Sunday, March 17, 2013

Habitats for a better world...

Mark Roch
I first met Mark Roch about a decade ago at a Toastmasters speaking competition. He was dressed in a chain mail shirt and spoke with a quiet intensity. As Toastmasters we crossed paths throughout the years, but were mostly casual acquaintances. Recently though we discovered a mutual admiration for author-philosopher Carlos Castaneda. That prompted a coffee get-together where I learned more about him than I had in the entire previous decade.

A vivid glimpse of his own mortality a few years ago inspired him to pursue a personal project of passion. For the past couple of years he has been developing an eco-friendly, small-footprint habitat meant to demonstrate and promote an alternate way of living for those of us who live in a wasteful First World society. Although the habitat is for his personal use, it's meant to also be a 'proof of concept' that he can eventually take to urban planners and governments.

The core of the concept is living quarters made from recycled shipping containers. However, rather than a fixed design, Mark's concept would allow the quarters to easily expand as a family's needs change -- kind of a giant Lego for adults. As I understand it, one of the biggest obstacles to such a design is the roof. Mark's has created an innovative roofing system that can be easily unplugged and re-configured as more containers are brought online. Once it place, the roofs would support gardens to provide recreational space, food and help in the temperature regulation of the house below.

Mark's house underway... You can see cutouts for the windows through the doorway
Rather than standing on slabs, as much as possible each habitat would be designed in such a way as to minimize the environmental footprint through consideration of the unique qualities of the surrounding site. For example, Mark's prototype sits in a partial well in the side of the natural slope of the land. This minimizes the disruption of the wind's natural flow past the dwelling as well as minimizes the heat loss due to wind from the house itself.

On the property where he is building are stands of trees that will be left in place to provide shelter to local wildlife, cisterns to hold water that are temperature regulated with bales of hay and cob, organic gardens...  For Mark it's as much about art as science, as much about form as function. He is laying out his structures and incorporating landscaping features in such a way that seen from the air it will appear as a Stonehenge-life pattern of circles.

The funding for this project comes from his eco-friendly storage facility on site. A portion of the revenue from the storage business is invested in his project. It's an ambitious plan and progress is slow right now due to his personal circumstances, but, as Mark is the first to admit, the path to big change is accomplished through consistent incremental steps.

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