Self-sustaining habitats are staples of science fiction, even if their inner workings aren't much dwelt upon.
They're also a big challenge for architecture. This article from Wired certainly made me at least consider the notion in a new light. Such sealed clusters of buildings mean new approaches for what most of us take for granted. From the article:
"Mundane tasks like shaving, peeing, pooping, eating, and cleaning themselves [the inhabitants] became linked to the viability of the system."
Such architecture may be viewed as "performative devices." If you think that sounds artistic in nature, you're not alone. A whole gallery of these habitat prototypes went on display at Storefront for Art and Architecture. The impetus of these designs was of course to find ways that human beings could survive for extended periods of time...if not indefinitely...in environs we're not suited for. Naturally this includes space, but I also thought about undersea settlements. I imagine there is nothing more serene than sitting and meditating beneath the dome of such a "city beneath the sea" and watching the peaceful and tranquil surroundings of the undersea world.
That is if I could get the worries out of my head. Was this thing adequately designed to withstand the enormous pressure of all that water? Jacques Cousteau thought it could be. He designed oceanic research stations that would sit 300 meters beneath the surface. Those designs are part of the exhibit.
One interesting point I learned from this article was how investigation into closed living systems eventually evolved from asking how people could live in hostile environments to just trying to find sustainable ways to live in our everyday ones. It spoke of how a man named Graham Caine designed a house in the 1970s that had solar panels and used "his own natural biological systems" to produce food and energy. The downside was that he almost never left the house. His body was needed to constantly maintain the domicile. In a way, this is reminiscent of the constraints found in the Biosphere project (parodied in the godawful movie Biodome). The actual design of the building you inhabit begins to regulate you and I don't know anybody who would be down for that.
Such practical and pecuniary issues have led to a limited number of such habitats actually coming into existence. But as it often is with such things, it's not the end product so much as the ideas that come from them that help us out. The designs demanded someone think about sustainability. How many acres of farmable land does it take to support a population of people? How can you efficiently and effectively recycle waste? What are the different ways you can scrub carbon? Could we reuse or upcycle things we already have in abundance, something like containers? Those are good questions to ask as we face an uncertain future and especially as we observe Earth Week.
That and I guess we need to ask "how do we defend it from a terrorist attack?"
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