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A house with a future goes up at Seattle Center

The Seattle Times




The Habitat for Humanity House of the Immediate Future
It's enlightening to compare two approaches to the same problem fifty years apart. The House of the Immediate Future Exhibit at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle provided a vision for the future of domestic life as exuberant modular assemblages packed with high-tech energy-intensive gadgets that did the living for you, built and powered by seemingly endless resources. Fifty years later, we at The Miller Hull Partnership are at work on The House of the Immediate Future with Habitat for Humanity to be built first at Seattle Center as part the Next 50 celebration of the '62 World's Fair and then moved to the New Rainier Vista neighborhood near the Columbia City Link Light Rail Station.

Our approach seems modest when compared with the space-age vision in 1962. But that's the point. The difference highlights how advances in building science over the past five decades have trended toward a sober return to basics as we better understand the reality of limited resources and global warming. Smaller footprints in walkable transit-oriented communities and super-tight building envelopes that make miserly use of renewable energy sources may not capture the imagination quite like the sci-fi visions of the past, but may be the only way we can survive long into the future.

To kick-off the project, Miller Hull hosted a Think Tank workshop attended by over 60 local experts from across the spectrum of residential design, engineering and planning. The Think Tanks were focused on four major topics: Construction, Energy, Program and Site that prioritized repeatable solutions for near-term Habitat projects by combining the right blend of established but forward-looking techniques.

Our hybrid-approach to construction systems includes prefabricated "wet-cores" (mechanical room, kitchen, bathrooms) built by Method Homes in their factory in Ferndale and a panelized double-stud exterior wall assembly constructed by Habitat volunteers. By prefabricating the infrastructure cores, professionals, such as plumbers and electricians, can work unencumbered by a less-skilled but enthusiastic volunteer force so important to every Habitat for Humanity project. Volunteers will build the walls in unitized panels that can be erected around the wet-cores at the Seattle Center exhibit and then moved to the permanent site without requiring a complete disassembly.

A "dream team" of residential energy experts were assembled that typically work in parallel but separately, including our in-house energy-guru, Jim Hanford along with Buzz Burgett of NW Mechanical, Tadashi Shiga of Evergreen Certified and Brad Liljequist of Z-Home. This team reviewed all of the latest technologies to find the most simple and cost-effective blend that could result in a home that can produce all of its own energy needs on-site. It is the blend of existing technologies rather than a pursuing costly development of new technologies that most captured the "Immediate Future" aspect of the project's name. Habitat for Humanity plans to use the house to develop techniques that fit their volunteer-mode l to minimize air-infiltration and maximize insulation to reduce the energy loads and resultant costs of renewable energy sources an all of their subsequent Northwest homes. In a way, this may be the most long-lasting legacy of this ambitious project.

Beyond building science, the team is pondering the question, "How do families live now?" To address this question, the house and site are planned to optimize flexibility for a widening variety of family configurations, aging-in-place and income-generation possibilities for the global family of the future.

© 2014 - The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP
renderings: Miller Hull