Future of Housing: “American Dream” or Nightmare?
The “American Dream” as an ethos of America implies an opportunity, without artificial barriers or restrictions, to achieve prosperity through hard work. Prosperity includes home ownership. Yet, a corrupt political system, gluttonous business ideologies, and a misaligned housing industry have become building blocks for the future of housing. As the cost of living increases and wage growth falls significantly below the necessary pace; it begs the question, how will you live in the future?
Four individuals awaken in a new world where society has been systematically altered from over forty years of greed fueled politics and business practices. The housing industry is one of many industries that have been transformed. As land cost rose over the years, the housing industry turned to the easier and more profitable solution of higher density products, investing more money into denser resort style apartments. Conversely, the innovation, quality and value of single family homes declined as industry investments in them wavered. Savvy home buyers no longer saw value in the stagnant concept of traditional home ownership. The densification and gentrification of coastal states accelerated in the early 2000s. Those just above the middle class now primarily live in high-rise residential towers connected by sky parks and bridges. The need to even touch the Earth’s surface, now shrouded in shadow, has dwindled. The truly wealthy are the few traditional homeowners that remain.
On a ten acre property sits what appears to be a three thousand square foot home. Electronic signals stir on cue, bringing the home out of sleep mode. As a delicate classical tone fades into audibility, automated curtains in the master bedroom draw back, filtering natural light into the space. Charles Stern, the CEO of the prominent Robotics company, Stern Robotics, is peacefully awakened from a comfortable night of sleep. Charles rises to a view of his estate. His home begins to push, pull, extend, and rotate into form, expanding to five thousand square feet. Drawing from lessons of nature, the home has a free flowing organic form.
Large, sprawling wing-like overhangs protect the home from the harsh rays of the sun. Inspired by characteristics of the Namib Desert beetle, the roof system is surfaced in hydrophilic bumps, designed to capture water from the morning dew, diverting it to a basin to be processed and stored for drinking. Solar Ivy, a series of leaf-like solar panels strung together to resemble ivy, cover segments of the home to collect solar power and supplement the necessary energy required to run the net zero home.
As Charles moves to his feet, he places on a pair of glasses. At the click of a button on the frame, an augmented reality (AR) system is engaged. The bedroom walls, finished with a transparent surface and wired with a fiber optic system, seem to fade away as projections envelop the space. Charles is linked to an AR life management center. As notifications populate, his self-making bed is initiated, pulling the sheets and comforter neatly back into place and rotating the bed away into a storage compartment. Flashing alerts for news of interest and system alerts catch Charles’ eye.
News Alert: As the economy continues to unravel, unemployment levels rise, increasing its record rate. Industries continue to falter… Much of the home building industry as we knew it has collapsed. The market has been forced towards premanufactured systems to accommodate the now transient nature of society. Working class Americans are forced to perpetually move further inland in search of a reasonable cost of living…
System Alert: 5.6 Earthquake registered at 3:34 AM
Epicenter Northridge, CA
Quantum Lock Foundation System engaged at 3:33 AM
Facility scan complete. No errors, warnings or issues found. System to disengage at 12:00 PM
“I love this feature. I didn’t feel that earthquake at all,” Charles thinks to himself.
With choreographed gestures of his hands — implanted with nano chips — Charles’ home bends to his will. He directs an exterior wall to shift into a wall cavity, opening his space to the air, allowing full view of his orchard. The holographic projections adjust to transform the space into a serene forest setting. Sounds of birds chirping and the trickle of a stream creates a relaxing atmosphere for a morning yoga session to start the day. Nearing the end of his workout, steam begins to bellow from the automated shower in his palatial bathroom. Once showered and dressed for the day, Charles heads off to work. After locking up, he departs in his custom painted, money green, self-driving Tesla. As his house key leaves the home’s system range, the house scans itself for occupants in preparation to initialize vacancy mode. To conserve energy, limit heat gains, and increase security through limited access points, walls push and pull to reduce the home’s footprint. With periodic status updates to Charles’ phone, the home patiently awaits the return of its owner.
An alarm tone emitting from Justin White’s phone wakes him and his wife, Whitney, from their sleep. After losing sleep from the jolt of an earthquake a few hours prior, they labor to roll out of bed. Amongst a room full of moving boxes, the Whites start their long, exhausting day. The cost of living has become too expensive to sustain even a meager lifestyle in their state. Additionally, suffocated by student loan debt, the Whites are left with few options and must relocate. On only 1,300 square feet of land, their 1,100 square foot home is a contemporary design consisting of clean extending horizontal lines; materials of metal, glass, stucco, and cementitious siding. The structural form is expressive, accentuating the technical elements of metal beams, bolts, and attachments.
The interior is a minimalist design with an open floor plan and few walls. Built-in furniture systems and a flexible and open design allows for various activities to occur throughout the home. Garages have largely become obsolete as autonomous public and private transit has displaced the need for personal vehicles. The home is reminiscent of the Case Study Homes of the 1960s. However, it has been designed and constructed to accommodate a now transient culture, where many are unable to sustain a lifestyle in one locale for a significant period of time. Since the development of these portable homes, transplant communities have grown throughout America. These areas are communities master planned with great schools and flourishing local businesses; they promote walkability, active lifestyles, flexibility, and forward-thinking land development. Residential areas are subdivided into small lots, tightly packed and configured similarly to an old world village. Shared community facilities containing gyms, pools, meeting spaces, and some household services such as laundry, offset the lack of space and individual property. Automated parking towers house the few personal cars that are used. Adjacent to the parking tower is a pick up point for autonomous cars. Carefully, arranged to service a cluster of homes, the design of this access point allows for much of the community to give way to more landscaping.
Contemplating the move, Justin recalls hearing of a Costa Mesa, California mayor’s proposed “solution” to the issue of a lack of attainable housing. He is now following the advice. Two weeks ago Justin identified and closed on an available lot in Boise, Idaho. Armed with a moving team of six people and a couple of toolboxes, the Whites begin to disassemble their California home.
Awnings are detached first and loaded on the moving truck. As Whitney makes her way around the interior of the house unbolting the roof system, Justin works his way down, disconnecting plumbing and prepping the floor system and floor to wall connections to be removed. Like a child’s building blocks, the home can be assembled, disassembled, and even reconfigured to a few predesigned options. The market of prefabricated housing has opened a secondary market of trade. Empty-nesters often sell unused bedroom units to growing families. The prefabricated housing market has provided much needed flexibility for the remaining middle class. After disassembling the roof, the prefabricated walls and floor systems are removed and stacked on the moving truck. Lastly, structural columns are removed from the footings, which will be left for the next property owner to connect to. With all they own loaded onto three flatbed trucks, the Whites turn their backs to the community they loved, and move forward to begin the next chapter of their lives.
The incessant beeping of the alarm from Tony Little’s watch stirs him from a deep slumber. Under the clutter of personal items that fell from his shelves during last night’s earthquake, Tony wakes up to the view of an old suburban city. From the top floor of a government owned shared living facility, Tony observes a vast sea of abandoned and undesirable homes.
Akin to the ruins of a once prominent empire, the structures melt back into the Earth as adhesives wear away, shedding the skin of their foam Spanish, Tuscan, Italian and Craftsman features. A few homes stand occupied by squatters, but most homeowners and banks have forfeited responsibility. The concept of a home has lost meaning to many. A significant percentage of the population, now living below the poverty line, either seek refuge alongside Tony in shared living facilities or live on the streets.
Arranged similarly to emergency shelters, multiple mid- and high-rise housing blocks are designed to maximize occupancy. These buildings have simple yet decorative façades of glass, steel, and stucco. Each floor is an open plan equipped with a series of moving wall units that are tied to a track system. When wall units are pulled into place for maximum capacity, it echos the appearance of library aisles, and each bank of shelves provides a private space for each resident. The track system allows for flexibility to condense or expand to accommodate various family sizes or occupancy levels. Each wall unit is minimal in its contents, storing a collapsible metal frame bunk bed and cabinetry for personal effects.
Tony collects his toiletries and proceeds to the community bathroom, located towards the core of the building. The bathroom is alive with activity. Families and individuals are bustling in and out as they prepare for their day. On his way to the shower, Tony enters into the wash room. It is a unisex space that is lined with sinks and mirrors on three walls; the last wall, individual private toilets. At the center is the life line of the building: a single massive square pillar, wrapped in mirror that contains the building’s power, plumbing, and mechanical systems. Tony continues on to the shower where the men and women’s showers are a five foot wide strip that share plumbing walls with the sinks and flank opposite sides of the wash room. For easy maintenance, the shower space is finished from floor to ceiling with a solid nonabsorbent surface that is coated in a repellent system, developed to repel all chemical and biological agents. Tony steps to an available shower stall which is automatically initiated by an occupancy sensor. As the water washes over him, an authoritative voice emanates from a speaker above:
“Thirty minutes to vacate the facility. Please gather all personal effects and promptly exit the building in an orderly fashion.”
Tony rushes to finish his shower and briskly returns to his sleeping space to pack up his belongings. He strips his bed linens, folds the bed back into the wall unit, and drops the linens in a laundry chute. Tony changes into his coveralls, brushing day old metal shards and dust off of the Stern Robotics emblem on his chest. He must now shift focus to the long, grueling day ahead of him as a service technician. As he makes his way to the exit, the wall units are moved into storage position, stacking at the rear of the space to clear the floor for cleaning. The community bathroom closes down an initiates its self-cleaning system. Tony walks down the entry hall of the facility passing a sign that gratuitously reminds him that it is a first come first serve facility. He exits with hopes that there is availability when he returns. He puts his head down and trudges forward once again with little hope that the “American Dream” is an attainable future for him.
Throughout recent history, America has systematically weakened the opportunity to obtain the “American Dream”. Artificial barriers and restrictions towards the many have been erected by the few. To date the many have accepted and conformed to the economic inequality in the system. However, the future is not an absolute. There is evidence of a societal shift on the horizon, and much opportunity to create change. How will you live in the future?
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