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  • Writer's pictureCarsten Sprotte

In the name of place

Our land is not a grid, the way many an American city would have it be. Places are distinct, special to some, and sacred to others. Even though we know this and feel it to be true, we have allowed buildings as a mass-produced commodity. There is a sickening sameness in the way so many buildings, and houses, have been built over the bloated and gloated period we called prosperity. The trouble is not so much with the similitude of design as it is with the materials, construction, and the indiscriminate misuse of land. Sprawling suburbia in America may feel more friendly than Soviet socialism, but the environmental consequences are somewhat equivalent. Which city, between Stalingrad and Saint Louis, belched out the most greenhouse gas? One of them socialized housing, and the other democratized it. Both of them were regimes of mass replication that violated the Name of Place.

What does it mean to pay attention to place?

For the Native American peoples, the land was everything. It would have been inconceivable, not to mention impossible, for them to build something out of place. Mass colonization and industrialization have led to the aberrations we now know.

Paying attention to place begins with where we choose to build. We should avoid building on pristine wilderness land (there is too little of that left) or on prime agricultural land. Whatever land on which we do build has its own habitat, ecology, and history. Our challenge is to respect those. The Light House sets forth three imperatives to meet this challenge.

1/ Fitting into the environment. This is both an ecological and aesthetic imperative. The ecological aspect refers to the use of construction materials that are locally sourced and that detract as little as possible from the natural surroundings. Regions rich with woodlands will naturally call for the use of wood. Those that have a more ready supply of stone will make use of that. Regions, particularly in France, also have very pronounced stylistic features that should be respected for greater architectural harmony. That is what gives the country its inimitable charm.

The Light House distinguishes itself from other trends such as tiny houses and prefabricated container-shaped dwellings that can be hauled in and installed wherever you want. These emphasize economy of scale and affordability, often to the detriment of ecology of place. Although it is laudable to make some form of housing affordable for all, it is also appropriate for those with some financial means to dedicate them to something as vital and significant as a home that respects ecology of place.

Our Light House offers several variations to fit into different local specifications, all while retaining the distinctive LH look and feel. The form and function remain the same, only certain materials vary.

2/ Treading lightly. The goal is to minimize our impact on natural habitat. Wild animals live without disturbing habitat, but this is a major challenge for humans. We aim to set aside an acre of land (0.4 hectares) for every Light House built. The ratio of construction to available land is a mere 10%. The house itself hovers above the land on stilts, reducing its footprint even further. Light Houses built on a single site will share resources whenever possible to avoid redundant equipment, tools, and vehicles. These will all be stored in a common shelter, separate from the dwellings.

2/ Fostering resilience. To wean ourselves from what has become an unnatural and dangerous dependence on industrial agriculture, every house should ensure a minimum level of food production and storage (a two-week supply).

Even though we humans have a very hard time treading lightly, we can at least compensate by enhancing our environment in uniquely human ways. We can foster biodiversity by what and where we plant. We can allow grazing animals to enrich the soil. We can terrace land to avoid excessive run-off. These are all aspects of permaculture that the Light House promotes in its project for communal land use. The first Light House site plans on three houses on a shared parcel of approximately three acres (1.2 hectares). Designated portions of the land will be used for permaculture by those who live on-site, or by local food producers.

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