If REAL wellness ever takes hold, it will affect all manner of environmentally friendly choices, not just decisions connected with physical and mental well-being. REAL wellness is about quality of life. Thus, REAL wellness enthusiasts are likely to be responsive to opportunities for acting responsibly and creatively toward the environment. The ethics of REAL wellness includes respect for The Commons.
My urban planning background makes me alert and responsive to that part of futurism that deals with the land use, open space, ecology and designs for living. An area of special interest is the evolution of the home in response to environmental crises, changes and challenges. In a REAL wellness world, the home of the future will have to be transformed into an environment created for sustainability, energy efficiency, optimal nutrition, family fitness organically attuned to nature. The trend in this direction is already evident: despite the weak economy and a stagnant building industry, green construction is already evident in the construction industry.
Our homes might not look like contemporary plant-friendly, glass-domed arboretums in our lifetimes, but they must become a great deal "greener" than they have been in centuries since the Industrial Age came about. It's time to rethink our living spaces, given the impact homes have on the ecosystem. The electricity, heating and water consumed by housing is enormous.
One estimate (the U.S. Energy Department) puts the percentage of energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions for private housing at 39 percent. The size of our homes is also critical— most green advocates favor compact housing that is small (at least when compared with so many of the McMansions of the urban wealthy) but does not feel small or constrained. Of course, other things (e.g., energy efficiency, resources used) must be equal or superior environmentally in the smaller unit, plus size will have to increase with additional occupants. In Key West, Florida, "The Blue City Waves of Change" initiative exemplifies many promising sustainability trends in housing. Given their location, these homes are specifically designed in disaster-resistant fashion. This is a vital consideration in coastal and other areas of the US and around the world, given the onset of climate change and rising disaster insurance costs.
The Blue-Green building plans are rated by FEMA as "near absolute protection." (See http://static.monolithic.com/plan-design/FEMA/index.html.) This means they are tornado proof, insect proof, fire proof, earthquake proof and capable of withstanding hurricanes up to 300 mph. (Let's hope the builders used the equivalent of #4 rivets, not those cheap #3 rivets that Harland and Wolff of Belfast, Northern Ireland used to build the Titanic quickly and at reasonable cost, which fatally compromised quality and is now seen as the cause of the rapid sinking of the Titanic.) To learn more about Key West's "Waves of Change," visit http://www.manyone.net/wavesofchange/topics/view/22150/.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal asked architects to participate in a futurism exercise to design "an energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable house without regard to cost, technology, aesthetics or the way we are used to living." What a neat idea.
Designing for REAL wellness-oriented inhabitants to live in such housing was not a criterion, but the criteria that were assigned made resident health a key factor for participating architects and students. (See Alex Frangos, "The Green House of the Future," the Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2009, P. R1.)
The results of the brainstorming provide a sense for what might well evolve as new norms for housing come into play. Imagine homes with some of the following features:
- A garden façade. Plants that give shade and cooling and special housing surfaces that capture condensation for water use, decreasing reliance on wells that drain aquifers or municipal systems that lower lakes and other reservoirs.
- Spatial layouts conducive to work. This is key to energy efficiency in that work at home reduces, if not eliminates, driving—a huge energy-consuming custom.
- A rooftop reservoir that collects water and keeps the building cool and windmills that generate energy.
- Homes that emulate a characteristic of trees, wherein the surface contains a photosynthetic layer woven into the fabric of the exterior that captures sunlight.
- Design features that heat water and generate electricity, create oxygen and thereby offset any carbon produced elsewhere in the home.
- Gardens on walls. The plants not only nourish inhabitants; they offer shade and cooling and absorb heat more effectively than wood, brick, stucco or glass.
- Prefabricated stacked containers that allow uniformity of quality control and mobility for the homeowner.
- Ponds stocked with fish—the kind of fish people consume (e.g., tilapia), not just look at (e.g., goldfish).
- Structural features that convert sunlight into energy and carbon dioxide into oxygen. One striking possibility is a "biomorphic" outer surface material designed to function like reptile skin. It adapts to conditions—in bright sun, it turns dark and insulates; on dark days it allows light to absorb maximum radiance and heat.
- Attractive and functional design features (e.g., curved roofing) that facilitate shade in order to reduce the need for such energy drains as air-conditioning.
- Self-cleaning glass with special coating that uses ultraviolet sunlight to break down organic dirt which is washed away by rainwater.
- Self-repairing paints, glass and cladding—all infused with microscopic capsules of color that break open and automatically repair scratches and other damage.
- In lieu of wood or metals for upright framing, lightweight, environmentally friendly carbon tubes are utilized.
One of the most striking changes will be in heating and cooling sources. The homes of REAL wellness-oriented homeowners are likely be warmed by ground-source, heat-pump exchange systems. The temperature of the soil is relatively constant, so heat can be drawn in winter, cooled in summer.
As with most of the changes noted above, these systems exist, but technology advances are needed to bring costs within practical levels. One of the designs using new green technologies foresees a construction industry able to produce homes wherein nearly everything used therein is reconstituted and recycled. The illustration noted is a home like a tree. In the forest, a fallen tree biodegrades. In the home, as with the tree in the forest, building materials could be reused or, capturing the green spirit, "returned to the Earth."
These features only begin to describe possibilities based on current uses and expanded technologies within range of feasibility. Our REAL wellness lifestyle passion does not operate in a vacuum. Those of us with a commitment to a cleaner environment, to safeguarding natural resources, to mitigating climate change, to protecting endangered and other species (including our own), to planetary citizenship, to saving the oceans and to all that is needed for restoration, sustainability and preservation will welcome the kind of advances described. It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to connect such awareness to our prospects for continued and expanded happiness, meaning and purpose and all the rest associated with quality of life for all people, everywhere.
Be well. Look on the bright side of life.