Why Does Housing Need to be Brave?

Why does housing need to be brave?, you might wonder. Do you remember the pressure in high school to fit in? Or the challenge in your profession to do as everyone else does? These days it seems that value has been found in making mistakes and stepping outside the lines, essentially in following an untried path. Yet some things, no matter the unconventional line you might be walking, some things seem to be held in place with much deeper roots. Housing is one of those things. To convince your neighbors or city council or even your spouse that providing a place for a stranger to live in your backyard in a modest small house is a good thing, can be an unexpected uphill battle. Most of us living in desirable cities realize that the oft spoken housing crisis is quite real. Land is valuable beyond what any of us imagined when we bought into our single family houses decades ago. And population growth is not a far off phenomena going on in lands far beyond our reach. This is going on right here, right now with ever expanding consequences. And as I often have pointed out to my city council, you would not know we were in the midst of a climate crisis to walk through our city and see the smashing up of old structures and tipping them into the landfill and the super sizing of new constructions with barely lip service to green building much less renewable energy or regenerative practices.

When will the immediacy of climate change disrupt our patterns?  

rain drops on porch roof

I like to think small. I like to think about the single things any one of us can do in our daily routines. Like recycle that can or bottle. Like walk or take a bike. Like turn off lights and grow native grass to reduce water use. Things we have heard a million times over the past decades, these should all be second nature by now, you think? I met a man at a political event just a day ago. As we got to talking something steered the conversation to recycling and I matter-of-factly acknowledged that we certainly would know that cardboard and wood are recyclable and reusable. His response shook my reality. He said, no, he did not recycle. Yes he lived in Boulder, yes he lived in an apartment building with massive recycle bins. But no, he did not recycle. That was for white people. SILENCE

How does this happen? How is it that the consequences of our actions do not trickle upward to the consequences for our planet? Do I recycle because it rocks my little green world or do I recycle because I know that we live on a planet of finite resources with a population explosion that is severely taxing the ability for this planet to supply our growing needs? I saw that vulnerable little blue marble of a planet in those photos from space. They made my heart swell as I thought of the millions of creatures that make this home. It is nothing short of a miracle, that this much life has arisen in ecological cooperation for billions of years.  And in a couple of hundred years humans have taken the path of dominating every other specie on the planet.

I return to thinking small. Because that is where you and I can still see the wonder of life. I practice architecture. And what I have noticed is that it is increasingly difficult to include the word beauty and even sustainability into the client conversation. I am convinced that the Internet has made us stupid. It provides a means for untrained people to gain limited information about things they truly know nothing about and cannot begin to know from a stroll on the Internet. This may be nice for looking up facts like, what year was Elvis born? But it is such a disservice to use it to educate yourself about how to make a house or a space. It provides false understanding and closes you to the true sources of a great house or a delightful space.

In today’s world we can still find many places to hide our heads in the sand. While you are there, check out that gain of sand for it holds all the connections to everything else.

I see small houses that way. Although backyard houses are just bit players in the housing options, they are a key nexus that can nudge us to use less and to participate more and with good design, small houses can provoke us to feel our interconnection. That is no longer small, that is brave.

Zumthor’s Vals thermal baths, photo Fernando Guerra

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