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Documenting a personal quest for non-toxic housing
Some time ago, while vexing over the rules for Supplemental Security Income, I was struck by the similarities between the situation imposed on disabled people in America and that imposed on people in the impoverished countries of the Third World. You see, one of the biggest obstacles to self-sufficiency faced by disabled people in the US is that the rules for SSI bar them from having any savings of any kind. And, of course, if you can't have savings you can't build the equity normally necessary for a mortgage. Also, no banks in the US consider SSI income to be 'legitimate' because they have no option to garnish that income in the event of a default on a loan. So, in effect, the disabled person is barred from equal access to the financial services most people take for granted. The Federal department of Housing and Urban Development is supposed to address this problem through programs offering 'vouchers' for rent and mortgage payments. But, in practice, it doesn't work very well. Rife with Catch-22s and dependent on local independent Public Housing Agencies with no consistent rules or Federal oversight, the programs are generally ineffective. By HUD's own estimate, only 10% of the disabled people who, in theory, are supposed to qualify for HUD assistance are actually making use of any of its services. It often seems as if the only people who enjoy the benefits of any HUD programs are those who have the personal support of local PHA bureaucrats willing to inconspicuously bend the rules for their sake, tricking the system into working in spite of itself.
It occurred to me that the situation created by all this is essentially the same as that faced by many people in the Third World. With no access to financial services due to the simple scarcity of legitimate banks and with marginal incomes to begin with people in these impoverished regions of the globe have had to devise means of acquiring housing without the crutch of bank finance. Ways of saving for a home without saving money. Their solution is straightforward. I understand that, when it's not practical to borrow or save money for a home and there are no suitable natural home-building materials at-hand, people in many Third World communities -particularly in desert regions- simply stockpile building materials, saving for a home by literally saving up what it's made from over time. This is why, as so many travellers have observed, much of the Third World seems to be in an almost perpetual state of construction. Home additions are performed room-by-room over protracted periods, work done a little at a time as materials are saved up. Any spare space in and around the homes of the extended family become materials storage space. Building materials are traded like money and in some cases they may form the basis of dowries and inheritances. Consequently, the most popular building materials in these regions of the world are those which are weather resistant, come in simple modular forms, and can be purchased or traded for in small volume. Things like clay and concrete block and corrugated steel sheet.
Thinking on this, I realized that a similar stategy might offer a solution to obstacles imposed on the disabled here in the US. While they impose all kinds of restrictions on savings or 'liquid assets', SSA's don't really impose any limitations on what SSI is spent on. So if an individual could manage to have some spare money each month, there would technically be no obstacle to spending it on something like building materials. And while land is generally expensive in the US, small pieces of rural land can be acquired at prices within the limits of simple personal credit. But there are some complications with this idea. This strategy works well in the Third World because there building materials have higher value than labor. So once a person has stockpiled a certain amount of materials, it doesn't take much money or trade goods to pay for the local labor to turn it into a structure, assuming they cannot do that themselves. Also, extended families tend to live in fairly close proximity in the Third World offering more possible materials storage space and a potential free labor pool. But in industrialized countries the economics are inverted. Labor costs much more than materials, sometimes as much as 80% of the cost of a home. Extended families are very dispursed and typically one has to travel great distances to find places where land is cheap.
This complication presents a serious challenge to the idea of exploiting this strategy for the disabled, most of which would have great difficulty investing 'sweat equity'. I myself have very diminished strength and stamina and no family or nearby friends to rely on as a labor pool. So for this strategy to be practical it would require a building system of considerable sophistication based on small, very light, easy to assemble, store, and transport modular components. And, of course, everything still has to be non-toxic. Masonry blocks would never work in this context. They're too heavy, take too much labor to assemble, and take up too much space. What this calls for is a kind of building technology that is coming to be known as Plug-In Architecture -not to be confused with the Plug-In Architecture of Modernism's heyday which was based on large single and multi-room modules which plugged into gigantic building superstructures. Unfortunately, there are no complete turn-key plug-in building systems or products. It's just a concept a handful of far-sighted designers have toyed with. So the question I needed to answer was if there was anything available off-the-shelf that could approximate this capability. Some collection of products which, even though not specifically intended for this, could become a practical form of Plug-In Architecture.
Looking for a technology to fit this criteria the logical first choice was space frame systems since this technology epitomizes the idea of high performance structures made from small light modular components. But, much to my disappointment, this proved to be a dead-end, not because of any flaw with the technology itself but rather because of the extremely primitive condition of the industry that produces these building systems. The practicality of this technology depends on the standardization of specific sets of mass-produced components and, to date, none of the many companies that have developed space frame systems have ever succeeded in this. Essentially, every space frame structure we see in buildings today is a custom engineered hand-fabricated one-of-a-kind structure of ridiculous cost. I have detailed my exploration of this particular technology in the article Min-A-Max and Other Space Frames in the Gallery section. I still hold out some hope for the relatively primitive home-made space frame system devised by the N55 group, but in general I've had to abandon this technology.
With space frames an apparent dead-end, I turned my search to other off-the-shelf prefabricated building systems that might share the same characteristics. But choices are limited because modular building systems have tended to be short-lived and too specialized in application, housing rarely being considered. One promising system I found was the ModularWallSystem from US Systems. Derived from an aluminum framing system for store displays, this system uses a unique integrated screw-driven clamp connector and modular panels to create the closest thing yet devised to a plug-in architecture platform. This would have been perfect for my needs. The only catch was that, while the company has successfully manufactured and sold its store display framing system for many years, for some reason it has never been able to get this larger scale component system into production in the US. Apparently originally a Middle-Eastern import, the company could not cost-effectively produce these larger components in the US as they had done there. I have found that this problem is not unique to this firm. It seems that, for reasons unknown, aluminum extrusions of these larger scales are extremely rare in the US, no matter what the application. Whatever the cause of this may be, it effectively made this very promising product unattainable. And so my search continued.
M-House and Hypertat - Micheal Jantzen
Another possibility emerged with the discovery of a very intriguing concept called M House designed by architect Micheal Jantzen. Jantzen is another one of the contributors to the Biosphere project and had much experience with concepts that verged on the idea of plug-in architecture. He is the designer of the Hypertat, a modular quonset hut-like structure which was originally designed as a high-tech competitor to conventional modular homes but ultimately found its use in arctic and antarctic facilities. I had looked into the Hypertat before but its reliance on a lot of chemically treated lumber products and plastics made it unsuitable. However, the M House seemed much more promising, relying on a steel box frame and modular bolt-on hinged panels which could be readily made from any material. But I eventually learned the M House simply wasn't for-real. It was a mock-up that looked very functional but was nothing more than the architectural equivalent of a concept car, being uninhabitable and with none of its engineering worked out. It was something Jantzen had devised to sell the concept of a new kind of eco-tourism venture but never actually worked out the nuts & bolts details of. And getting down to that fact was quite a frustrating ordeal since Jantzen seemed rather surprised and confused by every e-mail message sent to him and had great difficulty drafting any coherent replies -as if I was the first person who had ever contacted him in writing before. Alas, another dead-end.
Ultimately, I was forced to accept that there was no viable off-the-shelf solution for this application. If there was a technology that would do this job, it was going to have to be a hack, something made from scratch or a re-application of products and techniques originally intended for another use. This thinking led me down an old familiar path.
During the heyday of Modernism, modularity was a popular concept. Inspired by the traditional -pre-westernized- architecture of Japan, virtually every notable architect of the time devised modular building systems of their own. Books on the history of Modernist design offer a vast menagerie of clever building systems. But none of them ever saw use in more than a few projects. None of them achieved the status of an industrial standard and, as a consequence, the economy of mass production. The basic problem, in my opinion, was that these systems tended to rely on components of very large size and over-elaborate fabrication which demanded an inordinately high up-front investment in facilities to fabricate them. Their success depended on the creation of a new industry from scratch around them and that was just too costly. Inventing modular systems is easy. It's much more complicated to cultivate an industrial infrastructure to support them. In ancient Japan standardization came through the culture of trades guilds rife with nepotism, steeped in tradition, and under the iron fist of a feudal authority that could make and enforce unilateral decisions. Today standardization needs to evolve from a bottom-up process. It needs to emerge in the manner of a vernacular building technology driven by evolutionary forces of selection through competitive performance. That doesn't seem to have happened yet for any current alternative building technology. But there was one very significant attempt.
Living Structure and frame detail - Ken Issacs
In the late 1940s a young design student in Chicago named Ken Isaacs was confronted by a serious shelter problem. Needing housing for himself and his new wife as well as enough space to carry out his work but just barely able to afford a tiny two-room city apartment, Isaacs needed a way to get more practical use from limited space. With a leap of imagination that anticipated the Lofting movement that would come some time later, he devised a novel home-made structure of bolt-together wooden parts which organized the one main room of his apartment into a two level set of small stacked spaces of specialized function, exploiting the full volume of the limited room space. This Living Structure, as Isaacs came to call it, combined lounge, office/study, bedroom and storage all into its one cubical frame structure, its furnishings all integrated and made from the same modular bolted-together 2x2 sticks and simple sheets of press-board. It was like a whole home intergated into a single piece of home-made furniture which could be spontaneously adapted to its inhabitants changing needs by simply rearranging its parts. This immediately drew the attention of other designers and was soon featured in a number of magazine article. Intrigued by the versatility of this structure, Isaacs was soon obsessed with adapting the concept to an infinite diversity of uses, evolving it into a standardized system of modular building he called Matrix which anyone could use to build just about anything. Thus was formed one of the key foundations for a brief but remarkable design movement that would eventually be known as the Urban Nomad movement.
...it travels on land, or roams the skies, through a heavens mighty rage...
Isaacs spent decades spreading the word about Living Structures and the light living philosophy they embodied through seminars, articles, and courses conducted in design schools around the US. Simultaneously, he and his followers continued to experiment with an increasing diversity of applications, culminating in the development of what Isaacs referred to as Microhouses; tiny simple buildings based on a stressed-skin plywood structure and using an external support structure based on galvanized steel pipe joined with modular pipe-fittings. (such as today's Kee Klamp products) The application of free-standing housing seems to have pushed the practical limits of the Matrix technology. Isaacs succeeded in creating a variety of very interesting structures but he was never able to devise any systems of weatherproofing which could withstand any extremes of climate or last for long periods. Likewise, his volumetric use of space tended to create habitats that would be fairly useless for the elderly or the disabled. Isaacs apparently did not consider this a setback. He intended Microhouses for a nomadic youth culture, not as anything which might compete with conventional housing.
first generation Microhouses
second generation Microhouses
It is not clear to me precisely where and when the Urban Nomad movement started. Books relating to it I have found seem to have emerged in the 1960s and then fizzled out by the late 1970s, the movement being more-or-less absorbed into the more generalized Soft-Tech movement. But it was clearly distinct, with its own version of a Post-Industrial ideology. The Urban Nomads were a scattered community of young designers who shared a common image of an emerging highly mobile and very sophisticated youth culture which sought liberty through simple technologies of self-sufficiency. It wasn't a 'back to the earth' ideology based on recreating an agrarian lifestyle. It was about living light for the sake of mobility with a reliance on self-made artifacts made from common materials and industrial cast-offs for the sake of economy and efficiency, the off-the-shelf products of the consumer culture simply being impractical -too expensive, cumbersome, inefficient in their use of materials and space- for a nomadic lifestyle. Some anticipated an imminenent break-down of the consumer and corporate cultures as a result of their inherent non-sustainability and the dominant trend of technology evolution toward systems of decreasing size and increasing capability, ultimately restoring the power of self-determination through the decentralization and eventual personalization of industrial production. Put simply, they saw a future where most everyone could maintain as high a standard of living as they could imagine through the products of their own labor and ingenuity and by virtue of increasingly capable tools and clever design.
The Urban Nomads were not designing static artifacts for their aesthetic value or novelty but rather were cultivating a new kind of vernacular technology -a system of DIY fabrication which could be freely employed by anyone with simple tools and materials. So when they shared the results of their design efforts it was in the manner of sharing DIY instructions, not objects. In essence, these people were the Open Source programmers of their day. And no system of building epitomized these ideals better than Ken Isaacs' Matrix, the veritable Linux of modular construction.
Not much documentation of the Urban Nomad movement exists. Because it was characterized as relating to the 'youth culture' with its attendant 'hippies' and the like, it did not have much respect with the mainstream publishers. But its proponents were effective self-publishers and the record of this movement exists in the interesting form of an assortment of DIY building books by grass-roots small-press publishers. The Urban Nomadics movement was not about design style or theory but rather about a culture of appropriate technology. So the books the proponents of this movement wrote were intended to share the technology they had invented, much like the handyman and hobby books from which their writing and illustration style derived. This ultimately became the standard for the many Soft-Tech books which followed in the 1970s. I was able to find a few of these Urban Nomad DIY books including Ken Isaacs own How To Build Your Own Living Structures and the Nomadic Furniture vol. 1 & 2 by Hennasy and Papanek.
Living Cubes and Resource Tower from Nomadic Furniture vol.1
Alas, the sophisticated mobile youth culture the Urban Nomads anticipated never actually emerged -a typical case of futurist overestimation of the near-term and underestimation of the long-term. The movement faded into obscurity and its Post-Industrial ideology was absorbed by the more nebulous ideology of the Green and Soft-Tech movements. However, the legacy of Urban Nomads persists. In the 1980s there appeared a brief design style fad alternately called High-Tech and Industrial Style. The most well known book on this subject is High-Tech, the Industrial Style and Source Book for the Home by Joan Kron and Suzanne Sloan. Here again surfaced the idea of reusing off-the-shelf and cast-off industrial materials and building components to make novel shelters and environments. Living Structures also were re-invented, this time built with scaffolding systems and prefabricated mezzanine systems. And there are many other reinventions of DIY furniture objects and structures originally devised by the Urban Nomads. More recently a new Nomadic Architecture movement has begun to emerge. Based primarily on an evolution of the technology of mobile homes rather than wholly demountable structures, it nonetheless reinvents many of the concepts first explored by the Urban Nomads.
Loft Bed and Hopkins house from High-Tech
As for Living Structures and the Matrix technology, Ken Isaacs seems to have fallen into some degree of obscurity. I can find little to no material produced by him after his one book. But the Matrix system persists in the form of a building system called Box Beam. In the 1970s members of what would eventually become the eco-products development group Synergii discovered and attempted to carry on the development of Matrix. They improved on this technology by mass-producing pre-drilled frame components of both wood -dubbed Quik Stix- and aluminum -dubbed Box Beam. They also expanded the modular system to include many more dimentions of frame pieces. This new version of Matrix was introduced to the world through the self-published Box Beam Sourcebook and soon Box Beam became ubiquitous among Soft-Tech, Eco-Tech, and solar energy hobbyists and inventors who employed it in a great variety of home-made machines. It became especially popular with student solar powered car competitions and a great variety of solar/electric vehicles were built with it. Synergii also carried on the work of the Microhouse concept, trying to develop a new building system based on Box Beam trusses and larger 4" framing. But, just like Isaacs, they never succeeded in devising a truly all-climate housing technology, their prototypes suited only to the mild climate of Hawaii where they were built. They never revealed the details of these housing experiments to the public, though in my correspondence with them it was intimated that this would be featured in an as yet unpublished sequel to the Box Beam Sourcebook.
tri-lap joint and solar vehicle from The Box Beam Sourcebook
Box Beam enjoyed great but brief popularity, eventually being superseded in the 1990s by the extruded T-slot profile framing products such as 80/20 and MK Profiles which today are ubiquitous in industrial automation. Though much more expensive, T-slot framing offers higher performance and a vast catalog of prefabricated plug-in/bolt-on components. Box Beam is still used today but it seems to have suffered from a lack of concerted effort in its advocacy, perhaps in part due to Synergii's inability to make much money from it. It's difficult to turn a profit from a product that people can readily make themselves at less cost. It's too bad they didn't take a lesson from the Open Source software community. Quik Stix, as well as several furniture kits based on it, is still marketed and sold through some eco-products mail order companies but I have found no source for the aluminum version of Box Beam.
Could Matrix be the answer for a home-brew system of plug-in architecture? Possible, but it's speculative. Matrix, in its contemporary form as Box Beam, appears to have the potential. It fits the bill of a building system whose parts can be readily home-made, stock-piled incrementally, and which are light and simple enough that someone with diminished strength and stamina could readily assemble their own structures. And, if nothing else, it is clearly well suited to making any kind of furniture, shelving, or cabinetry one might need, lending itself to the easy construction of non-toxic furniture. As described in other articles, I found it to be potentially useful for that in many housing designs. But as the basis of a full housing system it has limitations. The individual 2x2 post/beam is too light to support large spans even in its aluminum or steel form. Using the newer 4x4 varient, this is less of a problem but the trade-off is much heavier pieces to work with. And because of the reliance on plywood, the stressed skin structures of Isaacs' Microhouses are unsuited to non-toxic requirements. There is also a complication with the standard 'tri-lap' joint employed in Matrix structures. This joint leaves its box frame parts off-set from each other rather than flush joined and this is one of the biggest complications in making structures that can be made weather tight. A cube made of 12 sticks has only 8 pieces flush with the exterior plane of each face and only 4 of those are flush with the face edges. This complicates the attachment of panels, leaving edge gaps and requiring different orders of attachment points on different faces. This is probably what compelled Isaacs to go with stressed skin systems, allowing the plywood to increase the overall structural strength (much as conventional framed housing relied on its plywood for strength) while creating panel modules with more regular geometry. But it's clear this system never produced a reliable weatherproof skin either, Isaacs primary sealing technology being aluminum tape. If Matrix is really going to work, it's probably going to have to be used in a way neither Isaacs nor Synergii have tried before.
One possibility is to use trusses and multi-stick combinations to create mezzanine systems. Synergii supposedly tested a simple Quik Stix truss to an effective span of 15'. This was apparently built using a simple arrangement of 4 top and bottom 2x2 pieces flanking center diagonal chords. It probably used a splice to join trusses together, since Quik Stix normally only come in a maximum 8' length. Many other kinds of truss configurations are possible, including solid web and cable stayed trusses. This suggests the possibility of a mezzanine system where these trusses connect to posts made of a bolted combination of 9 sticks with some kind of connector piece through-bolted to their sides on which to mount the truss ends, forming a quadradic grid. Such a mezzanine system could be employed as the basis of a pavilion house structure using foam core sandwich panel as roofing, store-front glazing as window walls, and bolt-on partitions using Quik Stix framed panels of non-toxic wheatboard or fabric. Similarly, bolted 3x3 or larger combinations could be butt-joined at corners using a key connector arrangement -in essence, a box frame made of box beams made out of Box Beam.
Using this system becomes less problematical the smaller the module size of any framing system. For instance, if one stuck with an 8'x8' module size 2x2 based box frames may have sufficient strength for a single storey structure supporting a foam core panel roof -at least if aluminum is used. 4x4 framing should readily work even with wood. This would require an interior design more akin to the original Living Structures to make the most of these small spans. But that is a nominal issue. More important would be meeting building codes with such an obviously light structure.
The catch, of course, is that all these ideas are supposition. No one has apparently done these things with this system before. So while it's feasible, a lot of home-brew experimentation is required and that's something I lack the space and workshop facilities for. And there is a basic problem with storing wooden components. It requires clean dry storage space, and I have none where I am now. What storage space is available too me -in a chronically damp basement- might be suitable for the aluminum Box Beam parts, but not the wood.
Are there any other alternatives that might be easier to use? Certainly, the successor to Box Beam among tinkerers -T-slot framing- can do essentially everything Box Beam can and with greater strength, more options for connections, and a vast assortment of off-the-shelf supporting hardware. And it readily supports very strong butt connections which make it far easier to integrate panel materials and attach weatherproof cladding like foam core panel. But it's very expensive. I estimated that, using a simple box frame structure with foam-filled combination beams or trusses and a flooring system of aluminum planking all provided by MK Profiles, the likely cost per square foot would be in excess of $200 for just the frame hardware alone
modular theatrical truss and the 1934 Exposition Crystal House by George Fred Keck
Another potentially easier to assemble system is possible through the use of theatrical trusses which offer surprising performance for their mass. One of the best I found for this re-application was the Prolyte truss product line which offers one of the more versatile corner connector systems. but again, it's still too expensive for me and my attempts to find used theatrical trusses suitable for this turned up empty.
a modular mezzanine system
Proponents of High Tech style have employed modular warehouse mezzanine systems. This common product was originally developed to make more efficient use of warehouse space by creating free-standing decking of up to several storeys inside the large clear-span space of a warehouse. These are not terribly expensive, coming in at around $24 per square foot, and few of them feature a modular structure design that would be relatively easy to adapt to housing use. But they are commonly painted with paints their manufacturers seem completely ignorant of the content of. Some of the paints they use may be low toxic, some are highly toxic, and they don't know the difference! And, of course, buying them paint-free is not an option.
N55 space frame
One strong possibility as an alternative to Box Beam that is probably no more expensive is the N55 Space Frame system. Based on home made stainless steel parts, this octet geometry space frame system probably has about the same fabrication overhead as Box Beam with comparable cost and the advantage of moisture resistant parts. There is also at least one proven house design, though the practicality of this design is debatable. The N55 design group advocates ideals very similar to that of the Urban Nomads and their many designs make similar and clever reuse of industrial hardware and cast-offs. The most likely practical approach for the use of the n55 space frame is with design similar to the Simplicty Space Frame design described in the Min-A-Max and Other Space Frames article but with a hexagonal configuration, since the octet geometry would be limited only to variations of hexagons, triangles, and truncated triangles. The downside to this system is a very large parts count due to the fact that each chord in the system is made of two pieces. The house shown on the N55 site required almost 600 plate parts for exterior sheathing, about 500 plates for walls and floor, and 7500 frame parts! Other frame geometries are possible with this system but they don't offer a savings in parts count and are not as strong as the octet geometry, which may be critical in making such a primitive home-brew space frame system practical.
Volkshaus system - Landship and Be-haus
Another strong possibility is a system developed in Japan called the Volkshaus. Devised by a design group called Landship, (see also Be-haus, A-Kit, and Oji-Group) the Volkshaus concept was intended as a means to realize the simple practicality embodied by the Volkswagen Beatle in a DIY home building system. Bearing some characteristics of a plug-in architecture platform, it uses a system which combines 4x9.5" (105x240mm) wood beams and 4x4" posts connected with a concealed modular steel joint and modular floor, roof, and prefabricated insulated wall panels which nail into place on the post and beam frame. The system integrates both Japanese and western styles of design with modern materials and new eco-sensible systems for energy and climate control, such as a roof trombe wall style heat collector, a roof-peak passive ventilator system, and integrated photovoltaic panels. It has so far been used for about 2000 homes in Japan and is offered in a variety of kits from a community of companies specializing in making products for it. Unfortunately, the exchange rates and the fact that almost all building lumber in Japan is imported makes the cost of importing these kits to the US untenable.
Kure-Tec joint system
The Volkshaus system has definite potential as a DIY form of non-toxic housing, as long as its joint system can be obtained in the US. Called Kure Tec, this system is made by the Tatsumi Corp. and consists of a combination of tapped steel pins and steel hanger channels which fit into holes and slots cut in the ends of the pre-made wood parts. This concealed joint system allows butt connection of beams and posts in a number of sizes. It is similar to a number of systems made in Japan but more commonly used for much larger engineered lumber frames. To be made non-toxic and better suited to the needs of DIY fabrication the Volkshaus system would need to employ a smaller module size while the plywood panel system would need to be replaced with something based on safer materials, smaller parts, and demountable assembly. The 4x4/4x9.5 parts would be heavy -especially using denser woods that are non-aromatic. But a smaller module size should alleviate some of the size/weight issues. This would also reduce the dependence on the panels as a stressed skin system. There's a possibility here that this system could integrate with Box Beam using its 4" variant, offering several different panel mounting options. But, again, this is supposition and requires a lot of experimentation to find an effective system.
Altogether, it seems to me that an Urban Nomad inspired approach offers the best currently available approach to this idea of incrementally stockpiling parts for a home. If the experimentation could be done and effective storage space found, this could work. But I think the one thing I find most compelling about this approach is its potential in a much larger context, beyond the issue of merely acquiring housing for myself.
If an effective home-made plug-in architecture system could be devised and demonstrated, it opens the possibility for a new kind of global emergency housing program. Today we face an increasing credibility problem for charities due to the now uncontrollable parasitism of administrative overhead. As was revealed after the exposures of questionable use of post 9/11 charity windfalls, charity organizations are losing huge percentages of their donated funds to administrative costs. This compels consideration of new more direct approaches to charity where the donors are assured that what they donate is being used as intended. And one of the best ways to do that is to literally make with one's own hands the things those who you want to help need. In the US suburbs it is something of a fashion for men to have vast collections of power tools for which, in practice, they rarely if ever have any practical use for. Thus there is this vast untapped industrial potential in countless garages across the country. Wouldn't it be smart to put that to use making homes for people in need around the world? If there was a system of standardized demountable bolt-together building components which people with no particular skill could easily fabricate then it would be possible for charity organizations to tap this resource to quickly produce emergency housing kits to send wherever they are needed. Victims of homelessness, natural disaster, and war could be quickly aided in a direct tangible way. Also, participants in such programs would be cultivating a technology they could use themselves as well, for whatever kinds of structures they need. Today only housing contractors can realistically envision giving their children a house as a gift when they are old enough to leave home. With technology like this, most anyone could do that. This would also be better for the people on the receiving end because the structures would be freely adaptable, relocatable, and represent a building system they themselves can learn to use and make components for.
While there are clearly obstacles to overcome with this idea, there is a lot of powerful potential. It seems to me to be one of the most likely solutions for my situation, if I can just figure out and prove a viable building system.
cube shaped house - Germany, designer unknown
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