Temporal.haus Is a Community Built of Wood and Straw

On display for the Venice Biennale, it is designed for climate refugees.

street view of temporal.haus

Hyperlocal Studio

The theme of this year's Venice Biennale Architettura is "How will we live together?" Andrew Michler of Hyperlocal Workshop responded to this question with Temporal.haus, a home base for climate refugees from Central America, proposed for Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

According to Michler, we are facing what will be the largest human migration in history due to climate change. He tells Treehugger: "The point of this is wrapping our minds around climate refugees– how do we deal with this massive change in human habitation?"

As background, Michler points to a New York Times/ ProPublica essay—"Where Will Everyone Go?"— that describes the crisis, where millions may be on the move, with many of them coming to the U.S.

West elevation with food trucks

Hyperlocal Workshop

Historically, many immigrants start businesses such as restaurants or shops and live behind or on top of the store. Temporal.haus is a multi-unit version of that historical model, designed with apartments for singles or couples on the lower floors with families above. There is also a community kitchen, classrooms, and the rooftop is utilized as an open school protected by a solar canopy.

Trucks at sidewalk level

Hyperlocal Workshop

But living over the restaurant doesn't work as well as it used to; food trucks are a good alternative. "Brick-and-mortar is no longer a viable solution for many small food businesses which have chosen to mobilize their efforts." So instead, residents are living over a facility that supports the food truck scene in Los Angeles.

"The ever-changing collection of independent food trucks is supported shaded areas for eating, waiting in line, restrooms, and is complimented with a small bar. A commissary kitchen supports food trucks as well as the building’s residents who can develop their own food-based enterprise or support the rotating trucks. This reclaiming the sidewalk and strips of tarmac of Wilshire Boulevard, ironically the birthplace of the modern strip mall humanizes hyperlocal economic and community engagement."

How Low Can the Upfront Carbon Go?

Embodied Carbon drawing

Hyperlocal Workshop

There are two kinds of carbon emissions that we have to worry about these days: The operating emissions that come from running a building, but also the upfront carbon emissions that come from making the building materials, bringing them to the site, and constructing the building. They are the major component of what is known as "embodied carbon."

This building is described as "carbon neutral and energy positive," terms that were recently described in Treehugger as confusing. However, a walk through Temporal.haus gives them new meaning.


Hyperlocal Workshop

To the greatest extent possible, the building is constructed of natural materials that store carbon, what I have called building out of sunshine. Michler is known to Treehugger for his own house, built without any foam insulation and as little concrete or plastic as possible. He raises the bar considerably with Temporal.haus.

Automated nail driver

Beck Lignaloc

The podium floor is made of a new form of cross-laminated timber (CLT) where instead of the boards being glued together in a giant press, they are nailed together with LignoLoc wooden nails from Beck Fasteners. (Beck is a sponsor of the exhibit.)

We first saw a Lignoloc nail gun set up in an Automated Nailing Head at Greenbuild in 2019 and wrote about it in "Why in The World would Anyone Want a Computer-Driven Wooden Nail Gun?" and speculated at the time that it would make "a terrific form of Mass Timber." And here we are—CLT and nail-laminated timber (NLT) with no glue and no metal nails that make it hard to recycle, that anyone can make in a barn or on-site. This might be the next mass-timber revolution.

Ecococon panel
Ecococon panel.


The walls are built of Ecococon prefabricated straw panels, where straw is packed into FSC wood frames, seen on Treehugger here. According to Temporal.haus, straw panels are actually fire-resistant.

"The straw in the panels is compressed at a density of 110kg/m³ (6.9 Ib/ft3), not leaving space for oxygen that would fuel the fire. Moreover, straw has a high content of silica, a natural fire retardant. When burning, both materials create a charcoal insulation layer on the surface that protects them from flames."

The building stores a lot of carbon in those natural materials; using the new PHribbon calculator it's estimated to store 554 tons (503 metric tons) total carbon dioxide net, assuming a 60-year life of the building and that the timber is all reused, a reasonable assumption given that it is not full of steel nails. It assumes that the solar panels are replaced every 30 years, windows every 50 years, and the mechanical systems replaced every 25 years.

NLT bowling Alley Floor

Lloyd Alter

For people who continue to say that wood doesn't last as long as other materials and can't be reused at the end of 60 years, I note that I am sitting at a table made of NLT, a piece of a bowling alley that's probably seventy years old now. And those nails you see ruined a few sawblades.

Pushing the Passivhaus Envelope on Operating Carbon

Timber frame of building

Hyperlocal Workshop

Michler is an experienced Passivhaus designer, and worked with the Passivhaus Institut, in Darmstadt, Germany on the modeling of Temporal.Haus. Passivhaus designs reduce energy consumption through a super-insulated building envelope, high-quality windows, airtight construction, thermal bridge free, and ventilation systems with heat recovery. Top that off with a bunch of solar panels on the walls and roof in sunny, warm California and you end up with a building that produces a lot more energy than it uses.

To qualify for the Passivhaus standard, a building cannot use more than 60 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year of primary energy for all purposes. Thanks to its solar panels, T-Haus goes negative, -130 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year. And of course, Michler calls it Energy Positive! And Carbon Neutral, too.

"Using the PHribbon embodied carbon calculator, the building’s total embodied carbon is calculated at a very low 224 kg CO2 per square meter assuming reuse of the timber structure. With the removal of the photovoltaic electrical generation from the calculation Temporal.haus achieves whole life net embodied carbon neutrality."

Meanwhile, Back at the Biennale...

Exhibit at the Biennale
Exhibit at the European Cultural Centre.

Frederico Vespignale

The curator of the Biennale, Harshim Sarkis, notes that they came up with the theme, "How will we live together?" before the pandemic hit.

"However, many of the reasons that initially led us to ask this question – the intensifying climate crisis, massive population displacements, political instabilities around the world, and growing racial, social, and economic inequalities, among others – have led us to this pandemic and have become all the more relevant. We can no longer wait for politicians to propose a path towards a better future. As politics continue to divide and isolate, we can offer alternative ways of living together through architecture."

Temporal.haus, hosted by the European Cultural Centre and produced by Michler's Hyperlocal Workshop, directly addresses the issues of population displacements with its program. It also demonstrates the way buildings can address the climate crisis: In terms of upfront carbon, by being built out of materials that do not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere during their manufacture or construction, and if replaced in the forests and fields with replanted trees and straw, can be said to actually store carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere.

In terms of operating carbon, there is none; the building produces more energy from sunshine than it uses.

Temporal.haus addresses all those issues that Sarkis raised, even the politics that continue to divide and isolate, with its recognition of the need to deal with the inevitable climate migration. It inspires, raises important questions, and provides possible answers, which is exactly what a good Biennale exhibit is supposed to do.

Read more at Temporal.haus.