View Full Version : The shapes of homes to come

02-23-2009, 12:07 PM
Boston Globe (http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2009/02/23/the_shapes_of_homes_to_come/) - Feb 23, 2009
The shapes of homes to come
Harvard students create flexible living spaces inspired by BMW's 'cloth car'

By Robert Preer, Globe Correspondent | February 23, 2009

An architect and a sports car designer sat down together in a bar in Berlin. While that may sound like the start of a funny story, the punch line is no joke.

The 2007 meeting between Christopher E. Bangle, BMW's chief of design, and Frank Barkow, a partner in one of the leading architectural firms in Europe, set in motion an extraordinary exercise in re-imagining the typical American suburban home. Chatting over drinks, the men, both Americans, found they each had ties to Harvard University's Graduate School of Design - in 2007, they were design critics in architecture at the school. They soon hatched a plan to enlist the institution and its students in an unusual project.

Students would be asked to design homes in suburbia using the same concepts and materials that BMW is experimenting with in its revolutionary "cloth car," which has an exterior made of flexible fabric instead of metal. The result: Coastal houses that can move up and down above flood tides, rooms that fold up when not in use, and roofs that change shape to take advantage of sunlight.

"We are looking at it experimentally, but the projects, at least some of them, are not that futuristic," said Barkow. "They are not that utopian."

The Britain-based international architectural firm RMJM funded the student project as part of a larger $1.5 million donation to the Graduate School of Design.

Nora Yoo, a third year master's student, took as her starting point the so-called shotgun shack - a small, narrow house found mainly in the Southern United States and named for the fact that a bullet aimed at the front door would travel out the back door.

Sections of the house Yoo designed could be tucked away on occasion to create a larger side yard or to save energy. Rooms would have built-in furniture, and the size and shape of interior spaces could be adjusted to the occupants' desires.

"The inhabitants can really become the architect," Yoo said. "It would be an Ikea catalog style of building a house."

The 13 students in the studio class unveiled their proposals in December. The projects incorporate videos, computer-generated images, and physical models. Their inspiration comes from GINA, a concept car BMW has been working on for nearly a decade. The company unveiled GINA - an acronym that loosely stands for Geometry, Function, and Infinite Number of Adaptations - at the BMW Museum in Munich last year.

Shortly before the actual car made its appearance, BMW uploaded a video of GINA to YouTube. The three-minute glimpse of the car, narrated by Bangle, set the automotive world abuzz and became a sensation, with more than 4.3 million viewings.

While GINA has a traditional frame, its exterior is made not of steel but an elastic, lightweight skin. The fabric's shape can be changed to adjust to driving conditions, performance needs, and even a driver's mood. At the end of the video, GINA's left headlight winks seductively at the camera.

So far, the German carmaker has no plans to produce GINA for the road, but engineers are using its principles in designing future models. In addition to providing flexibility, the synthetic skin is lighter and thus makes the vehicle more fuel efficient. It also is cheaper to manufacture, install, and transport than metal.

Bangle, 52, one of the world's most influential car designers and the first American to head BMW's design effort, believes that the idea behind GINA can be applied to suburban housing.

"There is a link between the suburbs and the car," Bangle said in an interview during his recent visit to Harvard to attend the student presentations. "We are a car company that looks forward. We want to be part of solutions."

The students came up with a wide range of designs. Some of the projects featured housing units that could be snapped together like LEGOs and stacked in various configurations on top of one another and over and under highways.

One project envisioned colonies of tent-like structures set on metal poles above the highways in Orange County, California.

A suburban housing complex designed by Ignacio Gonzalez Galan, a first-year student from Madrid, includes units with rooftops that open and extend upward during the day, like sunflowers following the sun. At night, the roofs close down and shrink, conserving energy.

"It is basically an understanding that form is something that can change to make things more efficient," Galan said.

A community designed by student Kent Gould is intended be adaptable to harsh conditions, such as lava fields, barren areas, and flood plains. The "teleburb," as Gould calls it, would consist of homes linked to one another and the outside world by enclosed roads or driveways that collapse and expand. The entire community could be lifted up or reoriented in response to environmental conditions.

Neill Coleman, spokesman for RMJM, said the architectural firm funded the project because it believes some of the ideas can be applied in the near future. "We don't expect to be building houses like this next year, but thinking in a futuristic way about design and new materials is a good thing," he said.

Robert Preer can be reached at preer@globe.com.

Images (http://www.boston.com/business/technology/gallery/homestocome/)

02-23-2009, 01:50 PM
The BMW car was sick.

02-23-2009, 06:23 PM
The houses sound sicker. How about they stack them up and make apartment towers? How about that buzz about the stackable Zipcars? These kind of projects are my favorites. They just tickle the mind in ways high school pre-calculus just can't.

02-23-2009, 09:38 PM
It's things like this that make me excited for the future. Whether it will actually pan out is a much less exciting question.