see something out of context, it evokes a strong reaction in me. Putting a child's potty in the livingroom might be accepted with ease, an adult's urinal in a public place is embarrassing and outrageously out of place (done with artistic intent). Some artist are committed to shock art. Architecture can be shocking when "that building" is placed in the context of other buildings. Is it a centerpiece, a catalyst for change, an eyesore or the proverbial sore thumb? It was a progressive idea, an engineering marvel whose meaning and purpose is lost in the eye of the beholders. Quick, someone call the PR and the news station we need to educate the people (until there is a collective sigh). We need spin, we need spin here!!!

OK, get a grip. Where would car performance be without drag racing, road racing, stock-car racing. I grew up dreaming of George Barris custom cars, he made luxury in cars standard. Today even trucks are well appointed. Many times in design there is a fore-runner, one who dares to break free, bend the rules and explode the square or cube in our case. Tell me when folks start putting trees in the home as house plants, huh. Or when did folks start converting garages and basements into comfortable living spaces. I am tempted to convert my garage into a personal gym because I got the space and the community gyms are too expensive, crowded and a sanitary hazard.

In my old neighborhood they got all upset when prefabs started being brought onto the street. They were the same size as the stick built homes and sat on full basements (because the building commission required it to limit prefabs on slabs).
These prefabs were factory built, some of the features were cut back to fit module production, but really nice and really, really livable. But the big advantage was the cost was cheaper and finishing faster for the owner. To this day I gasp when I see a stick house being built. I go "What, no panelized construction, no finished house section on a truck??" They bought from the first little piggy, I bet.

There is a design gap where it is not profitable at all. Well moneyed folks never had a problem. People who are tight buy and take what they can get, whatever. The group with improvement aspirations are full of high demands and empty promises. They can not afford the ritz and don't want the grits. I know this is true, when you see the houses on my old street you'd agree. The lots are tiny and shallow for the big houses and while they are dramatic inside, height can't make up for useful space. What is useful space? That is the space between the floor and the furthest reach of your fingers. Oh, I just love high ceilings! Is that an echo? echo? echo? Please don't speak up I can hear myself think, several times. Slightly lower profile, yet same useful space, fewer building materials and a tad larger lot makes comfort dollars for a family is well spent.

Radical design in my old neighborhood was there, two log homes, both nice. There was also the two built by a foreign builder, both with attached garages and one with the entry over the garage so that a curved stone stairway ascends up. Man, that's got to be awkward and it looks weird. Now we know what not to do. In my thinking, radical means not conventional. Factory built homes are not conventional, they would be if we thought of replacing existing energy and maintenance hog housing stock with efficient, sustainable homes. We are vexed with two thoughts, a house must exist for at least 100 years and be paid for by the time we die. We console ourselves by saying "it's a classic", Paul Revere would be happy here". I saw beaming at exclaiming "it's a century house" and cursing "it's bankrupting me with upkeep cost." "I can't keep this up and pay it off too!. I am Paul's great great grandson, I need to keep it in the family."

I think the container home is practical but add some other kinds of structure so that others can have at the cheap boxes too, and we can have variety of form. Imagine a street full of stacked boxes, doesn't look like homes. Looks too cold, austere, modern. I'd go for a warmer contemporary look by adding some curved forms. As far as prefabs go I'd find a way to repro the container form so that features can be added to facilitate modular building and finishing. Then, you can buy new container like box or convert actual cargo containers. We have the technology, we already make mobile homes and prefab houses, not much diff? The factory becomes a necessity with the volume of the need. As long as the homes are high-end homes demand will be low. Start replacing mid to lower range homes in existing hoods, you will have to build more home factories.

If homes were more autonomous and self sufficient we wouldn't have to stack and huddle them to share resources. Space between homes and neighbors is fine with me. What's a little tree between me and thee? It's a park and your house is not blocking the sun from the east. Oh, did you suffer the misfortunes of unsubsidized rent and unregulated utilities when ones more fortunate can know mother nature's got their back? No, mine is against the wall, the wall is cold, the shadow of your satellite dish buffets me. Ah, yes, reception is sweet yet I feel for your plight. Take this Pringle can antenna, tap my network to watch PCTV till my cable comes...........and if it's well with you, perhaps you can buy cable too. Yes, and bread we can break for lunch, perhaps a fast break on yonder b-ball court. Is that a challenge? Me thinks you wish revenge. No, my intent is fair and neighborly, but if pink slips is your wager, I'd pass for a bat to deal swiftly with your dish. What if I win my roguish neighbor? Why you get to keep your precious dish, of course, till I find another challenge and spare me the Pringle can. Hey, I try to recycle when I can.


Manny Amadi said...

Great post
Before the industrial revolution house building involved the consumption of little or no fossil fuel. Translated into modern terms, old houses have been the absolute ultimate in sustainable dwellings

rno said...

Amadi I agree with you in that old homes were built the best they could be built with the technology of their day. But I have lived my whole childhood and now adult life in that same type house with todays financial situation and utility rates. $500.00 plus a month for wintertime natural gas heating is madness. The windows and wall insulation and furnace system all needs to be upgraded. This is even worse if the homes are built with lower standards to match folks of lower incomes. Today an "older home" just might be a dodo (just doesn't fly) or an albatross (flies fine but belly flops the landing). Old is not necessarily also green. Our mission is to be able to use sustainable and green in the same sentence. And financially today, less costs more. So sustainable as far as materials goes must also include financial sustainability, not for banks only, but for home owners especially.