Looking for the future of housing at the Solar Decathlon in Madried

Check out three designs from an international housing competition in Madrid: a “Heliomet SunBloc” house, the Bee House, and a house made out of recycled wood and mushroom spores:

London Metropolitan University’s “Heliomet SunBloc” European Solar Decathlon house combines novel construction methods with unusual materials. The house is designed so that it can be placed on the rooftops of existing buildings or other disused areas, answering a difficult question about future suburban growth. Allied with a PV-T (PhotoVoltaic-Thermal) array, the design would help supply electricity and hot water not only to its own structure, but to the host building as well.

The primary material consists of relatively low-cost and lightweight EPS foam that allows unique interior and exterior designs to be created. …

The Bee House … makes extensive use of living walls and green roofs planted with bee-friendly vegetation. This built-in beekeeping system, completed by a backyard hive, serves to pollinate the home’s surrounding garden areas, which keep the homestead stocked with homegrown veggies as well as honey. The Bee House includes a work area and boutique shop where honey and beeswax-based soaps and candles can be sold to the public, perfect for the urban farmer with an entrepreneurial bent…

To say that this house is aspirational is putting (it) lightly, as the structure can’t currently be built as designed — largely because it’s constructed around a wall system based on recycled wood that has been colonized by mushroom spores. The myco-treatment, so to speak, creates a fire- and mold-resistant, highly insulating building block ideal for green building. Oh, and it produces two edible mushroom crops in the process. (Call it the 100 Mile House meets the 100 Mile Diet.)

We are probably a long ways from seeing any of these three designs in practice. However, they do hint at some possible trends:

1. Greener houses. I think the question is how far builders and buyers are willing to go. Far enough to save a little money? Enough to significantly increase the price/value of the home?

2. Trying to utilize and connect to nature. Many single-family houses are sort of sealed off from nature even if they are in more suburban, idyllic settings. This could include everything from an uptick in gardens and compost piles, using green roofs, providing more rooms that don’t feel so sealed off from the outside, or just harnessing nature for energy purposes (solar plus geothermal and other options).

3. Looking for ways to build homes in denser settings. One assumption made by a number of thinkers is that future homes and suburbs will be more dense due to rising energy costs (particularly an increasing cost in driving due to higher gas prices and possibly higher gas taxes to keep up with better fuel efficiency) and young adults and retiring adults who want walkable communities as well as places that offer mixed-uses and more of a neighborhood feel.

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