It’s enlightening to compare two approaches to the same problem 50 years apart.
During the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, housing exhibits provided a vision for the future of domestic life as exuberant modular assemblages packed with high-tech energy-intensive gadgets that did the living for you, built and powered by seemingly endless resources. Fifty years later, we are at work on The House of the Immediate Future with Habitat for Humanity to be built first at Seattle Center as part the 50th Anniversarycelebration of the ’62 World’s Fair, and then moved to an emerging Seattle Housing Authority neighborhood in Rainier Valley.
Our approach seems modest when compared with the space-age vision in 1962. But that’s the point.
The difference highlights how advances in building science over the past five decades have trended toward a sober return to basics as we better understand the reality of limited resources and global warming. Smaller footprints in walkable transit-oriented communities and ever-tighter building envelopes that make miserly use of renewable energy sources may not capture the imagination quite like the sci-fi visions of the past, but may be the only way we can survive long into the future.
To kick-off the project, Miller Hull hosted a Think Tank workshop attended by over 60 local experts from across the spectrum of residential design, engineering and planning. The Think Tanks were focused on four major topics: Construction, Energy, Program and Site that prioritized repeatable solutions for near-term Habitat projects by combining the right blend of established but forward-looking techniques.
Our hybrid-approach to construction systems includes prefabricated “wet-cores” (mechanical room, kitchen, bathrooms) by Method Homes and a panelized double-stud exterior wall assembly constructed by Habitat volunteers. By prefabricating the infrastructure cores, professional labor can be separated from a less-skilled volunteer force so important to every Habitat for Humanity project. Volunteers will build wall panels that can be erected around the wet-cores at the Seattle Center exhibit and then disassembled and moved to the permanent site.
A “dream team” of residential energy experts including our in-house energy-guru, Jim Hanford, along with Buzz Burgett of NW Mechanical, Tadashi Shiga of Evergreen Certified and Brad Liljequist of Z-Home are all looking for the most simple and cost-effective approach to achieving net-zero energy for the home. Currently they are crunching the numbers to compare two solar-driven mechanical systems: an air-to-water heat pump with radiant slab versus a ductless mini-split system. Habitat will use the house to develop techniques that fit their volunteer-model to minimize air-infiltration and maximize insulation to reduce the energy loads and resultant costs of renewable energy sources.
Beyond building science, the team is pondering the question, “How do families live now?” To address this question, the house and site are planned to optimize flexibility for a widening variety of family configurations, aging-in-place and income-generation possibilities for the global family of the future.