RE-CONNECT Sustainible Community Competition
Our built environment is designed for the individual; our predominant culture has no perceived need for community. However, there is a sub-cultural crosscurrent that realizes that no matter what the motivations might be, fear, fashion, or freedom, change is imperative. Designing buildings is challenging; designing new cultural values, even more so. The Grid of Authority and its entanglements of socio cultural hegemony will struggle to maintain the status quo; the catalytic vanguard committed to personal responsibility and collective action will fight to change these paradigms and neutralize all power relationships, one level at a time.
The suburbs and the ‘big box’ are two of our most archaic and mono-functional typologies driven by the consumerism, convenience, and the car. The Wall-less mart will be driven by community: an abandoned, decapitated big box with recycled shipping containers arranged around an open multi programmed public space will be surrounded by container homes placed in a now green ‘parking lot’. From public to private, individual to collective, functions will radiate from the center. Farming, commerce, light industry, bio-diesel production, and wind energy will provide the self-sufficiency required for regenerative sustainability. We must be sustainable people before we can successfully create and occupy sustainable environments.
Change is scary. Cataclysmic global climate change is terrifying. Hope lies in our own fear of extinction. We have to learn to grow past our seemingly god given right to convenience and excess.
Green has become fashionable. Its now trendy to recycle, drive a hybrid car, and buy recycled products. This motivation is based on image, and the illusion of being a part of a community that has little more in common other that the fact that they buy the same ecologically friendly stuff. The ‘Lazy Environmentalist’ movement seeks convenient environmental responsibility that does not tax our wallet or our free time. We are optimistic that technology will solve our problems with a fashionable and convenient solution that we cannot do without. This motivation is based on ‘sustainability as a product’
Green has become fashionable. Its trendy to recycle, drive a hybrid car, and buy recycled products. This motivation is based on image, and the illusion of being a part of a community that has little more in common other that the fact that they buy the same ecologically friendly stuff. The “Lazy Environmentalist” movement seeks convenient environmental responsibility that does not tax our wallet or our free time. We are optimistic that Apple or Honda will solve our problems with a fashionable and convenient solution that we cannot do without. This motivation is based on “sustainability as a product” merely replacing the consumers’ meal with something a bit healthier, but will never ask us to eat any less.
FREEDOM THROUGH RESPONSIBILITY
Freedom comes at a cost. It involves work, growth and sacrifice. To truly be free, it means that we must be free to take the initiative to establish community action that instigates change not out of fear, not out of fashion, but out of a genuine and ethical need to re-think our culture. We must drive our concepts of ‘value’ past the strictly economic and reclaim our lives. We have the ability to become a culture that truly is free enough to take care of our own problems instead of waiting for others to do it for us. This motivation is the crosscurrent, the sub-cultural, the drop of water that will eventually swell the tidal wave.
Our built environment is designed for the individual; we have no perceived need for community. Our responsibilities are all individually outsourced to the proper regulating agency. We pay others to live our lives for us and depend on them to solve all of our problems as we become disempowered. Necessary life tasks that once filled our days are now replaced by entertainment and consumption.
Our current system only provides us with the commodities we demand. We are at a point where ecological responsibility is no longer an option. There are different motivations for dealing with this new mandatory sustainability. The key differences between motivations are solutions that allow us to perpetuate our current way of life, and others that demand a critical re-thinking of the way we design and occupy the built environment. We have the choice to react to the current untenable situation, or to take the opportunity to envision a new sustainable one.
GRID OF AUTHORITY
Standing between ourselves and change is the established ‘Grid of Authority’. It is the hegemony of the modern social, religious, moral, economic, and civic structures of everyday life that define, direct, and control our actions without us even knowing it. This dense net of virtual lines is made up of legislation, building codes, zoning laws, regulations, social norms, the church, the state, and pop culture. Its is the virtual embodiment of the status quo, the lowest common denominator and the stagnant perpetual machine that our society has become. We are strangers if we stray from this grid, out casts, dissenters, idealists, utopians. A better solution would be to slip through the holes via grass-roots action that subverts the existing system rather than attempting to redefine it as a utopia over night. Within the system we have room enough to maneuver to stir up the pot.
Technology is not the problem- the problem is how we live with it or cannot live without it. Community exists primarily in a virtual state. We text message, instant message, request friends, post comments; our online accounts are no more than a representation of how we want to be that is shared with others. One asks how this technology be used to foster actual community? Let it be a supplement for life instead of a replacement.
As Designers, we cannot solve the problem. We are not the silver bullet or the quick fix. Instant gratification got us here in the first place. As designers, we are tired of typologies that coddle people to the point that they are not even aware that there is a problem. We are more interested in spaces that demand more of people; we advocate more interaction between mankind and space in the hope of designing a sustainable culture. If our culture changes our physical world will follow suit. Today’s client is today’s biggest design challenge.
THE ABANDONED BIG-BOX
A small group of individuals are tired of waiting for a solution to be handed to them. The words of this group resonate with others. Word spreads and a community made up of students, young professionals, and blue-collar workers is formed. These people have a few things in common: they desire an ecologically responsible, regenerative community that truly operates as a collective and puts the most fundamental needs of life within reach and under their own control. They cannot act alone. They search for designers, struggle for the capital to move, and search high and low for the right spot to build. Rural areas are too far from work centers, Suburban areas are too steeped in regulations on minimum sizes, setbacks, and formal typologies. In order to achieve their goals they must think outside the box, the biggest most run down and abandoned box they can find. Our culture’s penchant for bigger and better has left the landscape littered with big box stores that have been replaced with ‘ultra super big box stores’ as if the original were not sufficient. This obesity and the rising cost of fuel have made the always low prices higher than normal, forcing major retailers to consolidate. These resultant eyesores are the massive carcasses of the genocidal ‘cheap oil fiesta’ that has left the majority of the American landscape in tatters.
The decapitated big box is an opportunity: cheap land and a huge structure close to the infrastructure that we are not willing to give up just yet. We can transform a typology based on parking and shopping into one built on living and interacting by combining two of the most wasteful and mono- functional suburban typologies existing: big box retail and the typical subdivision. The main weakness of these two typologies is mono-functionality. More program must be added. Imagine the big box store stripped of its walls; a ‘wall-less mart’. Underneath this massive canopy lies community program and interactive space, offices, schools, performance, and recreation areas. The roof is penetrated for light and the remnants become a raised green landscape of wind turbines or solar panels growing more food and harnessing more energy than the inhabitants can consume. A repository for fryer grease is filled every week from the grease traps of the local fast food joints to be filtered and refined into bio-diesel for less than 2 dollars a gallon. The resulting environs are more than sustainable: they are regenerative. They actually give back, and the mere presence of this community informs and motivates others to take charge, to make their own, to spit in the face of defeatism, dis- empowerment, and fear through collective action.
Through an analysis of the surplus material associated with a defunct big box, we can begin to harness our waste. When the big box dies, along with it goes a portion of the supply stream that feeds it: it encompasses everything from shipping container to shopping cart. Everything can be used. The shipping container becomes the building block: structure and enclosure in one move. Stacked, twisted and in-filled these containers become housing, office, and storage. The grid of the existing parking lot becomes the new urban driver. In the space of 6 cars a single family lives in 2000 square feet. The shopping cart acts as one’s vehicle for moving crops, goods, trash, and recycling around the community. Its sides become handrails. Semi trailers are stripped of their sheet metal for cladding and furniture. The plan of this community creates a collective with multiple levels of cooperation and involvement. One can simply live and work on the outskirts, but as we move closer to the collective space, living becomes more public as apartments and offices skirt the edge of the big-box canopy requiring greater effort and responsibility from the inhabitant.
The bottom line is this: those who live here have made a choice to do so. They don’t have the answers; they just have a vision of a better way to live and an unflagging commitment to the value of collective action. Survival and fulfillment require a catalytic vanguard unit of our culture to understand that we must be sustainable people before we can successfully create and occupy sustainable environments.