Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Future of Housing?

What is the future of housing? Ever since I was a child reading about Buckminster Fuller's geodessic dome-homes, I have been fascinated by the improvements in architecture. But I have also seen evidence of the many flops and flubs--the undesireable washable "space age" houses of the '40s and '50s, the build-in-a-day kits, and the prefabricated buildings that look, well, prefabricated. But considering all of our technological improvements, what is it that keeps us glued to our traditional homes, with their poor ventilation, their structural flaws, and their excessive cost? I have been reading Pierre Bourdieu's The Social Structures of the Economy, which describes purchasing housing as a social, economic, and anthropological act, in order to unravel the mystery of why we are so tied to tradition that we even avoid features that are great improvements. The rejected dome-home boasted great energy efficiency, self-vacuuming floors (via a gap between floorboards), and structural strength--but did not meet the aesthetics traditionalists desired.
I believe that the future of the housing market could go one of two ways--either undergoing a radical design change, or undergoing a miniaturization. Arguably, GenX'ers do not buy products targeted to their socieconomic niche (this is why GM is foundering--it's still pitching cars to specific price ranges--i.e., "the car for those who earn $30,000 a year," "the car for those who earn $50,000 a year"), but products they like. Usually, these happen to be "lifestyle products," many of which support a vision of sustainability.
Exemplifying the radical-shift housing paradigm is the robo-built home constructed of concrete and gypsum. Costing approximately one-fifth of the current housing price, and built in a time frame between one day and one week (depending on the intricacies of design), robo-built houses may make inroads on the basis of sustainability and low cost.


Exemplifying the traditional house made sustainable is the Hurricane Katrina cottage, which cost roughly $35,000 to build, and come in various designs and floorplans. Energy efficient and storm-resistant, these houses may soon find their way to lots across the country.


Arguably, since Americans tend to be traditionalists, the most traditional-looking designs usually win the market. Unless the robo-built homes can find a way to mask themselves as traditional, it is most likely Marianne Cusato's cottages will be the new "gold standard."