In congruence with ecology as the guiding principal, this living home is designed to be nearly
entirely edible so as to provide food to some organism at each stage of its life cycle. While
inhabited, the homeâ€™s gardens and exterior walls continually produce nutrients for people
and animals. As a direct contributer to the ecosystem it supports an economy comprised of
truly breathing products not reconstituted or processed materials. Imagine a society based on
slow farming trees for housing structure instead of the industrial manufacture of felled timber.
The Fab Tree Hab concept resolutely accumulates the inscribed nuances that influenced the
American Rustic period. Stemming from the insurgent writings of Thoreau, Emerson,
Whitman, and Alcott, America defined a sensibility. These authors represent an early mode of
intention that was profoundly ecocentric. Their notion of dwelling was envisioned as retreats,
poetsâ€™ bowers, hermitages, and summer cottages in a Sylvan style. In 1847 it culminated
in the self-made assembly of a crooked cedar and honeysuckle summer home by Thoreau
and Alcott for their friend Emerson in the midst of a cornfield. This peculiar house severed as
our point of departure. Here traditional anthropocentric doctrines are overturned and human
life is subsumed within the terrestrial environs. Home, in this sense, becomes indistinct and
fits itself symbiotically into the surrounding ecosystem.
Furthermore, the approach draws from Jeffersonian ideologies in regards to equalizing
edification and ecology. In the mind of Thomas Jefferson, the measure of any single human
gesture was its contribution to the individualâ€™s pursuit of happiness. He believed humans
had natural rights. He devoted most his life to a revolution ensuring the rights of agrarianism
and education. This was vital to a citizenâ€™s personal livelihood in an agrarian economy
within a nascent system of government. Universal access to education was critically linked to
sustenance thus, the â€œgentleman farmer.â€� Jefferson essentially would advocate
ecological principles applied to human habitat so that each person can live off the land without
detriments. He could have never imagined a human race that ignored the right to freedom from
toxicity, carcinogens, and ozone depleting substances. The Fab Tree Hab not only attempts to
provide a healthy biological exchange with the inhabitant, but also strives to contribute in a
positive way to everyoneâ€™s quality of life.
Modern design has essentially left behind these principles of symbiosis. Research on this
project is mistaken for "genetic modification". Our vision is to naturally grow homes via a new
form of arborealculture not speed up tree growth. Although many individual and collective
efforts towards â€œsustainableâ€� or â€œgreen designâ€� of buildings are apparent
internationally, derivative design cannot address the underlying systemic nature of
sustainability. Fixing pieces of a puzzle fails to address the interplaying complexities of the
whole, and innovation is stifled by the need to work within given contexts. Lack of certainty in
cause and effect is often cited as a reason for not developing ecologically sound practices,
most notably with green house gas reductions and improvement of indoor air quality.
However, the precautionary principle implies that protection should be embraced deliberately
even in the face of uncertainty. Thus, instead of incorporating materials that may impart less
impact to the environment and human health - impacts which may remain uncertain in extent -
the Fab Tree Hab design seeks to protect and embrace the ecosystem as a source of
sustainability in the built environment. Just as the modern biotechnology revolution owes its
existence to the intelligence in ecosystems at the molecular level, sustainable technologies for
homes can also benefit from biological, natural systems; however, starting at the molecular
scale is not necessary. Rather, as the intention of this design explores, lumber maintained in
its macro, living form becomes a superstructure.
This is a living structure single-family home with an encompassing ecology. Tree trunks from
the load-bearing structure to which a weave of pleached branch â€˜studsâ€™ support a
thermal clay and straw-based infill. The Fab Tree Hab plan accommodates three bedrooms
(one on the second level), a bathroom, and an open living, dining and kitchen area placed on
the southern faÃ§ade in accordance with passive solar principles. Design details pertaining to
structure, elemental flows, renewal, raising the home, and budget are explored in the following
Structure, form, and growth
A methodology new to buildings yet ancient to gardening is introduced in this design -
pleaching. Pleaching is a method of weaving together tree branches to form living archways,
lattices, or screens. The trunks of inosculate, or self-grafting, trees, such as Elm, Live Oak, and
Dogwood, are the load-bearing structure, and the branches form a continuous lattice frame for
the walls and roof. Weaved along the exterior is a dense protective layer of vines, interspersed
with soil pockets and growing plants. On the interior, a clay and straw composite insulates and
blocks moisture, and a final layer of smooth clay is applied like a plaster to dually provide
comfort and aesthetics. Existing homes built with cob (a clay and straw composite)
demonstrate the feasibility, longevity, and livability of the material as a construction material. In
essence, the tree trunks of this design provide the structure for an extruded earth ecosystem,
whose growth is embraced over time. Living examples of pleached structures include the Red
Alder bench by Richard Reames and the â€˜Sycamore Towerâ€™ by Axel Erlandson.
Life sustaining flows
Water, integral to the survival of the structure itself, is the pulmonary system of the home,
circulating from the roof-top collector, through human consumption, and ultimately exiting via
transpiration. A gray water stream irrigates the gardens, and a filtration stream enters a Living
Machine, where it is purified by bacteria, fish, and plants who eat the organic wastes. Cleaned
water enters the pond, where it may infiltrate the soil or evaporate to the atmosphere. Water
consumed by the vegetation eventually returns to the water cycle through transpiration,
simultaneously cooling the home.
Fundamental to the flux of the water cycle is solar radiation, which also drives heating and
ventilation. In the winter, sunlight shines through the large south-facing windows, heating the
open floor-space and thermal mass. The reverse is true in the summer, as the crown of the
structure shades itself from extreme temperatures, instead using the sunâ€™s energy for
photosynthesis. Two levels of operable windows set up a buoyancy-driven ventilative flow,
drawing in cool air at floor level. An active solar hot water system heats the home through an
array of radiant floor pipes. Technology inspired by nature also explicitly engages it to provide
water and warmth to the habitat. The Hull section illustrates design for water flows: a roof-top
trough harvests water for human use; the plumbing system is positioned to provide for gravity-
induced flow and gray-water reuse; a composting system treats human waste and will later
return nutrients to the eco-system.
In congruence with ecology as the guiding principal, the home is designed to be nearly entirely
edible so as to provide food to some organism at each stage of its life. While inhabited, the
homeâ€™s gardens and exterior walls produce food for people and animals. The seasonal
cycles help the tree structure provide for itself through composting of fallen leaves in autumn.
The envisioned bioplastic windows, which would flex with the home as it grows, would also
degrade and return to the earth upon lifeâ€™s end, as would the walls. Seedlings started in
such a nutrient rich bed may provide the affordable building blocks for a new home typology,
firmly rooted to place. Likewise, realization of living structures would introduce forest renewal
to an urban setting. Building of these homes occurs throughout a longer time period, yet the
benefits are enjoyed as long as the trees live, after which another wave of renewal begins.
Exterior of the home embraces growth in its gardens and with bioplastic windows that are
envisioned to accept change in physical size over the homeâ€™s lifetime.
In departing from the modern sense of home construction, compilation of a budget for this
prototype inherently opens the debate surrounding decision-making and green architecture. It
is widely acknowledged that life-cycle costing methods would provide more favor to
conscientious home designs by including energy cost savings and, more abstractly,
accounting for reduction or elimination of externality costs. However, this falls short of
recognizing the compound and continuous value of sustainable housing as an interweave of
systems, and it still places too much value on benefits received today as opposed to tomorrow
or hundred years from now. By rejecting the tendency towards immediacy and, likewise, first
cost dependency, a true representation of sustainable value can be achieved by explicitly
recognizing the adaptive, renewal, cooperative, evolutionary, and longevity characteristics of the
home. This design explores the concepts in that debate by including all five traits.
At the first stage of maturity, when the habitat is readied for human presence, cost outlays are
similar in nature to traditional construction, yet much less in magnitude based on their local,
natural, and edible qualities. Clay, gravel, and straw can be obtained locally for certainly no
more than the cost of concrete. Plants and vegetation, many of which can be started from
seedlings when the structure is originally planted, will come at a nominal cost. Installation of
heating, lighting, plumbing, electrical, and communication systems will be no more than that
for a typical home, and should be less due to the systems integrated design of natural
ventilation, gravity water flow, daylighting and passive solar. As illustrated by this comparative
assessment, realization of a living home certainly fits within the realm of affordability.
Extra, or non-traditional, operating costs and required expertise over the life-time of the home
include pest management (insects that may threaten the structure) and maintenance of a
Living Machine water treatment system. Technical demonstration and innovation is still
needed for certain components, primarily the bioplastic windows that accept growth of the
structure and the management of flows across the wall section to assure that the interior
mains dry and critter-free. All in all, the elapsed time to reach livability is greater than the
traditional sense, but so should be the health and longevity of the home and family.
Experiment in time
Above all, the raising of this home can be achieved at a minimal price, requiring only some
time to complete its structure. Realization of these homes will begin as an experiment, and it
is envisioned that thereafter, the concept of renewal will take on a new architectural form - one
of interdependency between nature and people.
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Mitchell Joachim + Graham Murdoch
|FAB TREE HAB
Local Biota Living Graft Structure