Can modern, green housing help traditional cultures retain their ties to their customs and traditional practices? That's what the reACT house (short for "Resilient Adaptive Climate Technology") attempts to do as a self-sustaining home for a Denver, Colorado-based couple, who are also members of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe.
Designed and built by University of Maryland students as one entry for this year's Solar Decathlon, the reACT house is conceived as a modular "kit of parts" that can be adapted to a range of uses and homeowners. In this case, reACT has been configured to include a composting system, hydroponic garden, vegetable garden, and movable “living walls” festooned in plants. The concept also encourages growing one's own food -- something that's practiced in traditional Nanticoke culture.
The home features a central courtyard with an adjustable glass roof, as well as wall panels that help to collect heat and light from the sun, while also making the living space feel bigger. The urban farming component comes through with the home's hydroponic garden, an outdoor veggie garden and "living walls" that extend the growing space vertically. Easy composting is achieved via a barrel composter, and a composting toilet.
The home's interior features a panelized system that allows the structure to be separated from the living green elements, in order to allow for simplified customization as homeowners' needs change over time. The team also ran virtual simulations to predict the home's performance.
There's a solar power system with photovoltaics and battery storage; water is managed via a rainwater harvesting system and greywater treatment system. The team included tech that would help the home attain "net-zero" water use at a residential level, by recycling water as much as possible. All the home's systems can be adjusted and monitored via smart-home software.
It's a self-sufficient, smart home, targeted at people with traditional cultural backgrounds, as the designers explain:
Native American home buyers are increasingly seeking sustainable housing and renewable energy technologies to provide cultural renewal, self-sufficiency, economic opportunity, and sustainable returns on investment. At the same time, Native Americans who are living in urban centers and away from their traditional lands have a hard time maintaining their traditions and cultural ties. With reACT, Team Maryland has designed a prototype designed specifically for this market. reACT is in alignment with Native American values, as is evidenced in the home’s carefully designed HVAC, water, solar, living green wall systems, and open-source SmartHouse software.
Admittedly, the home doesn't look and probably doesn't function any different from your run-of-the-mill, modern high-tech sustainable smart home. But there's a lot to admire here: the central courtyard and the modular, panelized approach to to the design, and an attempt to reconcile traditional views of harmonious ecological co-existence with modern technology.
With the modular kit of parts being envisioned as a "lifestyle system" that integrates a home with its environment, the house is less a structure than a holistic system that 'plugs' people into their environment, using tech that is adaptable and boosts energy efficiency and self-sufficiency through renewable power generation and food production. Housing like this is needed all over, and it's great to see built examples of what's possible. To see more, visit reACT and Solar Decathlon.