Designboom points to the Alpod, designed by Hong Kong's James Law Cybertecture for Aluhouse, a Chinese manufacturer of prefabricated homes, and on display in Hong Kong until the end of February. According to ARUP, the structural engineer:
Engineered to be the next generation of home living, the ALPOD is constructed of aluminium, making it both strong and light as well as easy to transport and set up. It adopts an aerospace-type monocoque structure to create an open space with no columns. The large sliding glazed windows allow a harmonious nexus of the indoor and outdoor environments, ushering in natural light and air. ALPOD’s interior is brilliantly conceived with a fitted kitchen and bathrooms, all-inclusive air conditioning, power source and lighting – making it essentially a ‘plug-and-play’ home.
The Alpod can be used for a number of different functions, but is set up as a sort of residential unit with a small kitchen and a fancy bathroom at one end.
Really, the design is not that different from what Christopher Deam was doing for Breckenridge a decade ago, but the materials are a lot slicker. So what's so special about it?
It is hard to report on the structural details; I am confused. Arup and the press release call it "an aerospace-type monocoque structure to create an open space with no columns", however the definition of monocoque is " a structural approach whereby loads are supported through an object's external skin, similar to an egg shell."
In this construction photo from James Law's Facebook page I see a structural frame made of columns and beams and creating an open space in that width is not exactly pushing the engineering envelope. It certainly isn't what I would have called monocoque, but Arup is one of the world's great engineers so I must be wrong about this.
According to Alpod's press release, there are a lot of advantages to building with aluminum:
Eric Kwong, Managing Director of AluHouse, who serves as the driving force behind the ALPOD project, says that aluminum’s multi-faceted advantages of being light weight, strong, corrosion resistant, and impervious to fire and wind as well as its ability to damped noise and insulate against heat, will allow for more than 50 years of sound structural durability.
Of course, it is all in the details. Because aluminum is not impervious to fire; it has a low melting point. It is not an insulator; it is a conductor. But let's ignore that, because in fact, this Alpod is just a part of a much bigger vision. From James Law in the video, with my emphasis added:
It is a vision of pods that can be moved, changed, and relocated, so that the people living in the building don't just move in and out of the building, but they can actually move the house within the high-rise....I believe the future Alpods may become the building bricks of the smart cities of the future.
Sitting on the ground in Hong Kong, the Alpod is a nice little unit that doesn't break a lot of new ground. Plugging into a high-rise framework, what I have previously called a vertical trailer park, that is a whole other paradigm.
Dr. Andy Lee, Director of ARUP, also agrees that the ALPOD is an unprecedented innovation that is brilliantly engineered to be the next generation of home living. “The future even envisions pod houses to be stacked into a uniquely designed multi-structures, revolutionizing and redefining our perceptions about what architecture should be and how our future city landscape will evolve,” adds Law.
It is an idea we have talked about for years, really since Archigram and plug-in City, but there were always some fundamental problems, including the duplication of walls and roofs that you don't have with normal high rise construction.
But this is a major Chinese construction firm that has been doing aluminum housing for a while, an experienced engineer and architect, and if there is one thing I have learned visiting China is that they are dead serious about reinventing the way things are built and are doing it very well.
I suspect we will be seeing these coming down the road very soon. And given that they are small enough to fit on a ship and a truck, they may well be coming down the road in a city near you.