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Spherical "Ekinoids" to house future generations in off-grid towns

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April 16, 2013

Might the home of the future be spherical?

Might the home of the future be spherical?

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A self-assembled spherical house may sound like a simple idea, but the founders of the Ekinoid Project are extraordinarily ambitious. It's thought that the global population could reach 9 billion by 2050, and to house some of those 2 billion extra people, the Ekinoid Project would see pop-up off-grid towns of its spheroid pods accommodate 10,000 people at a time in some of Earth's least hospitable places.

Spherical houses might sound like a gimmick, and an ineffective use of space, but the designers think that a sphere provides great structural strength while markedly reducing the amount of raw materials required for each sphere.

It's thought that Ekinoids would be made from either steel or glued laminated timber, which would be insulated or clad according to your inhospitable environment of choice. The deserts of Australia, Siberia, Mongolia and Africa are ripe for Ekinoid towns, according to the project website. Flood plains, too, become viable with the addition of an Ekinoid town, the website claims.

As is often the case, the off-grid rationale reads like a sustainable technology shopping list. The project website cites wind and solar power for energy needs, rainwater harvesting and gray water treatment for water, built-in sewage treatment and composting for disposing of the unspeakable, and hydroponics for food. Alas, no amount of rainwater harvesting equipment will actually make it rain: something to consider, perhaps, before spending your mortgage on Ekinoid 8,442, Sahara Desert.

It's claimed that a single Ekinoid can be built in a week by a team of four, including a skilled organizer. Having built one sphere, it's argued that those workers become skilled, and are able to supervise the construction of other spheres. In this way, the residents of an Ekinoid town would build their own houses (with a crane or two to unload and move the prefabricated kits as they're delivered).

The Ekinoid Project is currently seeking collaborators in academia: students get a research subject, the Ekinoid Project gets some feasibility guidance in return. The intention is for Ekinoids to be as affordable as possible, and it's hoped that all the necessary materials could be prefabricated for a cost of £50,000 (US$77,000).

The idea is still very much in the formative stages, but what information there is can be found at the project's website. It'll be interesting to see if this one goes any further.

Source: Ekinoid Project, via Boing Boing

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life.   All articles by James Holloway
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14 Comments

I guess I don't understand this concept. Please someone explain to me how a building with all outside surfaces exposed to the elements of a desert with a heat conducting metal covering is more efficient than one with it's floorspace covered mostly by the ceiling such as an igloo shape which reduces exposure to the elements by about 50%. Also explain to me how utilities and an entrance to such a building would be convenient. If you buried the bottom half into the ground this would work but that doesn't seem to be what is suggested here.

Matt Fletcher
16th April, 2013 @ 10:04 am PDT

It's really not that hard to build a house, esp. a pre-fab one, and you can build one cheaper then 77K in material cost. My father-in-law and I build my 1000sqf house with 1000sqf basement + land + appliances, well, septic tank, etc for 65K 10 years ago.

The biggest problem building in the US is meeting regulations, some of which are pointless. This would not be a problem in a developing country.

Rann Xeroxx
16th April, 2013 @ 10:28 am PDT

There is no upside to this design.

Someone wants to build a sphere house plain and simple.

Bob Ehresman
16th April, 2013 @ 11:08 am PDT

It looks neat, but curved walls are typically inefficient. You can't put a set of shelves against one, for instance, unless you custom-build the shelves.

Of course if it was a cube, it would just be a house on stilts.

Also, building the whole thing out of copper in 2013 would be prohibitively expensive.

It would be great scenery for a video game or an RPG, though.

Jon A.
16th April, 2013 @ 11:43 am PDT

I've recent been researching self built homes. Here's two I find much more appealing, all ready in operation and at a better price:

http://www.rocioromero.com/LVsalesProcess.html (USA)

http-_www.i-domehouse.com (Japan)

yrag
16th April, 2013 @ 01:15 pm PDT

To answer the question "Why a sphere?" I quote the article: "Spherical houses might sound like a gimmick, and an ineffective use of space, but the designers think that a sphere provides great structural strength while markedly reducing the amount of raw materials required for each sphere."

The point behind the Sphere apparently is strength and reduced parts. The unstated additional purpose is that it can be put on stilts with ease so it can be used in places that occasionally to periodically flood.

The pictures all show a metal clad house but the article states that it can be built with laminated woods as well so in a Desert you would use a less absorptive cladding.

Personally I agree it is ridiculously expensive for its intended audience. $77K is more than some people make in a lifetime in “off grid” locations especially near deserts, flood plains, tropical jungles, etc. I think they'll be making these and no one will buy it. More affluent people who could afford one of these with a reasonable mortgage would live where a simpler house could be used. To expect affluent people to move to "Off Grid" locations is a bit rediculous as they would be moving away from work, medical care, etc. The Broad Group style sky scrappers built like an archology with work, food, and climate control incorporated would be a better bet for providing housing for the masses at affordable rates with proximity to work that could pay for the housing.

VirtualGathis
16th April, 2013 @ 01:21 pm PDT

Sphere or just dome houses have a lot of unusable space I'll stick with boxes.

Slowburn
16th April, 2013 @ 02:29 pm PDT

"Strength" as a requirement implies that current structural systems are not adequate. That is plainly false. Also the Spherical shape encloses primarily unusable space for "humans living in gravity" ...

Jeff Rosati
16th April, 2013 @ 04:01 pm PDT

Though the article says the sphere was chosen because of strength and low materials needed for that strength I'd argue that per volume of usable space a cube would be cheaper and more efficient. Total cost of ownership would have to be considered not just the bare material cost to produce an envelope. Curved shapes are really difficult to build at any scale and trying to get a team of 4 to build a sphere that fits together in a week is unlikely unless they are 4 highly experienced and skilled craftsmen. The other major cost is outfitting the building with fixtures and fittings. Everything would have to be custom built and would necessarily take up too much space to account for the curvature of the sphere.

The designer just wants a spherical house and that is that. I this house were under water or in a vacuum I could see the point, but it isn't. There is no surprise that our high density dwellings are rectangular sky scrapers and not bunches of grapes.

Scion
16th April, 2013 @ 09:26 pm PDT

Instead of making plans to house those "Extra 2 Billion People" I think we should be planning ways to not let that happen. I remember years ago there was a big push towards "Zero Population Growth" What ever happened to that? I think we need to go even further, and strive for a "Negative Population Growth".

Stuart M Anderson
17th April, 2013 @ 06:12 pm PDT

Stuart, we are engaging in a "Negative Population Growth" by doing nothing about Climate Change, Peak Oil, Superbacteria, etc. ^_^

Aloysius
18th April, 2013 @ 03:32 am PDT

To my knowledge the shape that covers the most surface area for material is the hexagon six sided material and why honey bees chose this shape for honey comb

I suspect that shape using triangles in the hexagon shape would be more efficient in materials and stronger . There are some structures already using this shape out there .I suspect the last few feet of the top and bottom of the sphere is wasted space and materials and could be got ride off. Unless they make mold with interlocking parts I cannot see how a curved shape is easy to fit together .

As a concept for places like Holland when they finally realize the cost of keeping the dykes is bankrupting them and they would be better living in house boats that rise and fall with the floods that come past the broken dyke walls it not bad solution for them . Better to put lead on the bottom of the sphere like a heavy keel stabilises a boat to ensure if it breaks free it will float away in a upright fashion .Also handy moving house wait for high tide float it away and with tow boat bring it to new location. Hit a bit of dry land roll it along until you come to the water again . There is a lot to said for sphere if you think that frequent house moving will be the theme .

better still is mount lots of them on large Ferrias wheel then everybody sphere house could get turn being the penthouse on the top every revolution.

Overpopulation isn't a reason to build these thing. There are twice as many people living as when I was born and the world is four times better for me in most everything so roll on 14 billion cant wait will be 10 times better .If the top half of the sphere was separate it would allow it to rotate to change the view or to track the sun so making the solar panels on the skin of it more efficient.

diarmaid
23rd April, 2013 @ 03:46 am PDT

How about making them out of one giant piece of plastic. There is a whole ocean of plastic out there waiting to be recycled.

Tom Haydon
25th April, 2013 @ 03:17 pm PDT

daimaid, your ideas have a bit of mad genius to them. A couple of corrections though: Bees use hexagons because they repeat, the area to diameter limit goes up with sides, and anything with more than three corners can fold at the corners (things with three corners will just fold in the middle). Spheres are reasonably strong, as are geodesic domes, but both have been tried in housing and they were abandoned years ago with only a few built for many of the reasons listed above.

So, back to bees. We have tons of sand in places that are pretty much uninhabited desert. Some deserts provide incredible biodiversity, and shouldn't become housing, but some are probably the result of previous human overpopulation (the Sahara, for instance) and don't house an incredible diversity of life. So, step 1 is to get water back to these places - Probably we can modify desalination designs to become sorts of solar water heaters, or centrifugal heat separators (ideally we heat the water to purify it through reverse osmosis, then separate the purified water, using a turbine, into hot and cold, which we then pump into the atmosphere as vapor and supply locally, respectively) to increase the amount of water in the atmosphere. If we look at typical wind patterns, we can let nature do a bit of work for us, and start importing water to the desert.

Then, we need strong structures to support population. Before we re-establish rain, we should use sand and focused sunlight to create glass in the desert (we can do this slowly, laying out structures as mirrors that will eventually turn into a power supply for the region) and then, as water comes in, the remaining sand can be used for concrete to create permanent large interconnecting structures, based on equilateral triangles in hexagon formations. The area surrounding the city buidings will get water by wind, grow vegetation, and naturally cool surrounding air, while the city will have warm air but cool buildings from housing built into the ground with reflective rooftops. Transportation and commerce can happen under reflective surfaces above housing, with an emphasis on expanding in the outer rings and building upward first, so the the city ultimatly forms parabolic reflective surfaces around solar plants with the majority of transportation happening vertically and offsets water pumps for downward travel. In a relocatable ring around the agrarian border of the city, columns of Tesla Turbines will provide extra power, and a windbreak against the desert.

The rich would live here, because the city would sparkle, and the poor would move here because there would be jobs, and efficient, low cost apartments with LED projection lighting and free wifi. Farmers would move here because there would be a supply of fertilizer (processed human waste and freshwater algea grown along transit routes to clean air and cool the city) huge amounts of probably fertile soil, and a clean slate.

Phyzzi
6th May, 2013 @ 01:34 pm PDT
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