The solid state house

The solid state house has been featured in the following publications:

Builder Magazine, a national publication

Eco Building Pulse, a magazine about sustainable design trends

The New Geography, a blog that discusses and analyzes where we live and work

The reason it has received so much national attention is not that it is innovative.  Innovation comes when a product already on the market can be made better, faster, or cheaper.

Instead, the solid state house is inventive.  Invention comes when a new product is introduced to the market.

The solid state house can be in any form.  This particular design, the prototype, is based on a minimal footprint (one story with loft) where the subtle influences of the site suggest a reaction to wind, water, and sunlight to create a wave form.

wave form

This wave form will become a partial curve, that may be built out of metal or carved foam.

Appliances will include tankless water heater and induction coil cooktop.  Lighting and other powered devices will be LED or low voltage.  The gear room, with the washer and dryer, as well as the air conditioner, will still be analog.

A few images of the solid state house:

Front Entry

The front entry faces north.  Direct sun in the tropics of Florida will graze the north elevation in the morning and afternoon, so a brise-soleil of curved metal will filter the strong sunlight.

The solid state house will be built off he ground four steps, elevating it from the moist soil.

Level 1

On level 1, the entry yields into a combined living/dining/kitchen area.  Efficiency in a very small space requires double-use or triple-use space.  A space divider between living and dining is also the TV and book niche.  Refrigerator nestles  under the stair.  Loft floor is the kitchen ceiling.  The space is cozy, but with a high curving ceiling, it has a grandeur about it.

The kitchen opens out to a deck, facing east.  The house will block the harsh afternoon sun making this shady deck pleasant in the evening.

Loft level

Up on the loft, a desk area overlooks the living room and entry below.  The loft leads to a bunk room – the compactness of this design belies a high occupant load – and a small but functional bathroom at the end.

The roof will curve gently up and over the loft, covering it like a protective hand.

The 2-story space for the main bedroom will help make a small room feel large.

Bedroom with high ceiling

Drywall is not an interior finish for the solid state house.  Wasteful, highly consumptive, and energy-intensive, drywall has no place in this design.  The interior finish will be wood veneer over the curved structure (possibly lauan), and the interior walls will be traditional plaster and lathe.   These walls will be soundproof, solid, and impact-resistant. The lost tradition of plaster-and-lathe is more labor intensive than drywall, which is good for sustainability; it requires craftsmanship and care, two important values to the owner of a solid state house.  It is also very low energy to produce, and at the construction site, it produces very little waste.  No dumpsters full of drywall scraps will be found here.

The loft with public space

Since this solid state house is very small, the elimination of clutter is critical to its spatial nature.  Door frames are eliminated, and the wall bases will be recessed.  The interior feel of the house will be intimate, but will not feel oppressive.

With ribbon windows letting in the Florida sky, abundant sunlight will reduce the need for artificial light except at night.

Axonometric view

Mythic 20th century machinery reinhabits our imagination

Opening April 23, 2015


101 S. Garland

Orlando, Florida

Andarko - Home Operations

An Opening Reception will be held Thursday, April 23, 2015 for Richard Reep’s exhibition, curated by the University of Central Florida Fine Arts Gallery, at CANVS.  The reception will be from 6-9pm and is free and open to the public.

The ocean is rising.  Low-lying cities like Venice, Amsterdam, and Miami are already feeling the effects of our climate change, and sustainability is, in these urban areas, a race against time.

Oil, in the meantime, is the other major influence on our culture.  Icons of this hydrocarbon bonanza – oil rigs – are a reference to this specific time.  These technological wonders float upon the sea, sucking oil from the depths.  Poised between these two fluids, they symbolize the razor’s edge upon which we teeter.  Rendered in false-gloriosity, Veslefrikk (an imaginary oil rig based on actual North Sea equipment) is like petroleum pornography, our dependence on non-renewable resources laid bare.

It is only with the perspective of our current times (which I call urban feudalism) do we look back upon the era of modernism, and consider books, cast steel casings, raw concrete, fluorescent light lenses, and other items to be obsolete. We believe that the phenomena of our new life-world is better (computers, LED lights, lightweight plastics, mag-lev suspensions), just as we believed that radio, electric lights, Bessemer steel, and petroleum-based products were better a century ago.

Together, these projects exploit some of the overlooked meaning of which our life-world is capable. Neither virtual, nor artificed, nor particularly finished, they represent a moment in time where discarded wood, books, and pieces of equipment are reinvented, and serve a new purpose, while still retaining their original form. Perhaps this can give hope to people in the process of reinventing themselves to adjust to the realities of our current times.

Zombie Architecture

If the curse of the 1960s was dingbats – those faceless apartment buildings stuffed onto small lots – the curse of this new era of false prosperity is something I call zombie architecture.  Massive facades with empty windows facing the street characterize these homes, and perhaps also the inhabitants within.

Brick zombie

The body of a dead person given the semblance of life…that pretty much sums up the style of architecture of all of these pathetic creatures.  Will-less, mute, with unseeing eyes, these undead populate the streets of our community.  The dead styles of yesteryear – Spanish Mediterranean, Colonial, Victorian, Queen Anne, and so on – are forced to roam the streets, with no free will to be what they want to be.

What makes these things open their giant maws and devour so many consumer goods?  You can drive down streets and see them with their garage doors open, mouths stuffed with kayaks and bikes and racks of old clothing and unused exercise equipment and boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff.  What causes these zombies to gobble so much material?

Stucco zombie

Voodoo capitalism has forced builders to mass-produce thousands of these horrid things, in order to move huge amounts of matter and energy through the system.  These aren’t even enriching Wall Street lenders that much, with low interest rates. Instead, an odd witchcraft that has cast a spell on us, urging us to buy new, buy more, buy now.  We rush to get a zombie, move in, shutter the windows, turn on the air conditioner, and then bask in the reassuring glow of our electronics.  Or maybe mix a smoothie in our kitchens, admiring the view of the screened-in pool from safely within, and browse Amazon for more stuff.

Yellow zombie

To what evil purpose have these zombies been let loose upon the land?  There are zombies everywhere – Colorado, Rhode Island, Arizona – and they are gathering force, a kind of stucco-clad zombie army.


Does not Selena’s forehead resemble Florida residential stucco?   Is the zombie takeover imminent?  There seems no way to kill these foul, lifeless carcasses, these mindless, reanimated corpses of the architectural past.  They just continue on and on.

You may doubt the connection between the Zombie of folklore and zombie architecture.  If there could be any proof, look at all the older structures getting demolished on a daily basis, making way for more zombies.

These zombies are ultimately metaphors for our slavery to materialism.  We act as walking slaves to our gadgets, our machines, our clothes, and our experiences.  This contemporary 21st century slavery is not marked with a collar or leg iron; instead it is marked by a simple note.  Yes, a note, as in a mortgage note, which is a sacred witch-doctor pact that you make with an anonymous banker somewhere who stands to get very, very rich off of all of these zombies.

Still, no sign of land…

After exhausting the local libraries for Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsburg, Bowles, et al, an immersion into American fiction and poetry of the 1940s and 1950s has made newer fiction particularly bland.  I’ve tried newer stuff – novels that have won all sorts of awards – and find them to be soupy, warmed-up oatmeal compared to what was going on right after World War 2.  In 21st century America, our anxieties and fears have made our stomachs so twitchy that soupy, warmed-up oatmeal may be the only thing we can really digest anymore.

Oddly, I find recent architecture the same.  Knowing how the software works, I see the buildings celebrated in magazines as sketchup models, or Revit masses, and not particuarly well designed ones either.

A house under construction close by here has a splitface concrete block pillar, with a girth about eight feet or so.  It rises up behind a “frame” and is now being decorated with a little medallion of reclaimed wood. This passes for modern architecture today, I suppose.  There isn’t much reason for the pillar, except to stop the rather bad chi coming at the house’s front from a cross street.  It seems like gestural architecture.

What was once a design ethic, a “no-style” style, has now become just another half-hearted manipulation of hipster materials like reclaimed wood, draped onto forms that are easy to create in Sketchup.  Make a floating rectangular mass, offset the four faces by a foot or so, push the center rectangle in until it becomes a void, and hey presto! there’s a form.

Meaningless Modernism isn’t half as bad, however, as the ungainly, flat traditional housing that passes for shelter elsewhere in the city. The marketplace has reduced every historical design style down to a vague, generic box with lots of gables facing the street, large windows out of proportion to the size of the building, and a kind of demoralizing noncommittal character.  They are usually finished with wattle-and-daub (stucco, or whatever you may want to call it) and are busy and awkward without fitting onto their lots or sharing any dialogue with their neighbors.

I’m not all about architecture that has to shout “look at me,” and I feel like buildings that behave well together do make a nice neighborhood.  So many of the newer contributions to our streets, however, regardless of style, seem to be deaf and dumb, with empty eyes wide open staring at the street or the sky in a kind of atavistic wonder.

It is the combination of the primitive and the very affluent which is the deadening effect.  These houses are not even dingbats.  They aren’t big enough to be mcmansions; instead they are just zombies.

And speaking of zombies, the new America of the 21st century has taken some getting used to.  Gone are the quirky little side streets…gone are the people who live in the swamp, off the grid and disconnected from the mainstream…gone are the unpretentious pockets of honest architecture in small towns.

Instead, we are now all six-laned, large-turning-radius, long-traffic-light America.  We are now the America of the Commercial Strip.  We have managed to obliterate regionalism, in favor of the American Road.  You don’t have local color anymore, because local color just gets you into trouble.  All the tiny little restaurants must now vy for facebook likes and off-the-beaten-path hipster chic social media feeds.

Instead, I am learning to love our new culture.  American culture is Starbucks and Target Urbanism, and our brands give us sanctuary.  If you do try something local and independent, it better measure up to these standards, or woe to the retailer who tries to carve a different pathway.

I am learning to love an America that just feeds off of itself, in a sort of cannibal consumerism that remains the envy of the world.  Thronging sidewalks are not found in downtown Orlando, or downtown anywhere, because in downtowns, they still produce stuff – lawyers produce lawsuits, financial types produce wealth, and generally service industries produce, well, something useful.

No, in our new, 21st century America, our most intensely populated urban scenes are places like South Beach and Downtown Disney.  Today, at downtown Disney, the avalanche of visitors was clearly a sign that we have arrived.  Urbanism is now a fine leisure activity, and we have reached the level where we consume urban experiences as the most elite way of expressing our prosperity.

We drive, park, and then walk along the downtown Disney boardwalk, not for a service, not for a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with work colleagues or to make widgets in a factory.  Instead, we do this just…to do it.  We lick ice cream, avoid strollers and plod along the sidewalk because we like it.

The 21st century America is one with unprecedented leisure time and wealth, and we are using this to dine, entertain, and shop with our fellow human beings.

This is a highly complex, sophisticated 21st century America.  Regulations have never been higher.  Every aspect of our lives has some kind of code or law governing how we deal with it, whether “it” is food, a service, driving, parking, walking, seeking healing, expressing ourselves in different ways.  Dozens — no, thousands of laws and codes govern each step of our journey, much like the airwaves vibrate with thousands of unseen radio frequencies.

We are paradoxically moving at a frenetic pace, and yet we feel so often at a standstill, a paradox that produces a uniquely 21st century anxiety and fear.  We are paradoxically free to prosper any way we can, and yet we are so constrained with laws and codes, further increasing our anxiety and fear.   The boredom and lack of variety that arises from the triumph of American consumerism is also a curse.  And yet we revel in it.

I’m trying real hard to love it.