Harvard's Transformer Houses, Clad in BMW's Cloth

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In Ignacio Gonzalez Galan's project, rooftops open and extend upward during the day.

What happens when you give a futuristic cloth-like material designed for BMW coupes with a bevy of design students and funding from one of the world's leading architecture firms?

Homes that can expand as needed, coastal houses that can rise and fall with flood tides, rooms that fold up when not in use, and roofs that shift to take advantage of sunlight.Re-inventing Suburbia
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GINA experimental car

Last year, students at Harvard's Graduate School of Design began to explore how the material of BMW's cloth-covered Light Visionary Model experimental car could be applied to housing that was neither fixed nor static.

In 2007, Chris Bangle, the recently-departed design chief of BMW, wondered how his GINA "cloth car" -- covered in an elastic fabric that is lighter, more flexible and more energy efficient to manufacture than metal -- could inspire a new kind of housing. To put it another way, if the automobile helped shape suburbia, how might the redesign of the car also help redesign the suburban home?

A conversation with Bangle piqued the interest of Frank Barkow, a partner in the European design firm RMJM. Last year, the firm handed Harvard a $1.5 million donation, part of which would pay for a studio class to investigate applications of of the GINA car to housing.

GINA
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Credit: BMW
So far, BMW has no plans to implement GINA, which stands for "Geometry and Functions In 'N' Adaptations," for real world cars. But engineers are applying some its principles to future models. The fabric's shape can be changed to adjust to driving conditions, performance needs, and drivers' moods. And because the synthetic skin is lighter, it can make cars more fuel efficient, cheaper to manufacture, install, and transport than current metal-clad models.

The ideas
Houses (and other things) that transform are not just fun but often good for our environments, adapting to surrounding conditions and serving uses that might otherwise require more material. And designs that shift depending on their environments play a bit part in raising our awareness about our impact on those environments.

The Boston Globe highlights some designs from the 14-student Harvard studio:

Nora Yoo, a third year master's student, took as her starting point the so-called shotgun shack - a small, narrow house found mainly in the Southern United States and named for the fact that a bullet aimed at the front door would travel out the back door.

Sections of the house Yoo designed could be tucked away on occasion to create a larger side yard or to save energy. Rooms would have built-in furniture, and the size and shape of interior spaces could be adjusted to the occupants' desires.

"The inhabitants can really become the architect," Yoo said. "It would be an Ikea catalog style of building a house."

Another project envisioned colonies of tent-like structures set on metal poles above the highways in Orange County, California.

A suburban housing complex designed by Ignacio Gonzalez Galan, a first-year student from Madrid, includes units with rooftops that open and extend upward during the day, like sunflowers following the sun. At night, the roofs close down and shrink, conserving energy.


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A community designed by student Kent Gould [above] is intended be adaptable to harsh conditions, such as lava fields, barren areas, and flood plains. The "teleburb," as Gould calls it, would consist of homes linked to one another and the outside world by enclosed roads or driveways that collapse and expand. The entire community could be lifted up or reoriented in response to environmental conditions.

Also highlighted, on Boston Globe's Overdrive blog:

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Cloud Suburbia
From Justin Chen: "Some time in the next 50 years, when suburbs run out of places to sprawl and need to colonize the air space above the freeways. The house is made from materials still to be developed, such as stretchable ETFE, elastic structural frames, and flexible tensile skins."

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CoilHaus
The Target of the future? This residential and commercial building by Megan Panzano has stretchy walls should more space be needed.

Reality Check
It's hard not to wonder how these houses might emerge from the ivory tower of theory, renderings and presentations into the world of affordable and emergency disaster-area housing, the kind of design that groups like Architecture for Humanity do. Perhaps one of these designs needs a test-drive in a real-world situation, like Shigeru Ban's cardboard tube house recently got in China. Otherwise the GINA housing project may remain as chimeric as its experimental car cousin.

Their embodied energy aside, it's also worth considering how expensive or sustainable these buildings might become when heating costs are considered.

Although Bangle is in the process of setting up his own design industrial design studio, he's not giving up on GINA. "GINA is a huge thing for me and I may be a missionary in that sense," he told the New York Times earlier this month. "I see GINA as part of much wider thread of an ethical argument" about design and industry."

via The Boston Globe

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