The home, household goods & services

The future of housing - living in trees

Buildings last longer that we do, and consume more energy. Imagine a building that imitates nature - changes with the seasons, produces energy, and oxygen and distils water - a building like a tree, in a city of other trees. William McDonough and Partners, designers of sustainable architecture, have envisioned what our buildings may soon look like. They will be curved to reduce materials needed for construction, and sited to make efficient use of climate cycles, rooftops will be gardens to help insulate and waterproof, atriums will provide oxygen, cooling and reduce pollution within the building (and outside), solar panels will provide energy and reduce greenhouse emissions, and water will be recycled. Other innovations include functional structural materials, built in layers to weatherproof and insulate, furniture that is designed to be recycled or rebuilt for a different function, under-floor airflows to increase air quality, and monitors to detect occupants and adjust light and heat accordingly. Heating and cooling will also be regulated by transferring the heat between the building and the soil, fuelled by natural gas. This efficiency measure will provide power when solar can not. In other developments, house design is now considering educational aspects. For example, a specially designed house in Japan has very few individual rooms in order to increase family communication. This hones children's talents through interactions with their parents. The 'house that makes children smarter' has been created after researching the exam results of more than 200 children.
Ref: Fortune (US) 13 November 2006, 'Design for living', W. MCDonough.; The Nikkei Weekly (Japan), 23 October 2006, 'Housing market taps innovation'.
Search words: housing, offices, buildings, design, sustainability, cities
Trend tags: urbanisation

Is air conditioning about to become a hot topic?

Americans, less than 5 per cent of the global population, consume a quarter of the world's electricity. A critical culprit in this vast consumption is air-conditioners, responsible for a third of that energy use, or 8 per cent of the world's electricity consumption. What was once a luxury is now a must-have, in our offices - often windowless and reliant on artificial climate, our cars, and in 83 per cent of US homes. Air-conditioning has also contributed to the expansion of the inhabitable parts of the globe, for example, previously uninhabitable areas such as Dubai are now hospitable due to temperature control. China is now following suit, with over 100 million residential units installed, accounting for up to 40 per cent of China's energy use in summer. The environmental and energy dangers of air-conditioning have been ignored for many decades, but is it possible to reverse our usage? For centuries we developed all manner of cooling systems, from Mesopotamian double-walled palaces to urban designs to channel sea breezes. The chief problem with air-conditioning is it creates a feedback loop: the hotter it gets, the more we use it, meaning the climate gets even hotter. This loop has already resulted in such a drain on energy that California has had to begin 'rolling black outs' to manage supply. In a recent meeting between Tony Blair and Californian Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, the two leaders agreed to find new solutions to climate change the comfort of an air-conditioned room, naturally.But seriously, why is climate change angst and mass media hysteria focussed so exclusively on the car (and now air travel) and not on things like air conditioners, dish washers and washing machines?
Ref: Prospect (UK), September 2006, 'A brief history of air-conditioning', J. Fergusson
Search words: climate change, air conditioning

Eco-cities, eco-cellent!

Over the next 25 years, 90 per cent of global population growth will occur in cities, meaning an extra 2 billion people putting a strain on urban infrastructure and environments. Water is already a stretched resource and so the UN has formulated a set of goals to be met to improve the quality of future city life. Dongtan near Shanghai is to become the world's first eco-city. The city will be built with parks and lakes, an efficient energy supply and minimised water consumption. It is scheduled to be completed for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and it is hoped it will become a global model. However, it is harder for established cities to achieve these aims. Cities such as Mumbai in India are choking on their own traffic. Yet in China, designs are under-way for self-cleaning cities, by creating cities consisting of buildings like trees (see above story) with all the virtues of plantlife - such as air purification and carbon sequestering. The buildings will also include farmland (which China is losing rapidly) on their rooftops - a solution to both pollution and food production.
Ref: Pictures of the Future (Siemens/Germany), Fall 2006, 'Sustainable megacities', N. Aschenbreener. www.; Fortune (US), 13 November 2006, 'The new city beautiful', W. McDonough
Search words: urbanisation, architecture, buildings, design, housing, urban planning

My space (for men)

If you need a quick escape from it all, the latest version of the garden shed is on the market. Once humble, sheds are now anything but, and sales are rocketing. A Denver-based company is now selling 50,000 sheds a year, over twice its sales in 2003. At the top end, celebrated architect Michael Graves has designed a series of freestanding sheds for Target in the US. One owner has purchased a $60,000 version to use as a library, although prices start at about $40,000. Sheds are now being used as a retreat, a playhouse, a music room or an office, and are built to sizes like 10 x 12 feet or 8 x 15 feet, the largest permissible without a permit. They can be bought in packages, and if you pay up to $10,000 will come with doors, finished interior, carpet, electricity and air-conditioning. Men in particular are using the upmarket sheds (or attics or basements) as a place to retreat or indulge in masculine activities like poker, practising martial arts, or collecting military memorabilia. Where decades ago men would gather in clubs or even barbershops, now they are left to find spaces of their own. Women are generally not welcome, and know it. One shed-widow explains that she knows not to bother her husband when he's in his space, even to bring meals. Some wonder if men spending time alone like this is healthy, while others argue that women like periods alone more than men. Scholar Christine Hoff Sommers attributes the popularity of the noveau shed to the more feminised spaces in houses and while women may not understand men's need to separate, they tolerate it, even though it provides an effective sanctuary for their husbands from their growing to-do lists. And it seems the in-house equivalent is the bathroom retreat. Luxury bathrooms are a growing trend, with up to US$22 billion spent on 'hedonised' bathrooms in 2006. Everything from colour lighting to treat seasonal affective disorder, Tunisian mosaics, limestone floors and $600 taps and $10,000 tubs - certain to clean you out at that price! While we are experiencing an enormous accumulation of wealth, relaxation is becoming a pricey commodity. Glamorous bathrooms and sheds may be the solution for finding the space to relax, but finding the time? That's another story.
Ref: Various including New York Times (US), 10 June 2006, 'A special place to get away', F. Jones.; Washington Post (US), 6 July 2006, 'Flush with success, and looking to spend', S. McCrummen, www.washingtonpost.comSearch words: men, feminisation, spaces, space, sheds, privacy

An idea to sleep on

A company in Japan (Lofty Co) has invented a pillow that mimics the rocking movement of a moving train so as to lull users to sleep. The pillow features two electric magnets that can reproduce three different types of vibration: a train, a human heartbeat and random movement. Meanwhile, also in Japan, a big seller is a pillow especially designed for people that sleep on their side. Pillow sales have increased by 30% in Japan since 1996 due to the supply of 'functional' pillows and demands for quality sleep.
Ref: Various including Nikkei Weekly (Japan)18 October 2006.
Links to Metro Naps and sleep/anxiety/speeding up
Search words: sleep, pillows, stress, anxiety