Sustainable and efficient: The perfect house of the future lifestyle
Architects, researchers, economists and environmentalists are championing the self-sufficient passive housing model to tackle climate change and rural depopulation, bringing ancient construction models to the present.
The dream of twenty-first century architecture is a connected, efficient, self-sufficient home, liberated from the tyranny of energy production and distribution systems.
New homes must give us answers to these basic needs, and translate them into twenty-first century language. Some of the proposed alternatives are producing only the energy we consume, allocating space for growing food for our own supplies, and employing cutting-edge machinery to create furniture and everyday objects from parametric designs.
These were the thoughts of Jorge Juan García, an economist and promoter of a Vellosillo (Segovia) repopulation plan, who settled in his parents’ village and started constructing self-sufficient homes in light of depopulation risks. “The plan was halted because due to Covid-19 and other reasons, people there – like many other places in Spain – began to repopulate themselves”, he explains.
García explains how families new to the town have followed the guidelines set by neighbourhood associations, building their own self-sufficient passive houses. “Our house is disconnected from the electricity grid because we’re self-sufficient – we have our own water supply and kitchen garden. Living here is practically zero cost if you’re working online or continuing with studies. The difference is in the quality of life”, he says.
Repopulating Spain, sustainably
The houses García proposes are small and cost around €50,000, but they generate their own energy thanks to the efficient, easy-to-heat photovoltaic panels. “My houses are round, organic, semi-subterranean and energy efficient buildings. They all collect rain water, which is directed into tanks and on to deep pools when they overflow. The buildings need to be alive, to attract energy and connect with the various buildings. The roofs are partially green, and the materials used – such as straw and clay – are always renewable”, he outlines.
Living in a country with limited economic resources and an extreme climate has taught us to make the most of our natural resources in our constructions, and we’ve used vernacular housing as a sort of instruction manual.
For centuries, workers’ homes in the south have had whitewashed walls and few windows, opening on to central courtyards where the rooms and bedrooms were located. The three floors would accommodate families throughout summer and winter. The first, warmest, sunniest and best insulated, would be on the upper floor. The second, on the ground floor, would be used in summer because it was cooler, shadier and complete with courtyards, gardens and good air circulation. The cool clay or ceramic tiles would be combined with marble flooring, whilst fountains and channels of water would allow water to flow through the bedrooms to refresh the atmosphere.
In the cooler and rainier northern regions houses were built in stone with thick walls and lookouts, south-facing terraces and porches and verandas to protect them from the rain and cold.
Rural adobe houses would serve as a family home, with spaces to work and store grain. These self-sufficient buildings had kitchen gardens, wells, huge fireplaces where much time would be spent, and in many of them, stables were on the ground floor. This provided heat to the upper floors where the family would live.
All houses lead to Rome
From the humble ‘pallozas’ (traditional rural dwellings) of León to country houses, farm houses, hamlets and haciendas, we can see evidence of two obsessions learned from the Romans: Ventilation and orientation.
Hundreds of years may have passed but the problem remains the same: how we can best harness natural resources such as sun and water to produce energy, and get a low-cost home.
The research and proposals being put forward each day use amazing new feats of engineering: homes printed with 3D technology, ones made from materials such as earth or salt, or the prototypes presented at Solar Decathlon, the global incentive promoted by the US Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory. For ten years these two institutions have put on a competition for universities and architecture colleges around the world for students to build and maintain an efficient solar home prototype for one month. Three solar energy proposals are taken from the competition, and several projects actually go ahead.
In a bid to make the most of insulating resources, using ventilated façades for example (a second-skin for buildings resistant to solar radiation), companies like Butech from Porcelanosa Group have been researching and installing cladding like this on buildings around the world for a number of years. “A ventilated façade is a structure applied to the building enclosure: ceramic, ceramic laminate or Krion ceramic laminated sheets are placed over it. This incredible material with a mineral and resin base can be used in all shapes and sizes imaginable, and they’re join-free which makes them even more efficient and achieves an improved aesthetic result”, concludes Vicente Gómez, head of Marketing at Butech.