abraham lincoln abraham maslow academic papers africa aging aid alexander the great amazon america android os apple architecture aristotle art art institute chicago astronomy astrophysics aubrey de grey beck beer berlin bernacke bicycle BIG bill murray biophilia birds blogs bob dylan books bourdain brewing brian wansink buckminster fuller bukowski cameras cancer carl jung carl sagan cemetary change charter city chicago china christmas church civil war climate change cologne construction coop himmelblau copenhagen cornell west cps craigslist crime crown hall cyanotype cyrus dalai lama darkroom data dbHMS death design build dessau detail Diet dogs dome dongtan douglas macarthur drake equaation dresden dubai ebay eco economics economy education einstein emerson emily dickinson energy experiments facebook farming finance finland florida food france frank lloyd wright frei otto freud frum funny furniture games gay rights gdp george w bush george washington germany ghandi glenn murcutt goals good google government graphic design guns h.g. wells h.l. mencken hagakure halloween health health care henri cartier bresson herzog and demeuron honey housing human trafficking humanitarian efforts hydroponics ideas iit indexed india industrial design industrial work internet investments japan jaqueline kennedy jim cramer john maynard keynes john ronan john stewart journalism kickstarter kings of leon kittens krugman kurt vonnegut kurzweil lao tzu law le corbusier ledoux leon battista alberti links LSH madoff malcolm gladwell marijuana marriage masdar city math mead medicine microsoft mies van der rohe military milton friedman mlk money movies munich murphy/jahn music nasa nervi neutra new york nickel nietzsche nobel prize norman foster nsa obama occupy open source paintball palladium print paris parking party passive house paul mccartney persia philip roth philosophy photography picturequote pirate bay pirating plants poetry poker politics portfolio potsdam predictions prejudice presidents process photos prostitution psychology public housing q and a quotes rammed earth randy pausch reading reddit regan religion rendering renewables renzo piano restaurants revolution richard meier richard rogers robert frank rome rubik's cube rule of 72 rumi san francisco sartre sauerbruch hutton saule sidrys schinkel school science screen printing seattle sesame street seth roberts sketch social media soviet sparta spider spinoza sports stanley kubrick stanley milgram statistics steinbeck sudhir venkatesh suicide sustainable design switzerland taxes technology ted teddy roosevelt tension terracotta tesla thanatopsis the onion thomas jefferson thoreau time lapse tommy douglas transportation travel truman tumblr unemployment urban design van gogh venezuela vicuna video video games wall street war werner sobek wood woodshop woodworking ww1 ww2

16 December 2011

Small is Beautiful

Tata Nano, the world's least expensive car.

This article about the Tata has me a bit worried. For those of you who don't keep up with Indian automotive companies, the Tata is the world's least expensive car. It's spartan as hell and costs $2,400. The problem lies in the fact that Indians aren't into the idea of owning the worlds cheapest car. It's just not selling (contrary to this Wired article from 2008 which predicted that it would be a huge eco-problem because it would put so many people on the road, I agreed then, oops). And that's a problem for me. Let me explain.

Green technology is incremental. The gains it provides are percentage points, and as percentage points go they tend to be low. Not that I'm against them, I think it's a great effort, and I'll try to employ them probably even more than most architects. But I have a different approach too. If I only learn a few lessons in architecture school, one of them will be that every square inch costs money.

Oh? Don't want to pull that flat wall in to fit the contour of the rooms? Only 10 square feet you say. Well let's see, that's $140 a square foot in hard costs, plus your borrowing costs and other fees - times 10. Yup, that just cost you $2,000. Want to put a kink in that wall?

If your home is half the size it costs half a much. Half as much to heat. Half as much to cool. Half as much to repair. Half as time much to clean. No new technology - just smaller. It doesn't just work for buildings, it works for cars and other things too. This Formula 1 designer made an electric car that gets 350 MPG just by making it super light weight (more info).

I've brought up this idea to my professors and I usually get lukewarm feedback. Most buildings are formulaic. So many square feet per occupant, so much height, so many watts per square foot for lighting, etc. I'm told reinventing the wheel shouldn't be done, but in NYC or London people live in much smaller spaces because of the cost. I'm convinced that a good percentage of my generation would be willing to live in somewhat smaller places (say 10-25% smaller) in order to save money/work less/have more disposable income. Isn't that what our generation is all about? Less shit, more experiences.

But the Tata is proving otherwise. People do want more stuff. Bigger stuff. Nicer stuff. But this is also a country of poor people on the come up. Like most of our grandparents and great grandparents they didn't have anything growing up and now they want the Cadillac, their double quarter-pounder, and the swimming pool behind the mcmansion. Maybe we're different? Maybe not, if my brief stint on this planet has taught me anything it's that people are more similar than they are dissimilar.

As I always tell my friends who want me to build something. If we make it half the size we can make it twice as nice. Most have never thought of this. A big table from plywood can be cool but how about a coffee table made of black walnut instead? Consuming more doesn't mean consuming more. It means consuming quality, and that's what I want to build.

No comments: