MI CASA ES SU CASA – ¡mañana!

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MI CASA ES SU CASA – ¡mañana!

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Home is where the heart is. But unfortunately, home is more than a safe place to hang your hat, rest your head and co-habitate with family and partners—a conventional house can mean a big, dirty, expensive, environmentally destructive footprint.

A new kind of structure—modular shelter housing—may be the building of the future.

Yes, any existing house or other standing structure may be retrofitted, remodeled and retro-“greened”. Obvious changes which may be made to an existing structure begin with an evaluation of the building in the context of energy-use.  A poorly insulated house, for example, literally leaks air which is warmed by a central heating system and cooled by air conditioning. The energy used to accomplish that heating and cooling literally goes out the window, as well as through the cracks and gaps and spaces around windows, in the roof, etc. This not only costs the resident money—it exhausts valuable resources with no benefit to anyone except for the municipalities which provide the utility services.

There are many other considerations to examine when “greening” an existing building, and of course this process is essential to make our planet healthier and more energy-efficient. This process requires a substantial investment in terms of time, money, labor and superior materials.  But creating a new kind of home, based upon a modular concept, may be easier and more attainable.

Some of the ideas for this kind of shelter come to us from disaster situations. For instance, a company called Designnobis has devised a “pop-up” temporary shelter which can be easily transported (the parts fold down, like a picnic table!) and assembled to house people displaced by an earthquake, hurricane or other crisis.

According to DeZeen.com, a design and architecture magazine, natural disasters displaced 22 million people worldwide in 2013—three times more than the number left homeless as the result of war.

Lightweight components made of molded fiberglass, aluminum, weather-resistant, thermally insulted perlite may offer alternatives to the conventional building materials with which we build traditional homes: wood, steel, concrete, sheetrock, plaster, glass.  The parts are flexible and adaptable (example: stretchy, expandable walls). The roof of this particular modular unit is designed to collect rainwater, which may be purified for human consumption.

In a similar vein, furniture giant IKEA, through the Philanthropic Ikea Foundation, has produced 10,000 flat-back temporary shelters to provide emergency housing for refugees and other survivors of global conflicts and disasters. These shed-like structures made of lightweight polymer panels are equipped with a solar panel laminated on a thin plastic film, and are designed to last for approximately three years.

And blueprints for the immediate future may be even more far-out in their context. For instance, NASA has hosted a 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, launched in May by the space agency and America Makes. The challenge was to develop state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of 3D printing, and offer designs for comfortable living spaces—wait for it—on Mars.  While many of the submitted designs state their purpose as propose housing for colonization of the Red Planet, many features, such as pointed roofs embedded with a reservoir of salt water, to shelter the cone-shaped structures from snow accumulation, sandstorms, radiation and extreme temperatures, may offer food for thought relative to the effects of global warming.

Keeping in mind that the Martian environment is far less accommodating to carbon-based life than the current atmosphere of our own planet, these designs may offer radical solutions for housing challenges we have only begun to contemplate.

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