MIT Team Envisions Home Made From Living Materials
Architects and environmental engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have conceived of a home that in the future will enable home owners to grow their houses instead of building them.
Architect Mitchell Joachim of the MIT Media Lab's Smart Cities group and his colleagues — environmental engineer Lara Greden and architect Javier Arbona-Homar — call their concept the Fab Tree Hab.
The basic framework of the house would be created using a gardening method known as pleaching, in which young trees are woven together into shapes such as an archway, lattice or screen and then encouraged to maintain that form over the years.
As the framework matured — which might take a few years in tropical climates and several decades in more temperate locations — the home grower would weave a dense layer of protective vines onto the exterior walls. Any gaps could be filled in with solid and growing plants to create miniature gardens.
On the interior walls, a mixture of clay and straw beneath a final layer of smooth clay would provide insulation and block moisture.
On south-facing walls, windows made of soy-based products would absorb warmth in the winter; ground-floor windows on the shady side could draw in cool breezes during hot months. Water collected on the roof would flow through the house for use by people and plants; and wastewater would be purified in an outdoor pond with bacteria, fish and plants that consume organic waste.
“The concept of a living house is really incredibly exciting when you think that people in tropical and semitropical locations have fast-growing trees available,” said Richard Reames, an Oregon-based “arborsculptor” who uses grafting techniques to grow living furniture.
Joachim has been working on MATscape, a house project in California incorporating about half recycled materials and half living materials, such as grasses, plants and soils.
Joachim said that he and his team hope to plan a Fab Tree Hab community someday, creating homes that don’t interrupt the surrounding ecosystem but become integrated with it.
“Design intervention only guides the growth,” he said. “Nature — life — does the rest.”