Hug House
So often, houses designed by artist-architects are aesthetically appealing environmental abominations; equally, houses designed by scientist-ecologists often tread lightly upon the earth, but stomp heavily upon our spatial sensibilities.

Case in point: the Earthship, designed by Michael Reynolds. The man deserves our full respect for the research he has done in the fields of generating thermal mass and recycling building materials. But the structure that he touts as the thing that will save humankind from itself leaves much to be desired: specifically, privacy.

In Reynolds' Earthship, the entire southern face of the structure is made of glass, allowing the sun to penetrate into the domicile. The energy of the sun is absorbed by the thick walls of the upside-down-U-shaped-rooms. In the evening, when the temperature drops, the energy absorbed by the walls seeps back into the rooms, keeping the occupants warm at night.

But Reynolds insists that the circulation artery of the house, the only way to get from room to room, pass between the U-rooms and the south window wall. Not only does this ensure that the occupants of the home have no privacy at all, but it also bestows upon the Earthship all of the attractiveness of a row of prison cells!

I based the design of the Hug House on all of the thermal mass principles of the infamous Earthship, but on none of its aesthetic considerations -- or shall I say lack thereof. The Hug House is designed to house between 4 and 8 people who wish to live communally. It was intended specifically for Cedar Grove, an organic-farm-cum-intentional community in Southern Ontario.

Firstly, the circulation artery, the hallway, has been moved from the south face of the house to the north face. This gives every room a sense of privacy, as well as a larger amount of sunlight and heat. What has been lost is the hallmark garden plot that graces the interior south wall of all Earthships. Since the Hug House is intended for an 120-acre organic farm, this is hardly necessary; the entire property is the house's garden plot!

As in the Two-by-Two House, one does not enter the bedrooms via conventional doors, but rather by taking forks in the hallways and passing through curving vestibules, allowing chi, life energy, to flow in a natural, healthy way.

Far from denying individuals their privacy, this feature actually enhances it: in a conventional room, someone can simply open the door by surprise and see into every corner of the room in a split-second. But in the Hug House, if the occupant places beaded curtains both at the entrance to the vestibule, and again at the entrance to the inner room, they are afforded an early-warning system, two lines of "defence."

These vestibules provide another service: were it not for them, it would be necessary to put a door in the north wall of each bedroom; this would break up the thermal mass of the wall, resulting in heat loss and extra expense. But with this vestibule design, at every angle that sunlight enters the rooms, it hits only massive walls.

By arranging these entrance hallways as leading out of the central communal room, they make in unlikely that a stranger to the house would walk right into a private bedroom; it would be counter-intuitive. At the same time, the hallways also direct the Huggers from their bedrooms to the communal room, increasing the likelihood of social contact and shared activities, one of the avowed purposes of the design.

The toilet, a solar compost toilet, requires southern exposure so that the tank can reach the temperatures necessary to compost humanure. As we all know, the shower is the room in the house which requires the most heat. Accordingly, these two rooms have been positioned on the south face of the Hug House.

The glass exposure of the central communal room is, admittedly, too small for its large volume. Ordinarily, this would not afford its occupants enough heat. But in the centre of this room will be a large circular Mongolian-style grill on which to cook food. Rest assured, the room will be nice and toasty warm in the winter! And in the summer, retractable skylighting will allow hot air to escape, efficiently cooling the room naturally.