As a backdrop to our current era and the web of challenges we face, the built environment is ubiquitous, and so its evolution (and that of the building and construction industry) is vital if we are to progress towards national and global socio-economic goals, not only of sustainability, but of dignified shelter, adaptive and resilient infrastructure, and economic opportunity.
The building sector is the largest consumer of resources and raw materials, the over-exploitation of which damages the environment, endangers communities, causes shortages, and promotes conflict. In developed economies, we spend over 90% of our time indoors, in artificial environments that require constant energy to control temperature, humidity, lighting, ventilation. Despite these entrenched patterns, we know relatively little about how exposures to indoor environmental factors--including microbiotic communities--affect our health. And globally, 1.6 billion people (1 in 5) lack adequate housing, one hundred million are homeless, and 850 million inhabit informal settlements, increasing their exposure to an extensive range of hazards to health and well-being.
To facilitate these feedbacks, we propose to leverage pre-existing international partnerships between Yale and other institutions with global reach that will foster the genesis, evaluation, and iteration of a collection of prototypical “Ecological Living Modules,” or ELMs. ELMs are envisioned as housing unit demonstration sites, constructed in key partner locations around the world, which plug the existing testing gap between potentially transformative, but lab-scale materials and systems, and the inadequate solutions that are already deployed.
Building on our first ELM NYC, voted #1 World Changing Idea by UN News and World report, these sites would be designed, constructed, occupied, monitored, and iterated wholly within local bio-climatic, material, and socio-economic contexts. Together, the units, alongside the research and social infrastructure that binds them, would form an “Ecological Living Network,” or ELN, to accelerate the path to deployment for transformative approaches to clean energy, air and water quality, and (bio)material life cycles.
Although the direct benefits of the ELN would be in pipelining of well-vetted technological advances, the network is intended to platform analyses of inherently intercoupled socio-environmental systems, where the methodologies of myriad disciplines not only coincide but recombinate. So the deeper benefits would be to enable more fundamental materials and systems to be integrated into a built testbed and to create a discourse around what constitutes an “advance.” This is where Yale is uniquely suited to champion this proposal with its critical expertise across many fields in the humanities, public health, industrial ecology, etc.
Ecological Living Network (ELN) is a radically different approach to solving net-zero buildings through deep integration between vegetation, energy, water and air quality. The Network would create a data-driven open-architecure framework that empowers local communities to partner with leading researchers to participate in demonstration sites with appropriate solutions that integrate cutting-edge technologies with ancient low tech traditions that work.
Can building testbeds that integrate on-site ecological systems lead to radically transformed futures?
Image: ELN an Ecosystem of Systems Diagram