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Evolutionary Housing

December 1, 2004


An extensive project to seek out, develop, and integrate inventive housing concepts in an adaptive system that could be implemented worldwide under a wide variety of economic, environmental and cultural conditions. Particular attention was to be given to the climatic changes to be expected from global warming and the resource exhaustion (notably, water) being hastened by burgeoning population growth.


Political, social, economic and technological change are increasingly molding public expectations, creating greater demand for improvement in the quality of life. Complicating the problem, population expansion, with the relentless consumption of resources it brings, continues in all but a few developed countries. Yet, developed countries and developing countries — rich and poor alike — feel the quality-of-life pressure. The problem affects all because it is a problem of quality relative to what exists. Those living in deplorable conditions clamor for the simplest amenities. Those with better living conditions demand the improvements they see elsewhere or perceive possible. For all, strides in science and technology are a constant reminder that a better life is possible, and should be attainable.

Visionary models of “houses of the future” have long been features of world’s fairs, expositions and industry promotions, pressing the boundaries of the technologically possible to show what could be, if… the ifʼs being social, economic and political thresholds that must be crossed, but seldom are.

Despite the barriers, technological developments in manufactured housing and electro/mechanical services over the years have brought a slow but steady progression of quality housing improvements to the general public.

The difference today is that the pressure of exponential population growth is joining with environmental changes to make living conditions a matter of mandatory concern rather than a special project of liberal governments and the socially conscious. Diminishing natural resources from oil to water will directly affect quality of life and are already beginning to be felt seriously in some parts of the world. Dealing with them will require new approaches to the use of utilities. Another new factor, increased energy in weather and climatic systems, is creating more frequent and more violent natural disasters. Brought about by global warming, this will require stronger, more protective construction, smarter patterns of home and community design, and resilient systems able to survive unexpectedly disruptive natural events.

At the same time, the post-industrial technological revolution is bringing extraordinary new capabilities in engineering, communication, command and control, materials — engineered and bioengineered — and information technologies. The means are emerging to deal with the needs that are evolving. Both are significant in scope and potential impact. The increased urgency today reflects both the extensive destructiveness of the forces precipitating need and the power of the technologies supporting solution. It is time to commit to housing designed as adaptive systems and to develop plans for components that can fit widely varying needs within different environmental, economic, social and cultural niches.

The problem is not finding a single solution to a specific problem, but creating a general system concept capable of particularized solutions to a wide range of problems. The house of the future needs to become the house of today, available widely in configurations appropriate for today’s conditions, but continuously adapting to the conditions of tomorrow. 

Trends initiated by emerging technologies, changing environmental conditions, and evolving social needs and interests will have real impact on the needs and aspirations of individuals, families and communities — as well as how design can serve them.

Among such trends are:

Population Growth 
Population growth continues to soar around the world. Particularly in developing countries, but also in countries with significant immigration (such as the United States), rates of population increase are putting heavy demands on available resources. Although estimates for a final asymptote have decreased, world population is still expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and top 12 billion by the end of the century.

Population Movements 
A combination of forces is creating a movement of people from rural to urban environments. In the developing countries, it is the perception that better jobs are in the cities. In the developed countries, it is the renaissance of the city as a cultural center coupled with the progression of societies from agriculture to manufacturing to service to information economies. The result is a need for housing systems that can adaptively create single-family and multi-family new construction as well as re-use construction for new and old parts of the urban environment.

Energy Resources 
World oil resources are beginning to dwindle. Estimates for peak production vary from 2005 to a few decades later. The world economy is deeply associated with oil as fuel and hydrocarbon material resource. Energy needs will have to be met by other resources in the near future.

Water Resources 
Water supplies are already becoming precious resources in many parts of the world. As these are strained by greater demand, new efficiencies in water distribution, use, purification and reuse will be mandatory to maintain communities.

Global Warming 
The increased energy injected into weather and climate systems by global warming is beginning to affect the destructiveness of weather and climate events. Stronger and more frequent tornadoes, hurricanes other cyclonic storms will be one result. Longer and more intense droughts and flooding will be another. Barring a cataclysmic worldwide event, the growing severity of environmental conditions will require new approaches to individual housing and community structures, both to ensure preservation in bad weather and to maintain system function in the face of infrastructural pressures.

Increasing Expectations 
The growing availability of television in remote areas is providing people with daily reminders of living conditions, products and services in commonplace use elsewhere in the world. These encounters create expectations that fuel demand and willingness to change.

Growing Globalization 
Nations are less and less independent entities. International corporations and global trade are creating a one-world economy in which there are potential markets for virtually anything of value. Diversities of culture offer niche markets, but also provide specialized sources of products.

Internet Penetration 
Computer use and Internet access grow exponentially every year. Information of encyclopedic detail can be obtained more and more easily, and complex, sophisticated processes can be used remotely. Access to high-quality communications and sophisticated computer tools are increasingly available to individuals and groups anywhere.

Emerging Technologies 
The pace of technological change continues to accelerate, bringing new science to commercial and industrial uses at an ever quickening pace. Major technological innovations are appearing in the new fields of molecular nanotechnology, robotics and bioengineering/genetics.

New Relationships 
Greater public mobility and access to information is changing the nature of association for many individuals and organizations. Organizations that once operated in isolation are now players in a common environment. Sometimes the emerging relationships are competitive, sometimes cooperative.

Economic Upheaval 
Wars, droughts, environmental disasters and perceived opportunities in other locations are inducing people to abandon or supplement previous occupations with new ways to make a living. Entrepreneurial styles of working are finding new currency in a world where wages and funding are limited, but desires are fed by ubiquitous televised reminders of what is available.

Proposed User Experience

The system should:

Treat housing as an adaptive system, adaptive to a variety of
conditions at installation, adaptive over time to changing needs of users;

Accommodate through variability the social, cultural and economic needs/desires of developed and developing country users;

Utilize energy and utility technologies appropriately to maximize self-sufficiency:

Employ materials, structures and design concepts best able to
economically provide safe occupancy under extreme weather and climate conditions;

Recognize and employ computer and communication technologies
appropriate to aspirations and expected capabilities of communities; and

Put the functionality of the house in the service of helping
individuals and family to grow intellectually, emotionally and socially.

As general guidelines the proposed housing system should:

Explore a full range of possibilities, paying especial
attention to appropriate technologies and user needs and desires.

Consider both high- and low-tech proposals as they are appropriate.

Include ideas for processes, tools, systems and products — including procedures, services, activities, organizational concepts and any relevant relationships among them.

Explore revolutionary as well as evolutionary ideas.

Consider the educational process through which individuals and groups learn to use the system and its components.

Accommodate all users of the system, from distribution to retirement and provide for them in the design. Thoroughness is a step toward system integrity.

Consider potential costs, pricing and funding thoughtfully; the
proposal should not incorporate unnecessary frills, but it should not sacrifice quality for low cost.

Treat the design problem as design from the inside out; user needs come first, with every attempt possible made to satisfy them in some way, even when tough design decisions must be made.

Conceive the properties and features of the system as means
to build trust between buyers, sellers, installers, maintainers, users and suppliers.

Overall, the solution should:

    • Assume that the proposal can be acted upon as it is conceived.
    • Do not under-propose on the assumption that a concept might be politically opposed.
    • Demonstrate what might be achieved. The value of the proposal is in its ideas, not its direct attainability. Ideas that might not be fully attainable under today’s conditions may be incrementally achieved tomorrow — if they are known.

Final Results

Evolutionary Housing report: evolutionary_housing_report

Evolutionary Housing presentation: evolutionary_housing




Arpita Agrawal
Kristina Marich
Michael Davis-Burchat
Soungmin Yoo
SoYoung Lee
Stephen Palumbo