A Self Assembling House

Programming deals with the process of writing code to perform a function that is executed by a computer for a specific purpose. Once this method is understood well, the same procedures can be used in three dimensions. For instance, we can use CAD software to construct a three dimensional image of a house. To do so we need to use certain parameters. By the same token, we can draw up a set of guidelines based on our goals and then attempt to execute that in three dimensions. Some of the parameters we want to set for this project are:

  1. Self Assembly. We want nature to perform the work for use, based on pre-existing mechanisms. Some of these might be the fact that a vine will follow a framework created for it and therefore eventually cover a structure. If we create the structure according to our needs, all we need to do is plant the vine in the appropriate places and it will do the rest. i.e. grow our own house.
  2. No Corners. If we look around in nature, the only species constructing rectangular dwellings are the homo sapiens. Are we smarter? Or have we not yet caught up to the rest of the biological world? If we construct a dwelling with no corners, it will mesh better with #1 (above) as a plant can follow a curve better, without any exposed areas. A sharp 90o corner will mean that an exposed edge will be left or be less well covered. In addition the entire structure will be stronger, and thus should naturally be more earthquake proof. Finally it should be more wind proof as the wind will flow around it, as opposed by being caught by the edges. This means the entire structure should need fewer materials for the same strength, which is also more ecologically friendly.

From only these two principles above (no corners, self assembly), we end up with a circular or egg shaped structure (the “egg” could be cut in half vertically and have the stubby end facing into the prevailing winds) for which a frame is made and pre-existing (or cultivated) plant species are planted around it which will then naturally grow over the frame and provide shade and insulation. In addition, depending on the species grown, some food might be available from these plants as well. A benefit of this approach is that plants sequester or build molecules from the air, soil and water surrounding them. Therefore, whatever structural and insulating materials they add, these same elements do not need to be obtained from the environment elsewhere, transported and assembled on site. Saving these steps adds incrementally to the ecological friendliness of the project.

Examples

In the example below (a turf home in Iceland), you can see some of the principles (no corners, self-assembling) applied. The top of the roof appears to be rounded, but the bottom section and the end has a sharp edge. Sharp edges can wear over time, especially if they are composed of earth and grass, as pictured here. However, insofar as the house is covered in turf it appears that the turf would have to be cut, carried and put in place. This is work intensive, and we want to try to reduce the amount of work needed.

In Western culture, an igloo, grass house or teepee (often circular in shape) are seen as primitive. Yet it is we who are primitive when we start looking at the structural integrity and amount of building materials used in these structures as opposed to the energy intensive (and weaker, per unit material) structures that we build. Therefore it is a matter of custom and not engineering ingenuity that the bulk of structures existing in the western hemisphere are rectangular rather than smoothing curving, with fewer joints.

In fact, it can be seen from the discussion below1 that the engineering principles behind an igloo are anything but primitive:

igloo-engineering

The above results in a structure that looks something like this:

igloo

In other words, in areas that obtain adequate snowfall, if we would want nature to do the “heavy lifting” for us, all we would need to do is to build the dome framework, wait for a decent snowfall and then have our structure insulated. Instead of being detrimental the dwelling, this could then be seen as desirable. Indeed, if we are to take a walk through a meadow after a beautiful coating of snow has blanketed the ground, mouse tracks can often be seen. Here the snow is their friend, as it gives them a place to hide and insulates them from the bitter cold and wind above. Could we learn something from these critters, perhaps? I think we can.
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1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igloo Retrieved June 1, 2016.