The Victorian bushfires of early 2009 evoked some remarkable responses from the community. As I followed the reports via the news media, Twitter and various social maps, I was astounded by the outpouring of emotion and generosity over this disaster. Disasters move each of us differently. As the last of the flames were being extinguished and displaced persons were being relocated, a Melbourne based architectural firm, 1:1 Architects, was applying their design thinking to the task of rebuilding these devastated communities and re-housing those who had lost their homes. Their solution, the House re-Growth Pod, is more than a temporary housing solution: it is the first room of a new home. It is from that single room that lives can begin again. The Director of 1:1 Architects, Juliet Moore, lives in an area where most properties were levelled and was lucky to escape the blaze.
The architects offer the House re-Growth Pod as a permanent and cost effective housing unit (selling for under $30,000) which can assist in the rebuilding of the fire-devastated townships of Victoria. The robust pre-fabricated concrete structure has been designed to be built on. However, in the short term, it acts as a habitable starting point for the construction of a new home. The designers describe its purpose as providing “a fully prefabricated, quickly erectable and safe central service pod. Completely fitted and operational, enabling occupation as soon as delivered to site. Although initially to be used as a temporary bathroom and kitchen for those in the early stages of rebuilding their homes and lives, the true purpose would be to form the permanent core of a new home, eventually to be encompassed by the rest of a house while remaining hidden to provide a permanent safety refuge.” An animation produced by the architects shows the assembly of the pod.
The units can be prefabricated, delivered and connected to services rapidly allowing families to begin the process of re-building without displacement from their communities. The 1:1 Architects team worked closely with the communities and with those on the ground in the fire affected areas to establish whether this is a good solution. Urbis offered to assist in co-ordination while Ecotec Build Solutions generously offered to construct a prototype containing a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. The pod is made from totally non-combustible materials and will provide protection in a bushfire.
By the end of February, a site located in the Kinglake area had been selected for the prototype. Two weeks later Heydon Films had commenced work on a documentary about the House re-Growth Pod development. The focus was on Juliet Moore and Ben Edwards of 1:1 Architects as they developed, manufactured and brought the project to fruition. In the same week, the project announced the casting of the first pod by Ecotec Build Solutions. As the pod was being readied for its relocation to Kinglake, an international ideas competition was launched, calling for designs for a new family house for the residents of Kinglake who lost their homes in the bushfires. It was anticipated that the competition would generate new thinking for living in sites prone to bushfire as well as create a dialogue within the design community about disaster response.
The House re-Growth Pod was delivered to a family of three in early April, about two months after the project was initiated, receiving media coverage in the Herald Sun and Stateline. In the meantime, the competition continued to attract much interest from designers and architects, with the winners announced in May. The winning design, Tanked, by Tom Morgan of Sharkmouse engaged the notion of ‘survivability’ in the face of inherent danger. The material qualities of the buildings weren’t the determinants of which buildings prevailed after the fires swept through towns. His design responded to this as a need. Morgan noted that the “deciding factor in the persistence of some structures seems to have been the presence of an aware, prepared resident with sufficient water-pressure to fight back spot fires after the main fire-front had passed by.” In accepting the potentiality, even likelihood, of fires in some localities, buildings can be designed defensively as fire-fighting systems that can be supported by aware occupants with fire-plans and disaster response skills.
Since the prototype was developed, the project had attracted significant interest with a number of people wanting to buy them and Ben Edwards said that a number of people are looking to use them for different functions. This has resulted in the project team exploring how to adapt the pod, including cutting it into the side of a hill to serve as a library space for an existing house. While the architects remain involved with what’s happening in Victoria, the pod manufacturers have recently established additional factories in America and the Middle East, and this could mean other uses and possibilities for the pod.
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