Seaweed Houses

seaweed house detail“Seaweed pillows were used as cladding for this holiday house on the Danish island of Læsø by architecture studio Vandkunsten and non-profit organisation Realdania Byg. The Modern Seaweed House revisits the traditional construction method in Læsø, where for many centuries trees were scarce but seaweed has always been abundant on the beaches. At one stage there were hundreds of seaweed-clad houses on the island but now only around 20 remain, which prompted Realdania Byg to initiate a preservation project.”

“The team enlisted Vandkunsten to design a new house that combines the traditional material with twenty-first century construction techniques. Seaweed is at the same time very old and very ‘just-in-time’, because it is in many ways the ultimate sustainable material, Realdania Byg’s Jørgen Søndermark told Dezeen. It reproduces itself every year in the sea, it comes ashore without any effort from humans, and it is dried on nearby fields by sun and wind. It insulates just as well as mineral insulation, it is non-toxic and fireproof, and it has an expected life of more than 150 years.”

See and read more at Dezeen. Via Lloyd Alter.

Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties

shelters shacks shanties“Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties presents lively, step-by-step tutelage
on building all types of temporary and long-term accommodations from both natural and man-made materials. Published in 1914, this practical classic is as essential a guide for today’s modern homesteader as it was at the turn of the twentieth century.

Included are instructions for dozens of worry-free shelters for you to chose from, including a sod house for the lawn, a treetop house, over-water camps, a bog ken, and much more. Satisfying the builder’s need for the creature comforts of home, it also provides tips on how to build hearths and chimneys, notched log ladders, and even how to rig a front door with a secret lock. Illustrated throughout with a bounty of helpful line drawings, Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties harkens back to the can-do spirit of the American frontier that still thrives today.”

Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties; and how to build them“, D.C. Beard, 1914 (Gutenberg free e-book). The description is from the 2008 edition (Amazon). Thanks to Thurston.

Nubian Vaults

nubian vaults

“The Nubian Vault technique is an age-old method of timberless vault construction, originating in upper Egypt. It uses only earth bricks and earth mortar. Nubian vaults built over 3,000 years ago at the Ramesseum mortuary temple, Luxor, are still standing. During the last ten years, Association La Voûte Nubienne (AVN) has successfully introduced a simplified, standardised version of this ancient technique in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, and Zambia. This standardised technique is:

  • Ecologically sustainable – no corrugated iron roofing sheets, nor timber beams, rafters, or supports;
  • Carbon neutral – none of the construction materials are manufactured, or transported long distances, nor do any trees need to be cut down;
  • Economically viable – only locally available raw materials (earth, rocks, and water) are used, favouring local economic circuits and self-sufficiency;
  • Comfortable – due to the excellent thermal and acoustic insulation properties of earth construction;
  • Durable – NV buildings have a far longer lifetime than those with corrugated iron and timber roofs, and maintenance is simple;
  • Modular – applicable to a wide range of buildings (houses, schools, healthcentres…), of different styles (flat terrace roofs, two-storey buildings, courtyard buildings…), which are easily extendable;
  • Vernacular – incorporating tradtional practices and aesthetics of earth architecture.

The major cost element in using the Nubian Vault method is labour, often provided by family members and neighbours on an exchange / barter / self-build basis, thus keeping cash in the local economy; the raw materials (earth, rocks, water) are locally available and ecologically sound; construction with mud bricks and mortar is traditional in the Sahel region – the innovation of vault construction can easily be incorporated into existing practice.”

More information, including building guidelines and house plans, at “La Voûte Nubienne” (website in English and French).


Micromachines: Decentralized Urban Services in South-Asia

VelochariotArchitects Damien Antoni and Lydia Blasco have compiled an interesting document that focuses on small-scale technology in countries like India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. They photographed, and made technical drawings of miniature taxi’s, family run water turbines, domestic rain harvesting systems, pedal powered kitchens, home digesters, and the like.

The architects consider their work to be a toolbox, a starting point for thinking outside the conventional norms and recepies. They argue that decentralized services are more flexible, provide more autonomy, and are more efficient in space, energy and materials.

Antoni and Blasco present, in their own words, an equivalent to Neufert’s “Architect’s data“, the book for architects that records standardized dimensions for centralized systems. “Micromachins” is written in French but the visuals dominate.

“Micromachins”, Damien Antoni and Lydia Blasco, 2011 [download the page to get the high resolution PDF-document]. Thanks to Yann Philippe Tastevin. Update: the architects have added a new link with colour pictures and English translation.

India’s Ancient Stepwell Architecture Cools Modern Building

“At the height of summer, in the sweltering industrial suburbs of Jaipur, Rajasthan in north-west India, where temperatures can hit 45C Pearl Academy of Fashion remains 20 degrees cooler inside than out, by drawing on Rajasthan’s ancient architecture. While the exterior appears very much in keeping with the trends of contemporary design, at the base of the building is a vast pool of water — a cooling concept taken directly from the stepwell structures developed locally over 1,500 years ago to provide refuge from the desert heat.”

Read more: Ancient ‘air-conditioning’ cools building sustainably.

California Coolers

california coolers“Coastal Northern California is blessed with a very moderate climate, generally on the cool side, especially at night. Before the refrigerator became common in households, denizens of this region took advantage of the cool weather by storing perishable foods in a special kitchen cabinet that brought in air from the outside – the California Cooler.

The cooler cabinets were designed to hold fruits, vegetables, and other staples that needed to be kept cool but didn’t need to take up critical space in the era’s tiny ice boxes. The coolers were open to the basement to draw in cool air, which then wafted up and out a chimney or a wall vent.

When the refrigerator came along, it seems that, over time, the vents were boarded up and the California Cooler was all but forgotten. Today, if you walk the streets of my hometown, Berkeley, where most of the houses were built in the 1920’s, you will see many homes, and even apartment buildings, with the exterior vestiges of these vents.”

Read more: Resurrecting the California Cooler. Thank you, Adriana. Previously: Saving food from the fridge.