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Your e-House is a unique mix of high performance and alternative technologies. What was your inspiration?
I was prompted by an article I did with Bruce Sterling for Wired called “Newer New York,” which became a focal point for learning about and consolidating information on all the building products in existence. Much to my surprise, every single thing I could think of - if I Googled around enough - I found. And more often than not, I discovered that I could buy it with a credit card and have it shipped overnight to a building site. I quite literally found the future of building on the Internet, waiting to be purchased and implemented. This notion became the basis for a science fiction story, but then I started thinking about building it for real. My wife and I were looking at property in upstate New York at the time, so we decided to go for it.
How is e-House a metaphor for the community?
Buildings should not be considered as isolated objects. It’s profoundly important to understand how they’re connected to the ground and the sky, and how they’re connected to the culture of an area. In terms of technological connections, or connections to the culture of technology, this means making a building that thinks for itself, analogous to the way a human body functions. I’d like the building to adjust itself according to temperature and send email alerts when it needs attention.
What’s the importance of holistic thinking in architecture? Every building has connections to the sky, ground, and community, but these could be appreciated and utilized much better. In e-House, we collect rainwater to irrigate our garden. We also use it to store energy from the sun and the earth, and that energy is used to heat or cool a hyper-energy-efficient house. If you extend this thinking to other building systems, you can engineer a geothermal field for maximum efficiency by back-filling it with clean, well-drained, fertile, soil, and get both a heating and cooling source for your home and a productive organic garden. The more people start doing this community-wide, the more open space and forest can be conserved. This, of course, is an alternative to suburban sprawl. If government encourages this tendency through tax policy, you get large organic districts with hyper-energy-efficient homes.
Such districts can have economic and social value. We planned e-House to have an organic micro-farm, greenhouse, and agro-forestry (this is located in New York City’s watershed - a 1900-square-mile district that feeds the city’s reservoirs, delivering a billion gallons of potable water daily). Imagine that new home building in this vast area were encouraged to have organic micro-agricultural uses. New York City and its surrounding areas would be tethered to each other - clean, pure water from organic watersheds and urban markets for local organic produce. So the land and buildings can multi-task and form mutually beneficial relationships at any scale. This is the sort of productive, holistic thinking I want to encourage in architecture and, in turn, in public policy and regional planning. (more…)