Utopia is hard work. Why not automate it?
This is our most radical and most practical project so far. A big part of our practice is working out how achievable design can let us realise our most ambitious ideals regarding life, work and play. We’re always on the hunt for ways reconfiguring our environment can help us live richer and fuller lives that are also more sustainable and lower impact.
Friends of Brick taps into the powerful capacity of ecological thinking to recombine the elements of our suburban living (soil, brick, family, plants), contemporary technologies (hydroponics, automation), the embodied potential of our land, and existing trade and service markets (AirBnB, food, vending machines) to construct systems that allow the inhabitants complete self-sufficiency, maximum sustainability, high quality living environment and a passive income on the side.
“The Cave” (contemplative, idealistic, spiritual) and “the Light” (scientific, hands-on, practical) cohabit Friends of Brick. The plantations on top of the house are automated to produce food for the family while at the same time creating a paradisiacal setting for suburban family life; the structure and plantations are shaded and protected by the mushroom net and watered by the round god-shower; water from the automated system trickles down an internal waterfall; the brick vaults are structurally robust and create an atmospheric, nigh spiritual ambience; excess food produced is sold through a street-side vending machine, increasing leisure time for the family.
Friends of Brick is a physical manifesto that sees utmost value in introducing technologies into the home, new and old, to disrupt the idea of the way we live – to create a more sustainable, lower impact (sub)urban ecosystem that offers a richer, more fulfilling lifestyle for the inhabitants.
We’re fascinated with zombie and stranded/survival movies. What’s interesting about them for us as a design studio interested in sustainability is that, for the characters in these films, self-sufficiency is an absolute necessity – they are required to use items at hand in completely unconventional ways (even if a lot of the time that’s just assessing how good a tin can/cricket bat/tongs/vinyl record is as a weapon to fend off ravid zombies). What this reveals is that the items in our everyday environment, while manufactured to be used in certain limited ways, have an extraordinary latent potential to be repurposed and used to all kinds of creative ends, if only there was imperative to do so. The characters in zombie movies are also sustainable in the sense that they cautiously preserve limited resources by employing them judiciously to their most useful ends.
Typically the discussion about self-sufficiency falls into the category of urban farming, which is usually scientific and utilitarian (i.e. how it works technologically). The zombie movie/stowaway island movies, on the other hand, are usually psychological dramas. They explore the psychological and cultural aspects of self-sufficiency which is often (but not always) overlooked in discussions around urban planning and sustainable infrastructure in the “real world”. The imperative to survive brings out attributes in the characters of zombie movies that could be seen as ideals of a sustainable era: frugal, efficient, wasteless, always looking for the most practical and efficient way to employ energies and resources, creatively finding simple solutions to complex problems without excess. Characters in zombie movies usually gang together and are acutely aware of the value inherent in sticking together – so there’s a social theory about community inherent in zombie movies too. These communities are intentional in the sense that they band togetheraround a clear imperative – survival – and each member is acutely aware of the value they bring to the community in regards to this imperative.
We’re also fascinated by the relationship between technology and innovation – the oft touted examples of AirBnB and Uber disrupting service industries by introducing technology into exsting business models demonstrates what we’re talking about. What’s interesting is the form of these examples – existing services and existing technology are placed in a new relation that makes processes more efficient, services more accesible and has myriad flow on effects, including changing the ways we occupy space. Just like in the zombie movies all the elements are already there, we just need to take them and put them together differently. This is both a practical and an idealistic approach – practical because we’re obsessed with solving real problems, and ideal because we believe that the solutions are inherent in things that are already out there just waiting to be reconfigured. This is why we’re so interested in things like hydroponics, protected cropping systems and automated food production.
This raises an important question for us – how radical can change be within “the rules”? We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the 20th Century and try to force people to live our ideal, and on the other hand we don’t want to create spaces intended for anyone that work for no one. This means it’s of utmost importance to understand the context we’re working in – both in its physical and cultural fabric – and to know the end-users well. For Friends of Brick we’re working in the context of single block in suburban Australia, where the widespread ideal is the single family home – these are the parameters we take as “the rules” and run with to create a utopic outcome.
Existing automated protected-cropping technology is put into a new relationship with the age-old courtyard house type to disrupt prevalent notions about the way we live, especially in relation to the goods and services we exchange. The family is not only self-sufficient in terms of food and energy – there’s also the possibility of exchanging excess produce with neighbours, constituting a community and freeing up social time for the family.
Our utopias are not broad and atypical but neurotic and eccentric, shaping around the particular lives and contexts they emerge in. We are currently working with a brick manufacturer and a protected cropping specialist to realise this project. Follow us to stay posted.