For many people, buying affordable housing has become increasingly difficult in recent years, especially in large urban centres where real estate speculation is driving prices up -- one sees it happening in New York City, Vancouver and Hong Kong.
In Los Angeles, the mayor hopes to build an additional 100,000 housing units by 2021 to address the city's affordable housing shortage. In response, a team of students and faculty over at UCLA College's cityLAB, an architecture and urban design think tank, recently showcased a prototype for an "accessory dwelling" that could potentially be built in many of the backyards of the city's 500,000 single family homes, to house relatives or tenants.
The BI(h)OME is designed to be lightweight, inexpensive and to also promote local biodiversity by providing shelter for various species of birds, butterflies and bats. Built out of a steel pipe frame, it can be mounted on top of a simple, gabion foundation made out of wire-caged rock (not seen here).
The structure consists of wooden framed walls (some of which can be turned into edible vertical gardens), and a double-layered skin made out of ETFE, a durable, recyclable plastic. A series of cut paper cylinders are inserted between the layers of plastic.
According to the school, photovoltaics could be printed on the outside layer, while LED lighting could be installed on the inside. The tiny home would come with a kitchen, foldable bed, a greywater-recycling system, a composting toilet, and can be supplied with water via a garden hose, so no city hookups are necessary. The team says that the 350-square-foot design is intended as a cost-efficient and eco-friendly alternative to other types of housing:
The environmental impact of the structure over its entire life cycle is between ten and 100 times less than a conventional auxiliary dwelling. The BI(h)OME demonstrates – in its design, fabrication, occupation and recycling – what sustainability means at a personal level.
So could BI(h)OME work in Los Angeles? While the focus on cost-effectiveness and building for biodiversity is admirable, we're not too sure we like it; the premise is sound but the resulting prototype looks a bit too much like a greenhouse, and would probably get too hot to live in. It might also get a bit noisy with plastic walls and bats for neighbours. But it's an interesting, theoretical, conceptual tiny home, and in any case, it's a bold attempt to address a growing problem, and to encourage design students to think sustainably and out-of-the-box. More over at BI(h)OME and cityLAB.