Spanish housing project is simple but sustainable

May 3, 2022 by  
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In a changing world, the people in it have also evolved. That’s why the housing solutions of the past no longer work in today’s world. El Refugio, designed by Álvaro Sánchez de Miguel, is a housing project that’s based on real-world lifestyle trends. Fewer and fewer people want to live surrounded by concrete and human-made objects. This is a common situation in Spain , where El Refugio is located. As a result, the home is all about elegant, simple design. It’s also sustainable, budget-friendly and surrounded not by concrete, but by nature. Related: Crash after hitting the waves at this surfers refuge El Refugio is in the Cuatro Calzadas area of Buenavista, Salamanca, Spain. And it can house 84 residents. Local construction materials from Salamanca were used to create the project, including steel, wood and ceramics. The furniture was designed on-site to reduce carbon emissions . A little background: Project Architect Alvaro Sanchez de Miguel was born in Salmanca. He has received international awards and knows firsthand what kind of housing will suit the people of his homeland the best. Therefore, he wanted to create housing that provides spaces for rest, play and work. Simple a warm and welcoming environment . Furthermore, El Refugio is tucked into the natural landscape. It is a short distance from the world-famous Plaza Mayor, a historic attraction. It’s only about 90 minutes away from Madrid where there is the food, culture and natural beauty of Spain. Moreover, the project is made with a rounded geometry that mimics the nearby Castilian Plateau. The preserved existing vegetation sits surrounded by oak trees. The existing trees were left in place and the project was built around and between them, rather than forcing their removal. The entrance to the building is accessed through a natural lateral path. The porch is designed with latticework to create a lovely private outdoor area. The home is spacious and open inside. There are no doors, no partitions, just wide-open areas and panoramic views of the landscape beyond. The house is situated so that it is protected from the western sun, preventing heat that would make the home harder to keep cool. The final design is a simple, elegant building that sits beautifully tucked into nature. Huge windows and open spaces bring the outside world in. It’s constructed with local materials and designed by a local architect to be the ideal housing solution for its location. Because great housing design doesn’t take away from nature, it adds to it. + Álvaro Sánchez de Miguel arquitectos Images via Álvaro Sánchez de Miguel arquitectos

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Sustainable housing complex features amazing bursts of color

March 30, 2022 by  
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Studios 90 is located in the town of Kodla in Karnataka, India , and is one of Sanjay Puri Architects’ recently finished works. The project provides housing for workers of a new local cement factory. The sustainable housing complex adopts a tripartite design model encompassing the socio-cultural context, environment and economy. The building consists of pop-out cubical forms, including 18 studio apartments , 54 hostel rooms and 18 guesthouse rooms. These spaces share facilities on the ground level, including a cafeteria, lounge, gym, and game room. Related: ODA’s vibrant new complex transforms a conventional DC block Three primary colors, red, blue and yellow, add a pop of color to each balcony. The colors pay homage to regional Holi celebrations. Holi, the festival of color, is celebrated using vibrantly-colored pigments. These colors include those used in the residences. The architects carefully designed the housing complex to mitigate local climatic conditions. This is because the region is prone to high temperatures that exceed 35°C (95°F) for most of the year. Due to the intense heat , the apartments and balconies face north to prevent direct sunlight. The spaces also capture India’s prevailing winds that hail from the northeast, maximizing natural ventilation. The stacked cubes playfully cantilever from the structure and cast shadows on the spaces below. Further, their thick walls keep the interiors cool. These passive design strategies are environmentally friendly and require less energy to maintain comfortable temperatures. By building with efficiency in mind, the residential project is also very economical. It optimizes resources, including materials and energy. Fly ash brick, a lightweight, recycled-material composite, is used for the walls. The building also features water recycling systems and rainwater harvesting to limit water wastage. Since the cement plant is nearby, its residual energy provides electricity for the housing complex. While Studios 90 takes a minimalist approach, its response to the site, energy efficiency and culturally-inspired aesthetics contribute to its multifaceted sustainable design. + Sanjay Puri Architects Photography by Ricken Desai

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The biggest environmental news of the past decade

March 16, 2022 by  
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Climate change happens incrementally. A little warming here, a bit of ice melt there. However, when we review an entire decade, it’s easy to see the vast amount of change that has taken place. On the devastation scale, it’s no wonder scientists are calling it a climate disaster. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a long list of new information and innovation that gives us hope for the planet’s future. Here are 11 major environmental news topics from the past decade. 1. All measures point to reaching our tipping point We’ll start with the bad. And it is bad. Nearly every measurement regarding Earth’s health has the needle in the red zone. Raging wildfires, unprecedented flooding , mass destruction from tornadoes, heightened frequency of hurricanes, increased ocean temperatures and record-breaking heatwaves are all well-established. Glaciers are melting at a worst-case scenario rate, leading to rising waters, flooding and soil erosion. Additionally, less ice floating in the ocean means less sun reflection. Open oceans absorb the sun’s heat rather than rebounding it, expediting the water’s warming. In short, the planet is wearing out and ecosystems are breaking down. Consequently, the detrimental effects are impacting human, plant and animal  life.  2. Understanding wildfires in the west California is on fire, and the news on the horizon is not good. In fact, while the Golden State makes headlines for community-destroying wildfires, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada and other parts of the west are also feeling the heat of wildfire danger. There’s not a lot of good news, with the worst still expected to come due to drought and  water  shortages.  However, the past decade has taught us a lot about what’s working and what’s not regarding forest management. This information has sparked conversations in communities across the western U.S., engaging home and business owners, governments and non-profit organizations. As a result, neighborhoods are developing fire prevention and evacuation plans.  The wildfire crisis has also facilitated  technology innovations  such as the development of  BreezoMeter , which tracks wildfires. Inhabitat also covered  DroneSeed , an innovation that enables faster and safer reforestation following a fire.   3. Temperatures will continue to rise It sounds fatalistic, but again, it is a crisis . Even the best-case models are less than optimistic considering the world’s climate goals and our current measure of success. The key to the whole equation is taking action to cool climate change, but environmentalists still struggle to get everyone on the same page. However, to counterbalance the climate change deniers, we have an abundance of individuals, inventors, businesses and other organizations doing their part to help the situation. 4. Investments in renewable energy That was a lot of doom and gloom. Take a deep breath. There are many things to celebrate when it comes to advancements in the past decade, and  renewable energy  might be right at the top of the list. Battery technology has helped renewables become more compact, efficient and cleaner. For example, solar panels are lighter, easier to install, more efficient and less expensive than ten years ago. Wind, hydro (including wave energy) and geothermal energy are experiencing similar improvements. Additionally, California has taken a stand by mandating all new construction be equipped with  solar power . In fact, a plethora of warm climates are getting on board with investing in the power of the sun. Fortunately, the advancements mean it’s now more affordable for residential housing and off-grid tiny homes.  5. Youth movements are making headlines It’s been decades since the youth movement has been so united and vocal on a topic. The youth are the future of the planet, and they know it. Rather than standing by, hoping their parents will fix it, organizations like the Sunrise Movement are stepping up in large numbers to demand environmental protections.  6. Ocean cleanup Community beach cleanups and  plastic  recycling efforts have been in process for many years. It’s great for neighborhoods affected by trash that washes ashore or is left behind by visitors. But the real issue lies out of sight, where the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has become a magnet for waste floating in the Pacific Ocean. The Ocean Cleanup project has launched big successes in combating the problem, with machines that filter the garbage out of the water and bring it home for proper disposal. The company has also released a river version of the device to help divert waste before it reaches the ocean.  7. 3D printing What used to be a clunky machine that took half a day to print a small figurine has evolved into an innovation capable of 3D printing parts and even entire houses. The technology is here to stay, and with it comes the power to conserve natural resources, provide  minimal site impact  and address the housing shortage. The construction industry is responsible for about 40% of the planet’s CO2 emissions, so finding solutions is crucial to meet environmental goals.  8. E-highways They’re not mainstream yet, but they’re functional and efficient. Both Germany and Sweden have begun introducing e-highways to help cut emissions. The process is simple by design, charging cars and trucks as they move along the highway. Brought to scale, e-highways could help address pollution  from vehicle emissions, a major source of greenhouse gases. 9. Innovative materials Companies around the globe are constantly developing new, clean materials to replace processes like toxic leather production. Look for apple leather, banana leaf, seaweed, hemp and other  natural materials  when you shop.  10. Tesla and other EVs The electric vehicle market has exploded in the past decade. While batteries are becoming more efficient, longer-lasting, and less toxic, perhaps the biggest advancement is Tesla’s superchargers that address range insecurity in EV owners. 11. Indoor urban gardens Crowdfunding sites are flush with innovative indoor garden systems, and they do well because it’s something people support. As the need for compact urban housing increases, so does the ability to grow gardens indoors or on a small balcony. Check out  LetPot ,  Hamama  and  MicroPod  to name a few.  Via KQED , Green Matters , Inside Climate News Images via Pexels and Pixabay 

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Fast melting alpine permafrost is bad news for Earth

March 16, 2022 by  
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Melting permafrost will play a major role in shaping Earth’s future. Recent  research  published in Nature Communications   has established that alpine permafrost will melt much faster than arctic permafrost under current conditions. This melt would release carbon and other harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to the researchers, the future Earth could resemble the mid-Pliocene warm period from 3-3.3 million years ago. At the time, average air temperatures rarely dropped below freezing. Permanent ice had just started forming at about this time, both in the polar and mid-latitude alpine regions.  Related: Ice melt releases ‘forever chemicals’ into Arctic Ocean With these ice zones now melting at a rapid rate, the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is projected to grow. Today, permafrost across the world holds approximately 1,500 trillion grams of carbon. This is double the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, alpine permafrost holds about 85 trillion grams of carbon. When this ice melts, it releases these huge amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere. “Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations today are similar, or maybe even higher, than the mid-Pliocene because of the burning of fossil fuels, and so scientists point at that time period as an analog for our current and near-future climate ,” said Carmala Garzone, paper co-author and dean of the University of Arizona College of Science. “We’re not feeling the full effects of the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide yet because our Earth system takes time to adjust.” Researchers studied lakebeds in the Tibetan Plateau lake to estimate what Earth looked like during the mid-Pliocene epoch. They collected carbonate from the bottom of lakes and used it to approximate temperatures during the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods. Atoms in the carbonate can help determine the temperature at which it formed. The researchers warn that what we are seeing today is just the iceberg regarding climate change . Since Earth takes time to adjust, the researchers predict the planet will move toward a climate like that of the Pliocene period. Via Newswise Lead image via Pexels

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New study says climate tipping point might be surmountable

March 16, 2022 by  
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Around the world, many of us fear a  climate  tipping point. But a tipping point might not be as bad as we’re expecting, according to the authors of a new study. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a  tipping point  as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.” But a recent  study  published in Environmental Research Letters concludes that a climate tipping point could be more nuanced, possibly affecting just part of a  system  rather than the whole planet. Related: Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021 The researchers studied large, spatially heterogeneous systems such as forests,  lakes  and ice sheets. In the paper “Fragmented tipping in a spatially heterogeneous world,” researchers explain that a tipping point’s severity depends on the heterogeneity and spatial size of the system. Larger and more heterogeneous systems might experience minor, even reversible changes. This minor dose of good news doesn’t mean the study’s authors are gleefully charging toward tipping points. “I am still worried about tipping points,” wrote lead author Robbin Bastiaansen. “Because I can imagine critical things might happen especially as  climate change  persists. But I am not as worried that once we cross a tipping point, everything is going to hell immediately. I think it is going to be much more subtle than the kind of narrative that has been painted in some papers about planetary boundaries: that once we cross over one tipping point everything just collapses simultaneously. I don’t think that is the case.” To better understand Bastiaansen et al.’s idea, let’s compare a little pond with a large lake. The smaller body of water has little variation (i.e. heterogeneity), so if it experiences a harmful algal bloom, soon the whole pond is sullied. However, in a larger body of  water , some parts might be green with algae while others are fine. And if you’re able to treat the bloom, you can restore the lake. In short, we might still avert humanity’s doom. But let’s stop pushing our luck. Via Newswise Lead image via TiPES/HP

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A rustic retreat that’s hidden in a forest of Douglas firs

February 15, 2022 by  
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Mwworks created a warm and rustic, but modern home on Whidbey Island for a multigenerational family to enjoy. Whidbey Island Farm Retreat is a gorgeous getaway that carefully winds its way among Douglas firs the family wanted to protect. It also won the AIA National Honors and Awards 2020 Housing Award and the AIA Northwest and Pacific Region Honor Awards 2019 Honor Award. The owners of Whidbey Island Farm Retreat are a senior couple who reside at the home full-time. According to the designers, the retreat was “built for summer barbecues, fishing retreats and family gatherings with their three adult children, multiple teenage grandchildren and guests, accommodating up to twenty people.” Related: Barn in Canada blends traditional and modern styles Furthermore, the home is intentionally placed between Douglas firs on a wooded hillside to protect the local trees and undergrowth as much as possible. It was also built to keep a low profile relative to the surrounding pastoral lands. Located near turn-of-the-century agricultural buildings, the house has views of chicken sheds, an old red barn , fields and a fishing pond. “The house was designed to be flexible and durable, and reflect the layered history both of the site and of the family itself,” said Steve Mongillo, principal and cofounder of mwworks. Additionally, the living pavilion is a favorite of the designers for its architectural details and the experience of connection between family, forest and the agricultural valley. “Time here is marked by forest shadows stretching across the courtyard to the north, and by cows moving across the pasture below,” said Mongillo. “The timeless beauty of the site is revered and reflected inside this room with local, durable materials and natural finishes.” Using a mix of traditional stem wall, pin piles and shallow in-wall beams to span over and dodge critical roots, the designers preserved the surrounding forest with a specially-engineered foundation for the stone walls. The trees that were felled to build the house are used as lumber for the farm, cattle fencing, seasonal firewood for the fireplace and the new fire pit by the meadow. Continuing throughout the design, the form of the house is broken down into discrete, small volumes that weave between an array of large fir trees. The home wraps around a courtyard of native ferns and shrubs , which was created with a low stacked wall of local basalt. In addition, several interior doors and wall art were carved from solid cedar slabs crafted decades ago by the family patriarch. As a result, the effect of the house is tranquility. Naturally-weathered woods combined with concrete and local stones create a sturdy outer shell accented by oak window jambs, soft plaster walls and black steel. Its a design that, while extremely modern , is intended to be low-maintenance, long-lasting and cost-effective for the owners. + mwworks Photography by Kevin Scott

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They are building sustainable and affordable housing in Uganda

February 9, 2022 by  
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Working with Stage Six and Échale International, Marc Thorpe Design developed a plan for sustainable, ecologically responsible housing in Uganda . The nation is short on 2.1 million housing units, a number that is growing by 200,000 units a year. The collaboration aims to alleviate the housing market issues. Kampala House is constructed with EcoBlock. This compressed earth brick comprises of 90% local soil and 10% cement , lime, sand and water. EcoBlock is ecologically sustainable and an amazing acoustic and thermal insulator. This is the first in a series of new houses planned for Uganda. Related: Permaculture feeds and empowers refugees in Uganda The house is surrounded by a big terrace that provides outdoor living space. It also has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, kitchen and living room. The kitchen has an exterior wood-burning stove because outdoor cooking is popular in Uganda. It’s all covered with a corrugated steel and wood roof that supports the solar array. Rainwater collection is stored in the large water tower nearby. Each home will have its own water tower to provide a network where water can be stored and shared during droughts. Additionally, these buildings are made from local materials and made to honor the natural world around them. It’s a plan that many other cities may choose to follow, with any luck. Stage Six applies a franchising model to social projects to address housing, sanitation, clean energy, education , water, nutrition and health needs. Échale’s mission is to create sustainable commercial developments. Lastly, Marc Thorpe Design is an internationally known architect and industrial designer. + Marc Thorpe Design , Échale International and Stage Six Images via Truetopia

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Plant Prefab aims to make housing accessible and affordable

January 24, 2022 by  
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Between impact on the land, use of resources , construction waste and effects on air quality, the building and maintenance of homes and businesses accounts for nearly 40% of carbon emissions on the planet. Plant Prefab setting out to change all that.  The concept behind Plant Prefab is prefabricated homes. It’s a process the construction industry has leaned into for a variety of reasons, including the fact that prefabbed buildings require less materials and create substantially less waste . Working from this base of knowledge, Plant Prefab builds custom multi-family or single-family homes from any architectural design.  Related: These prefabricated tiny homes are earthquake- and fire-resistant This in-house building system addresses many environmental and industry-specific issues. One is the shortage of skilled labor in the construction field. Efficiency in the plant means less labor is required. The process is also cost effective by streamlining material and labor expenses.  The hybrid modular model of building panels equates to short project timelines, 20% to 50% faster than a standard build. The process is flexible, so it can cater to endless combinations of low or high volume real estate developments at a 10% 25% cost savings and up to 30% less waste. When in full swing, the company anticipates being able to produce around 900,000 square feet of living space per year, equivalent to 800 dwelling units. Currently, the company is catering to custom builds, but they are working to scale the process to serve a breadth of customers across all price points, becoming a solution for the housing crisis across the U.S. The company’s third plant will break ground this month. It will be located on 17 acres in the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center, 25 miles south of Bakersfield, California . The innovative automated system will guide the business towards achieving these goals, with production starting in about a year. “The launch of our hub is a critical milestone in Plant Prefab’s broader mission to make architectural, sustainable housing more accessible, as it allows us to expand our capabilities from single-family and small multifamily housing into high-volume, large-scale developments – including student, affordable and market-rate housing for real estate, hospitality and corporate developers,” said Steve Glenn, founder and CEO of Plant Prefab. Plant Prefab is the first Certified B Corporation building technology company dedicated to sustainable design, materials and operations. The new hub echoes sustainability goals with efficient systems to minimize water use and energy consumption. Energy-efficient lighting, appliances and mechanical systems ensure low-usage requirements. The plant will also rely on solar power for energy production. Plant Prefab has announced a goal to achieve carbon-neutral operations by 2028. The homes produced in the Plant Prefab factories are held to an equally high sustainable building standard. Materials are selected for occupant and environmental health such as wool-based insulation and recycled drywall, as well as zero-VOC paints, stains and sealants.  + The Brown Studio and Plant Prefab Images via Plant Prefab

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Affordable solar homes are lifting homeowners out of poverty

January 3, 2022 by  
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Carbon-negative, self-financing and scalable are just a few words to describe BillionBricks and Architecture Brio’s PowerHYDE. PowerHyde solar homes are models aiming to help solve both the global housing and climate crises. The PowerHYDE housing model was created by Prasoon Kumar and Robert Verrijt of Billion Bricks from India and Singapore. The housing model won a  Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction . Related: Living conditions rise in an Indonesian village PowerHYDE house explores sustainable means and solutions to empowering and facilitating growth opportunities to people without homes around Southeast Asia. These homes are now being used to create entire sustainable communities that help to lift homeowners out of poverty. “A BillionBricks Community is the world’s first carbon negative solar home  community to bring families out of poverty within one generation,” the designers said. The project presents an opportunity to shape the future of how houses are built. It helps both people to become homeowners and building projects to create their own renewable energy, aiding in the climate crisis. It is a radical concept in housing designed for energy sufficiency and extreme affordability. A BillionBricks PowerHYDE home is built via an indigenous prefabricated assembly technique that makes it easy to assemble in remote locations. The home has a solar array installed on the roof, and the homeowner can sell excess power generated back to power companies, generating a profit that helps to pay off the cost of the home. “BillionBricks homes are plug-and-play modular homes that do not need any connection to services and could be made functional from the day of completion of construction,” BillionBricks explained. The houses produce their energy, and also harvest 100% of the rainwater , clean their sewage and potentially grow their own food. Future BillionBricks homes will be integrated with smart technologies to improve their performance even more. Sample homes have been built in Mathjalgaon Village in India and in the Philippines. BillionBricks is now planning a full community of 500 homes near Manila , Philippines that will generate 10 megawatt of power.  + BillionBricks and Architecture BRIO Photography by Photograhix

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Adaptive reuse to transform LA’s Cecil Hotel for a good cause

December 20, 2021 by  
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Six hundred unhoused Angelenos will soon have their own small apartments in downtown Los Angeles. Adaptive reuse will transform the historic Cecil Hotel into very low-income single-room occupancy rental housing. The eco-conscious practice of adaptive reuse includes repurposing existing structures instead of using resources to build new developments. For the Cecil, this means turning hotel rooms into small studios ranging from 160 to 176 square feet. Most units will share bathrooms. Residents can also use communal kitchens and gathering spaces. Related: Los Angeles builds justice through building decarbonization To qualify, single renters need to earn less than 60% of L.A.’s median income. The project especially wants to serve extremely low-income renters who earn 30% or less of the median income, which is $24,850 a year in  Los Angeles . Publicly-funded housing vouchers will help tenants make the $900-1200 per month rent — that’s pretty darn steep for a tiny studio. The  hotel  could be a stable residence for “those that have maybe been in shelters for quite some time, who went through programs and have vouchers, but were unable to find suitable housing,” said Sierra Atilano, chief real estate officer at the Skid Row Housing Trust, as reported by LAist. The trust will manage the building. While unhoused people often qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers, many landlords don’t want to rent to them. In 2011, the Cecil was renamed Stay on Main, though much of the old signage remained, so it went by both names. New York-based development company Simon Baron bought the hotel in 2015, planning to turn the property into a combo of apartments, affordable housing and a hotel. Thwarted by the  pandemic , the developer approached Skid Row Housing Trust about dedicating the building to very low-income renters. Whenever the Cecil comes up in the news, tales of its dark past resurface. The hotel first opened in 1927. Percy Ormond Cook shot himself in the head that same year, the first of a long string of Cecil suicides. Throw in the murder of a baby, two serial killers who were short-term residents, and the mysterious 2013 drowning death of a Canadian student in the hotel’s rooftop cistern, and you can see how the hotel got the nickname Hotel Death. There was even a  Netflix  show called “Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel.” “This is the best use possible for this particular space, and really can bring a lighter side to the darkness that the  building  had originally,” Atilano said. Via LAist , Elle Australia Lead image via Jim Winstead

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