The Ekinoid Project emerged as a large-scale solution to critical environmental problems which are in their infancy yet are already having a huge and damaging impact on the planet. There is a great need for housing projects that approach things in a forward-looking and more flexible way - current housing policy and planning in the West is not exactly renowned for its vision: we urgently need to use less materials in our construction of homes, we need to be less dependent on national utilities and infrastructure, we should look at using marginal land as a way to reducing population pressure on existing urban centres, to use land more efficiently (i.e., not to use foundations where they are not necessary) and to be uncomplicated to construct (so that whole populations become builders and caretakers of their own homes).
Our spherical building solution answers these needs: it is an exceptionally light structure yet still immensely strong, can be self-sustaining for energy needs (each house having some form of self-contained wind generation [a Vertical Axis Wind Turbine] and thin-film solar panel technology on or around each home), fully uses the land (as it is built over two metres above the ground), enriches the land underneath through composting all organic waste produced, will be cost-effective for materials and construction (and recycling), and can be constructed anywhere that will take a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Why a sphere?
The Ekinoid House is spherical because a sphere is an inherently strong and stable shape, with an excellent strength-to weight-ratio. When you add in an extremely strong horizontal main floor, with a perpendicular column of the same diameter running through its centre, and then attach this to eight vertical ribs you have constructed an incredibly strong yet-light-structure. This means an Ekinoid home should weigh around 20 tonnes in total as opposed to around 152 tonnes (PDF file; page 8: 269kb in size). Think about how strong a conventional home would be if it only weighed 20 tonnes ...
The arc (think: circle) is the strongest structural shape, and in nature, the sphere is the strongest 3-dimensional shape.
The reason being is that stress is distributed equally along the arc instead of concentrating at any one point.
(Storage silos, storage tanks, diving helmets, space helmets, gas tanks, bubbles, planets, etc. use cylinder or sphere shapes -- or both. Ask yourself, "how strong (and light) is the shell of a coconut"?)
There are many design challenges ahead for the Ekinoid Project. One of the main issues is the construction of the main rim-tensioned floor: This is literally the hub of the building. However we believe that this design challenge will be met. The principal underlying the whole construction is that it should be as simple as possible - bolt together - that it should be modular, and accessible to anyone wanting to build their own house, regardless of their previous building experience.
Ideally, each home will be as easy to construct as possible: bolt-together, colour-coded parts, detailed instructions and videos, so easy and well-planned that they can be built onsite by cooperating individuals (unskilled in traditional building construction): You build your own home; then you help others build theirs.
Why is a spherical shape a good idea?
Many people react strongly, and negatively, to the very idea of a spherical house. We hear things like "it's impractical living in a circular space" and, it's very difficult to build something that has compound curves" - and these objections usually surface really quickly we've noticed ... And yet, how many of us have actually lived in a circular building, or tried to build something that has compound curves (using flexible materials)? I think there are two things at work here:
Conditioning: we are so used to thinking in terms of straight lines when it comes to homes - living in rectangular boxes, and relying on rigid, heavy, rectangular materials (wood, concrete, breeze/ash blocks, bricks, slates, plasterboard), and thinking in terms of straight lines. We need to also rethink the possibilities of curved shapes and flexible, light materials for durable, comfortable, amazing buildings.
If we can embrace the idea of using flexible materials, for long-term round homes, then we can more easily imagine the benefits of building homes as spheres: A sphere, in principle, allows an extremely strong-yet-light, thermally efficient, durable structure - and with flexible coverings / materials those issues around building with compound curves are resolved.
What about the bad press that geodesic domes got in the Seventies?
Ekinoid houses are not geodesic in nature. The only similarity with geodesic domes is that they are both spherical (although geodesic domes tend to be hemispheres or partial spheres). One of the major problems with the geodesic domes of the Seventies was that they often leaked (because they were composed of hundreds of triangles, which meant they had a very large number of edges/seams; and these triangles were often made using wood). Ekinoid homes will be built on completely different principles.
Seventies geodesic experimental homes: Spherical buildings, particlarly, home-sized self-builds also had some bad press in the Sixties and Seventies. Often these (geodesic) hemi-spherical homes had complex wooden frames and soon had problems with leaks - and were often built (predominantly in the USA) by people living communally on the fringes of mainstream society - maybe with pioneering ideas but without the expertise or materials to successfully build what they aspired to.
How to self-build a successful spherical building? Reduce it to simple circles.
I think the fundamental (and intractable) issue with self-build geodesic buildings is that you have to build it as a sphere i.e., complex curves - and you can't reduce that down ... and this is always the whole skin of the building. But the way to successfully build a non-geodesic sphere is to think of it instead in terms of circles, in vertical/horizontal planes - two dimensions not three dimensions. And then, when you fit these planes back together, you have a solidly constructed sphere.
What Materials might be used/avoided?
The Ekinoid House will, in as far as it is practical, use locally produced, sustainable, recyclable materials with a low embedded energy (the total cost of energy used in production and transportation). We will also endeavour to avoid cement and concrete, and all petroleum-based materials. So while we might automatically think of steel, we would also take a close look at Glulam (laminated wood that is two-thirds the weight of steel, provides equal performance and uses one-sixth the embodied energy) as an alternative structural material. Hemp insulation is a possibility, as well as compressed hemp floor panels; silk/canvas/hemp are possible materials for interior/exterior coverings. Even some of the most recently invented materials - ultralight metallic microlattices and aerogels, for instance, might also be suitable ... however, we anticipate a great deal of research in order to find the optimum materials - but are confident that the right materials are available.
Could you build an entire city in this way?
All parts of an Ekinoid home/city will be delivered on-site for easy fabrication. We think one crane (possibly two) and a team of approximately four people (one skilled, three unskilled) would be adequate for the one-week construction time needed for each house; and after, these newly-skilled people (the new owners) might then help to build more Ekinoid homes, and support new owners/builders. This training would, in principle, work exponentially and would therefore service the whole new community in a very short time.
Because Ekinoid homes will all be off the grid, there will be no need to put in the infrastructure commonly demanded for normal utilities and services - which means that in many suitable areas roads, power lines, pipes, drainage etc., need not be built. What this will mean, in practice, is that far greater areas of land may be happily used for new habitation, at little extra cost. The local geography and conditions will define the structure of Ekinoid towns and cities.
Completely independent of infrastructure?
To be independent of infrastructure you need to be able to access homes without relying on a hugely complex and developed road network, to have no pipes for water and sewage or wires/pylons for power. Each Ekinoid home might use water captured locally (from the roof where possible, and then filtered depending on planned use), will compost all their own organic waste, will use a combination of thin-film solar panels and roof-mounted VAWTs (Vertical Axis Wind Turbines) to generate their power (Ekinoid towns may of course choose to share their power generation), locally, between each other). Of course there will be regions with little wind, low water and little sunlight so these will present challenges for energy production ... we will take each area on its merits and endeavour to come up with workable loca energy solutions.
Does off-the-grid mean anti-centralised government?
Absolutely not. Anyone who thinks we can live in a complex, global society, without some kind of centralised government to address broader issues is being unrealistic. However, we see no reason that government regulation should not be reduced, with the emphasis on day-to-day responsibility for living well being placed back into the hands of the local population. Giving responsible people responsibility is an empowering process, whereas imposing nanny-state regulations for the sake of it disempowers everyone.
Top Quality Internet Access
Internet access is still an unknown for us at this time, regarding large-scale access; it might be via satellite (or balloons) in remoter regions. However, our goal is to have state of the art internet implemented at all times. The internet is now so fundamental to our quality of life that we regard it as indispensable. We also see that education is fast moving away from traditional schools and inversities and into the hands of the internet - via such visionary institutions as TED, Khan Academy and MOOCS.
Suitable for inhospitable regions?
When there is no need for foundations for houses, roads or piping then vast new regions of marginal land become easily available: moorland, tundra, desert, flood plains - all these become available to a 4-wheel-drive vehicle; and every house would not need a vehicle, there might well be a pool of vehicles shared by the local community.
The Ekinoid Project focuses on the idea that a spherical structure can deliver a practical, affordable housing solution, suitable for any environment. A structure whose parts can be both mass produced (locally, wherever practicable) and fabricated on-site - by unskilled hands (using detailed written and video instruction, as well as personal support from a previous Ekinoid-home-fabricator). Ekinoid homes will be designed to suit the local climate and terrain.
Structurally light yet exceptionally strong, the Ekinoid home will very significantly reduce raw material requirements, and will free up the land underneath; it will allow occupants to fulfil their own power needs (and meet their requirements for potable water and in-house sewage treatment [which will also benefit the land beneath]; and some of their food needs via in-house hydroponic production).
What is the current status of the project?
We are in the very early stages of development. As you can see from the website we have developed the idea to the stage of a Proof Of Concept regarding the structure and accurate scale models. But we are putting the call out globally - we welcome involvement from companies, institutions and universities worldwide ... what we really hope for is a small, committed team of people who share our vision for this project, who can see the need to make this work, and on a huge scale.
The cost of an Ekinoid home?
At such an early stage in the design process it is very difficult to forecast costs, but it is our hope that we can produce all the necessary parts for an Ekinoid home (i.i., the "sphere" part of the Ekinoid home - excluding white goods, furnishings, hydroponic systems etc.,) for 50,000 GBP (approximately 60,000 Euros, 78,000 USD, 74,000 AUD); either as an outright purchase or under a lease. We would seek to offer this in conjunction with governments and corporations willing to make large areas of land (previously designated as unsuitable) available.
Build each town: homeowners provide labour
Ekinoid homes will be designed to be as easy as is pratically possible to fabricate (ideally using no expert knowledge or skills), house a family of three/four, and will take under one week to build. Ideally, the main structure should last over 100 years (and then be recycled).
How is this scale of build possible?
All parts of an Ekinoid home will be delivered on-site for easy fabrication. We think one crane (possibly two) and a team of approximately four people (one skilled, three unskilled) would be adequate for the one-week construction time needed for each house; and after, these newly-skilled people (the new owners) might then help to build more Ekinoid homes, and train new owners. This training would, in principle, work exponentially and would therefore service the whole new community in a very short time.
How Many! Imagine 10,000 Ekinoid Project towns
Because Ekinoid homes will all be off the grid, there will be no need to put in the infrastructure commonly demanded for normal utilities and services - which means that in many suitable areas roads, power lines, pipes, drainage etc., need not be built. What this will mean, in practice, is that far greater areas of land may be happily used for new habitation, with none of the usual infrastructure costs.
Using land unsuitable for conventional dwellings?
Areas we may consider generally unsuitable for human settlement (because we have become used to the idea of expensive infrastructure also having to be in place) might be suitable for off-the-grid towns : Australia is three million sq. miles (Population: 21 million people), Siberia is five million sq. miles (eight times the size of Europe, Population: 40 million people), the Sahara desert is three million sq. miles (it's around 25% of all of Africa, Population: 4 million people), Mongolia is 600,000 square miles (Population: 2.7 million people), i.e., there are vast areas of the earth which have hardly any population at all.
There is also the real prospect of safely encouraging large communities in areas not suitable for conventional dwellings e.g., flood plains: the main structure of the Ekinoid home sits seven feet (over two metres) off the ground. For instance, every year about 18% of Bangladesh floods during the monsoon, yet during a severe flood 75% of the country may be affected, however the waters are rarely over knee height. So in this situation Ekinoid villages would be a clear solution to this environmental problem.
Mixed-use farmland? Using grazing lands
The land underneath each Ekinoid house remains useful and accessible. So, for instance, Ekinoid homes could easily be spread across certain types of farmland; grazing animals could still have access to the land underneath and around; or it could be used for crops / gardens / storage / parking. Also, traditionally poor land - moorland, scrubland or desert could not only be easily used for Ekinoid towns, but the use of organic waste and brown water from each house to treat the land directly sheltered by each house would greatly increase its fertility.