Life-saving LifeArk snaps together like LEGO to provide emergency off-grid housing

August 28, 2017 by  
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Architect Charles Wee didn’t have grand plans to save the world—but that’s exactly what his incredible LifeArk could do. Designed for disaster relief, LifeArk is a prefabricated, modular building system for quickly deployable and affordable housing that can operate 100% off the grid . These self-sustainable life-saving homes, which can be scaled up into communities, can pop up virtually anywhere to float on water or be anchored on land. Thanks to its innovative HDPE materials and production methods, LifeArk clicks together like LEGOs in just a few hours and slashes the total design and construction time for prefabricated architecture in half. LifeArk was recently honored as a 2017 BFI Fuller Challenge Semifinalist . Charles Wee’s architectural career spans a start at AECOM to the founding of international firm GDS Architects . In recent years, however, he began thinking about changing his focus in architecture. “I was sick of conventional architecture,” Wee told Inhabitat in an interview. “Then I had a conversation with a family member that became a light bulb moment. Twelve years ago, my cousin moved to Santa Rosa Island in a part of the Amazon River near the borders of Brazil and Peru to work as a missionary. It’s an area of extreme poverty. I didn’t know much about his work until 2013, when my cousin came out to California and we talked about the way the community lives.” “Their entire existence revolves around fighting flooding. It can flood up to 8 meters high—that’s like 3 stories tall. For 8 months out of the year they must live above water in stilt houses but most of the time the water will come way above that. I saw that in person and understood it as a design and engineering problem. I began to think of floating architecture and buoyant solutions—trying to solve this problem is really what started LifeArk.” His meeting and visit with the people of Santa Rosa opened the doors for Wee to see the worldwide need for floating prefabricated housing. “I couldn’t believe the number,” he said. “There are hundreds of millions of people along floodplains around the world who live under threat.” Wee then assembled a team of experts and engineers to create a sustainable modular solution that could be mass-produced, easily deployable, and assembled. Their solution became LifeArk. The LifeArk components are prefabricated using rotational molding technology; their California factory is expected to stamp out 10 modules a day with around 20 components each. The 60-square-meter modules would then be sent to a second factory to be fitted with the fixed features, such as a kitchenette and off-grid elements like solar panels, before the components are packed into a shipping container for transit. Once onsite, each module can be quickly assembled using unskilled labor and standard tools in as little as 2 hours. Approximately 20 to 24 modules would be needed to construct a house, and the modular buildings can be scaled up and infinitely configured to form a community. Related: Peru plans to dam Amazon River’s main source and displace thousands “They’re like LEGOs,” explained Wee. “You just ‘click, click, click’ and you can bolt the parts together. They all fit together in a shipping container and can be transported to site. While manufacturing is being done we would prep the site, and then it’ll be say to bolt the module on top. All the machinery will be inside already so the only skilled labor needed on site is connections to sewers. But there’s also the option for 100% off-grid capability.” After four years of research and development, the LifeArk team is about ready to deploy their first prototype in March 2018. Three or four buildings will be prefabricated in California and installed on a lake near Dallas, Texas, along with an attached hydroponics farm. Wee also plans to sell LifeArk buildings to cities and organizations looking for affordable homeless housing . Profits will fund the construction and deployment of LifeArk buildings across the world for refugee housing, disaster relief, and other humanitarian purposes. LifeArk was selected as one of 17 proposals to advance in the semifinals for the 2017 Buckminster Fuller Challenge , an annual honor known as “socially responsible design’s highest award.” + LifeArk

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9 incredible pod homes to help you win at off-grid living

August 25, 2017 by  
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If your #lifegoals include living off the grid in some stunning locale, then check this out: we’ve rounded up the best pod homes that can be installed in even the most remote locations. From a futuristic 3D-printed shelter to the nature-influenced Baobed , there’s something for every world traveler (and almost every budget). Pod Space Pod Space’s award winning pre-fab pods can be installed just about anywhere you can dream of. The modular pods are customizable, so you can use them as a backyard office, an extra room, or even a fully-equipped tiny home . The best part is the floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can let nature in while keeping the elements out. Podzook If you are the type to think outside the box – literally – you’ll dig the spherical Podzook. With its locally-sourced shingled wood exterior and its space-age interior, the Podzook is what you’d get if you combined traditional Maine craftsmanship with an alien space pod. Each one is made to order and comes with a skylight and a futuristic gull-wing door. Prices range from 28 – 32k depending on the options you choose. 3D-Printed SOM shelter Architecture firm SOM is taking off-grid living into the future with a 3D-printed shelter that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. It features rooftop solar panels for power and comes with its own vehicle that generates its own power. Best of all, the structure and the vehicle can share power wirelessly when you need an extra bit of juice. The SOM shelter can be “printed” right on site, illustrating what is possible in the future of home building. ALPOD The 65k ALPOD is a high-tech solution to skyrocketing real estate prices. The prefabricated structure is made of lightweight aluminum, so it can be moved where needed and then recycled when has reached the end of its life. The pods can even be stacked, so you could create an entire skyscraper of them. With 480-square feet of living space, it’s a great solution for both urban locations, since it can be hooked up to the grid, and off-grid with it solar power option. POD-Idlada POD-Idladla is a prefabricated home that can be shipped flat-packed for on-site assembly in a snap. The 186-square foot tiny home is powered by solar energy and is modular, so it can be expanded if necessary. Tall ceilings help make the space feel large without increasing its footprint, and costs start at just $15k. Ecocapsule The egg-shaped Ecocapsule is the stuff that off-grid dreams are made of. The ultra-portable house is powered by solar and wind, with rainwater collection and filtration built-in. The 86-square foot space manages to pack a lot of features, with a folding bed, dining area, shower and toilet, storage and a kitchenette. Each capsule fits inside a shipping container so it can go nearly anywhere. Ecocapsule homes start shipping this year, so save your pennies, because owning one will set you back $94,000. Drop Pod The DROP Eco-Hotel is different because it isn’t designed as a permanent home, but as a pod-like hotel room for modern nomads that can be installed in some truly incredible places – including elevated above the earth. The prefabricated structure is clad in slotted wood to control solar gain, features a skylight for daylighting and a rainwater recycling system. Harwyn Pod The Harwyn Pod is a tiny space for distraction-free work. Designed to be an office, art space or yoga studio , each pod can pop-up on-site in just 5 hours and comes complete with built-in furniture. With a footprint of only 2.5 by 2 meters and luxury car-inspired design, each tiny dwelling is fully insulated against the elements. Baobed Sleeping Pod The Baobed pod is a treehouse for adventure-seekers. The sleek pod can be suspended in the treetops, nestled on a beach, and plopped on a rooftop or even in the middle of a pond. The fruit-like shape was inspired by the fruit of the baobab tree and provides a tiny, safe space for travelers. Thanks to its tiny footprint and light weight (just 992 pounds), it can be transported on a trailer and can be equipped with a platform, mosquito nets and storage options.

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Compact OffGridBox provides clean drinking water and power where it’s needed most

August 18, 2017 by  
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An Italian company has developed a compact solution for communities that lack access to clean drinking water and electricity – the OffGridBox . Measuring 6x6x6 feet, the container cube features everything necessary to generate, convert and store solar energy , as well as collect, treat and distribute clean drinking water . But the system does have drawbacks – including a $15,000 price point that’s hard to justify in certain corners of the world. Read on to learn how the founders are trying to scale their innovative solution for maximum impact. According to Fast Company, “Founder and CEO Emiliano Cecchini has sold a few of the units, but he worries he’s not yet found the formula to take his invention to scale.” “We’re looking for the next system to scale,” Cecchini told FastCo. “The idea came three years ago and, yeah, we’re kind of struggling to make it bigger. Back in Italy, it’s not easy to find the right financing strategy, mentors, and accelerator programs.” Related: Desert Twins produce drinking water in the driest place on Earth It’s a pity, because OffGridBox has the capability to serve up to 1,500 people per unit, the company says, and that’s without any upgrades. The basic model comes equipped with 12 solar modules, an inverter and battery storage. This system provides enough power to charge 300 battery packs that can each charge three LED lights for four hours and two cell phones, according to FastCo. OffGridBox also has a built-in water filtration system that produces food-quality drinking water, and a built-in storage tank that holds up to 396 gallons. That’s potentially life-changing for communities that lack good infrastructure. The company is persevering with a new model that will charge end users a nominal fee to use the station. “The new model is pay-as-you-go micro-payments, local contractors, and local empowerment,” Cecchini told FastCo. A family of four will pay 12 US cents per day for water, and the battery packs are subsidized by the company. They’re testing this new tactic in Rwanda , where the company plans to install units in 18 villages. Eventually they hope to equip the boxes with Wi-Fi. Head over to FastCo for the full story . + OffGridBox

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Compact floating cabin pops up on water in extreme remote locations

August 11, 2017 by  
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Russian firm BIO-architects recently unveiled their latest modern modular cabin—and this one floats on water. Prefabricated offsite, the DD16 house was dropped on a lake near Moscow and is lightweight and durable enough to float and withstand harsh winter extremes. Designed for remote locations, the off-grid cabin uses solar energy for electricity, draws fresh water from the lake, and uses a composting toilet for waste. The 16-square-meter DD16 cabin is a prototype that is being tested through rentals under the DublDomClub organization. The house comprises two modules prefabricated at a factory and constructed with a laminated timber frame with milled ports. “The prototype was designed and made as a tourist equipment where the weight of every detail is taken into account so it can be used in very harsh conditions,” wrote the architects. “All the constructive elements were subject to change as well as the interior finishing compared to the regular houses.” The milled ports help reduce the structure’s weight and minimize cold bridges and gaps. Lightweight polyurethane foam is used for insulation, while the facade is clad in lightweight composite aluminum sheets for a seamless finish from top to bottom. The cabin was also constructed with modular pontoons that are used to support the floating structure and can be disassembled and stored inside the cabin during transport. DD16 can be easily put in place with a crane or helicopter thanks to beam releases that make it easy for just one person to do the rigging work. Related: Beautiful cabin pops up in ten days with minimal landscape disturbance The customizable interior features a double bed, bathroom with shower, dining table, and living room where a wood-burning stove can be installed. Despite the compact size, the cabin feels surprisingly spacious thanks to the glazed end wall that lets in a great amount of natural light and blurs the distinction between indoor and outdoor living. Hidden storage and transforming furniture also help reduce visual clutter. The DD16 prototype is currently being rented out to clients seeking a unique retreat in wilderness. The team plans to test the house is different extreme conditions. + BIO-architects Images © Vlad Mitrichev and Ivan Ovchinnikov

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Snail-inspired retreat is the perfect escape for nature lovers

August 2, 2017 by  
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Although you certainly wouldn’t be able to carry this shell-shaped structure on your back, the El Caracol retreat is perfect for getting away from it all. The dome home features an all-glass facade that connects the interior to 8 acres of pine forest in Lledó, Spain. If that isn’t enough of the great outdoors for you, nearby is a limestone gorge with a natural swimming pool and two wild rivers, making it the perfect escape for nature lovers. The structure is set deep into the mountainous forest where two rivers meet, making it a true nature lover’s paradise . However, the property itself is so relaxing, it might be hard to get out and explore the surrounding area. Related: Norway’s Fleinvaer cabins offer the ultimate in off-grid living on a remote island The concrete dome is cut in half with a slanted, all-glass facade that juts out over the outdoor patio. The large windows flood the interior with natural light and connects the living space with the natural exterior. On the inside, there’s an open-plan living area with a large kitchen. Exposed steel supports are found throughout the home, giving an industrial aspect that contrasts nicely with the all-concrete walls. The three bedrooms and two bathrooms are located on the upper level. The master has a beautiful convex wall on one side and a full-length glass wall that offers spectacular views of the surroundings. The heart of the retreat is undoubtedly the outdoor living area. A large shaded area provides outdoor dining space that opens up to the infinity pool . Guests can enjoy the BBQ area, a hammock, and plenty of nooks and crannies for long siestas in the Spanish sun. El Caracol can be rented through CoolStays.com + El Caracol Via Dwell Images via Cool Stays

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First fully-integrated sustainable smart energy system promises to democratize renewables for all

July 27, 2017 by  
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Solar might be the future, but few people and businesses can afford to invest in the technology. This is why SolPad’s latest innovation is so newsworthy. The new SolPad Mobile is the first personal, portable solar energy generator capable of providing power anywhere. Developed to “democratize” renewable energy for all consumers, the 25-pound invention has built-in battery storage and output power that exceed any other portable solar device in its class. Additionally, it is capable of providing clean energy to the “untapped market” of home renters, including tiny home dwellers and van-lifers. In essence, the one device makes clean, reliable power accessible to everyone and provides the tools required to collect, store, convert and manage solar energy. SolPad was founded in 2012 with a mission to “disrupt the conventional sustainable energy landscape” by ensuring off-grid power environments and sustainable smart homes have access to quality and cost-effective renewable energy. The company recognized that solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 68 percent, but fails to be adopted by consumers on a mass level due to economic challenges. Equipped with this knowledge, the minds behind the California-based company decided to develop the first fully-integrated system that can provide an all-in-one, scalable solution to renewable energy . “The reality is that SolPad completely shifts the energy paradigm, delivering comprehensive management and control for daily power usage,” said Christopher Estes, CEO of SolPad. Though the units cost $1,795 (monthly payment options are available for $150), the investment is well worth it. This is because the SolPad Prox X is a permanent solution to obtaining solar energy , and the purchase and installation costs are as least half of other market alternatives. Additionally, the power system generates as much power as one needs and ensures minimal energy is wasted while increasing the available AC power. Because the software integrates solar generation and energy storage, energy management becomes an automated process. From a phone app , you can track, manage and automate your energy usage. SolControl also prioritizes which appliances and items should receive personal solar power based on one’s habit of turning them on and off. The SolPad panels can store both solar and grid energy. According to the press release, “By placing storage at the source of solar collection, inefficiencies in transmission and conversion are reduced or eliminated entirely. Because collection and storage are adjacent within each SolPad Pro X panel, low voltage battery power is used to make the panels safer and more efficient than legacy solar systems.” “Everyone is responsible for their impact on the environment . SolPad Mobile allows people to take energy management into their own hands, reducing carbon footprint and giving access to AC electricity anywhere,” said Jigar Shah, co-founder of Generate Capital, past CEO of Carbon War Room. “Whether you’re in an industrialized nation trying to decrease negative impacts on the environment or in a developing nation looking to save money versus fossil fuels, this disruptive portable panel provides unparalleled access to clean and easy-to-use power.” Related: SolPad residential solar panels come with built-in battery storage and an inverter The unique invention will ensure more people have access to clean, renewable energy and, as a result, will provide innumerable benefits to the environment. + SolPad Images via SolPad

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First fully-integrated sustainable smart energy system promises to democratize renewables for all

This Oregon dome home could be yours – if aliens don’t come for it first

July 27, 2017 by  
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We can’t guarantee that aliens will visit you in this eco dome – but we’re pretty sure that they’d be drawn to its UFO-like design. Located in Eugene, Oregon, this tiny dome structure – which could be yours for just $115,000 – is located on a large plot of land surrounded by a thick green forest. It’s a perfect setting for potential “take us to your leader” moment, if you ask us. Located on almost four acres of wooded forest, the monolithic home is in a perfect spot for off-grid living. The 855-square-foot structure’s shape maximizes floor space – although you’ll be sleeping next to the lovely open-air toilet. Along with that charming feature, there are also two sinks and a shower. According to the real estate listing, the septic tank and water well appear to be in working order. Related: Desert dome camp in Jordan offers tourists “The Martian” experience Round porthole windows provide the grey structure with optimal natural light as well as a full view of the surroundings. As a bonus feature, there is a Styrofoam shed clad in stucco located adjacent to the dome home, providing extra storage space in case your new alien friends need some room for their luggage. Forget ET “phone home” – maybe the little guy was just looking for a “dome home” after all? + Estately Photographs via Estately

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This Oregon dome home could be yours – if aliens don’t come for it first

Free off-grid shelter pops up for urban explorers in Bordeaux

July 5, 2017 by  
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Exploring the fringes of France’s famed wine-growing region is now easier and better than ever. After a long day’s hike—and enjoyment of some Bordeaux wine and cheese—urban explorers can take refuge in Le Haut Perché, an elevated shelter designed by London-based Studio Weave . Crafted as part of the Refuges Périurbains project, this unique shelter is one of eleven free overnight shelters on the edge of the city that encourage the exploration of Bordeaux’s fringe sites. Refuges Périurbains founder Bruit du Frigo and Zebra 3 commissioned Studio Weave to develop the Le Haut Perché hiking shelter, which sits along a pedestrian route connected by a series of site-specific overnight shelters. “The fringes of Bordeaux remain relatively unknown,” Studio Weave wrote. “As is common to this periphery in most cities, these areas are often overlooked, experienced from afar by car rather than as destinations in their own right. Bridging city and wilderness, peripheral urban sites also offer their own magic and potential.” The Refuges Périurbains shelters encourage exploration by providing free accommodation that sleeps up to nine people. Studio Weave’s contribution to the project is an organic shelter in the peaceful heart of Le Parc des Jalles and surrounded by watermills Le Moulin du Moulina. Elevated next to one of Bordeaux’s main water sources, Le Haut Perché takes inspiration from traditional water towers with its material palette and form. The raised shelter is built of timber and weathering steel to blend into the rural landscape. Related: Tiny off-grid Le Tronc Creux shelters blend into Bordeaux’s forests like old tree trunks “The arching platform captures focused sounds and vistas of water and woodland,” said the studio. “Each opening is composed to frame a particular moment, some to be experienced lying down, others stood or sat-up.” The arched roof extends over the sides of the shelter for solar shading . The Le Haut Perché can be booked in advance on the Refuges Périurbains website . + Studio Weave Images by Bruit du frigo

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Free off-grid shelter pops up for urban explorers in Bordeaux

Old mountain retreat renovated into sublime off-grid refuge

April 28, 2017 by  
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The challenges of renovating older buildings are already numerous, but when working deep in 8,100-foot-high mountainous topography and extreme climate conditions, it can be downright perilous. Meeting the challenge head-on, architecture firms Arteks Arquitectura and Ginjaume Arquitectura i Paissatge partnered up to convert a 1930s mountain retreat in the Andorran Pyrenees into the modern, off-grid Illa Mountain Hut that can generate up to four days of self-sufficient energy . Working within the confines of such harsh conditions, reforming the mountain refuge proved to be an uphill battle at every turn. The first hurdle was working under the restrictions imposed by the area’s protected UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. Additionally, the extreme weather conditions meant that the project team could only access the site – the 4th highest shelter in the Pyrenees – during the summer months. Related: Modern lodge in the Rocky Mountains produces as much energy as it consumes Although the conditions were not optimal for building, it did have its advantages. Working around so many environmental barriers enabled the building team to use the restrictions to their advantage by using eco-friendly materials that were purpose-built for the project. Due to the harsh conditions and topography, for example, the architectural team chose to use light and prefabricated materials that could be flown in by helicopter. With most of the elements prefabricated in workshops and assembled on site, the building now weighs about a third of a similarly-sized conventional building and the execution time of the project was cut down to a surprising six months. Using the existing building as a structural base helped the team to further minimize the cost of the project as well as reduce the waste associated with the project. The wooden frame was reinforced with an extended gabled roof which helps discharge large snow loads during winter. This feature was also strategic to optimize solar energy gain . Thanks to a large array of photovoltaic panels installed on the roof, the refuge can generate up to four days of energy self sufficiency , making the project 100% off-grid. In addition to its solar power, the structure uses an independent water treatment system equipped with coconut filters . Additionally, an efficient ventilation system and ultra-thick insulation keeps the interior spaces warm and cozy, free from the extreme exterior cold. + Arteks Arquitectura + Ginjaume Arquitectura i Paissatge Photography via Pol Viladoms

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Old mountain retreat renovated into sublime off-grid refuge

Tiny Scottish island powers itself with community-owned off-grid energy system

March 31, 2017 by  
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When you think of the future of electricity in the world, you probably don’t envision a small island off the coast of Scotland leading the way. But the 12-square-mile Scottish island of Eigg has become a shining example of how communities that aren’t connected to larger grids can do it themselves with clean energy . As the BBC reports, Eigg made the revolutionary move in 2008 to shed its noisy diesel-generated power in favor of an off-grid electric system that uses only wind, water and solar power . It was the first community in the world to make this bold move, and what’s more, the clearly self-reliant residents pretty much taught themselves how to build and run the system. Since the diesel generators they previously used only ran for a small part of each day, getting rid of them in favor of clean energy also meant the community had power available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the first time. The community-owned system, Eigg Electric , keeps energy flowing on a regular basis by integrating three power sources from wind, solar and hydroelectric. A set of four wind turbines feed up to 24 kilowatts into the grid, while a set of solar panels contribute an annual average of 9.5 percent of their rated output of 50 kilowatts. Shoring up the rather unreliable wind and solar power components are three hydroelectric generating stations spread throughout the island. One puts out up to 100 kilowatts, while the others generate 5 to 6 kilowatts each. Related: Australia announces massive $1B solar farm with the world’s largest battery Working together, these three power sources provide 90 to 95 percent of the island’s electricity. Occasionally they have to fire up their two backup generators when the weather doesn’t cooperate, and sometimes they produce more power than they need. In the latter case, the excess power benefits the community by automatically turning on heating systems in shared spaces like the community hall—so everyone benefits. Their system and public ownership model has already reached other communities around the world that a face the same challenge of not being connected to the grid. Community Energy Malawi , a sister organization to Community Energy Scotland , sent representatives to Eigg last year to study the system. They were encouraged by the fact that people with a non-technical background could learn to build and operate a reliable renewable energy system. Via BBC Images via W. L. Tarbert , Wikimedia Commons and isleofeigg , Flickr Creative Commons

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