We have been commissioned by a California based client to design nine single room shacks on a desert site in southern Arizona, USA. The shacks are to be used as retreats by anybody needing to escape the stresses of contemporary city life. The project is in its schematic design stage and is due for completion at the end of 2006. It is our first project in the USA.
The location of the shacks offers remoteness as a panacea and is in direct contrast with the day to day rigours of city life. With remote housing come specific design issues such as limitations in power and water supply, restricted access and communications, exposure to harsh climatic conditions and so on. Digital technology can play a key role in the design response to these conditions. Our aim is to design a shack which combines the essential humanity of Semper’s Die vier Elemente der Baukunst (earth, the hearth, framework/roof structure + lightweight enclosing membrane) with the expediency of digital technology to make a ‘Primitive Hut’ for the 21st century.
Building technology began as humanity’s response to our alienation from Nature - not its cause. However technology for its own sake can be alienating. Used unwittingly technology can be invasive and obtrusive - all of the promises of an easier life courtesy of the digital world count for nothing if ‘connectivity’ equates to longer working hours, more stress and de-connection between body and soul. Marvelling at technology for its own sake very quickly becomes navel gazing in the extreme. Indeed the whole pretext for our commission in Arizona is to create a house that enables escape from a contemporary working life often brim full of technology generated stress.
Through a series of built and unbuilt projects we have investigated the potential of the outer skin of the building - initially as a shading device (Kew House, Carter/Tucker House and the parasol of Future Shack) then as a shading and filtering device (Peninsula House, CIPEA + McNair houses) and then as a shading and filtering device and energy source (Westwood House un built). Within the context of Australia as part of the South East Asian region we have coupled these investigations with an analysis of the verandah (fluid perimeter space) as an iconic architectural element common to both eastern and western cultures. In the Peninsula House we used re-cycled timber to make the coarse outer hide of that building. For the CIPEA project we have kept all of the bamboo cleared from the site and are using it to make the protective outer skin of a house for Chinese artists and their families. In this project we have designed an outer skin made from a series of tubular cells, each with the capacity to store energy, filter the air and cool the building naturally.