Instituciones como la NASA trabajan en el diseño de viviendas que permitan vivir de manera autosuficiente tanto en situaciones climáticas extremas como en otros planetas. Crédito: Interestelar Lab.

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Houses to survive a climate apocalypse

The announced climate collapse raises the need to find solutions from architecture and engineering for housing that is resistant to extreme conditions, both on Earth and on other planets. From the colonization of the ocean to the reuse of past infrastructures, the proposals integrate the latest technological developments and innovative materials seeking to guarantee human survival.

DORY GASCUEÑA LÓPEZ | Tungsteno

Climate change will make the Earth less and less habitable, a prediction that is already coming true in some areas of the planet, which are being subjected to more frequent extreme natural disasters such as floods or hurricanes. Transforming our concept of "home" to create sturdier and more resilient dwellings is imperative in this scenario of human survival pitted against the natural world.

Inhabiting space if one day the Earth is no longer an option is also a prospect that is beginning to be contemplated by institutions such as NASA, which is participating in the Interstellar Lab project, a closed-loop village planned to be located in the Mojave Desert (California) to experiment and develop technological solutions that will allow self-sufficiency in an extreme climate scenario, and also on Mars. Scientists and astronauts will work on challenges such as producing and recycling water or guaranteeing the supply of food and energy in the so-called Experimental Bioregenerative Station (EBIOS).

The rise in sea level due to climate change raises the need to find solutions that allow inhabiting the oceans, such as these underwater communities. Credit: Samsung.

Alternatives on Earth

Another alternative to avoid having to leave Earth is the one contemplated by Samsung: it would be possible to live immersed in the ocean thanks to technological development. Underwater communities could move around the world in search of the best climate and take advantage of all the energy benefits of living surrounded by water. Water currents and waves would be the source of energy for electricity and water could be desalinated for human consumption. On land, new developments in the fields of nanotechnology and construction materials should make it possible to increase the strength and reduce the weight of buildings. For example, diamond nanowires could replace steel cables with 100 times the strength and one-sixth the weight.

The climate apocalypse, or geopolitical breakdown, also inspires more traditional survival solutions that harness infrastructure from the past to look to the future. In 2016, the company Vivos xpoint bought a set of bunkers that served as an ammunition storage facility between 1942 and 1967. Located somewhere in South Dakota, this "Armageddon survival community" could house up to 5,000 people for a year underground, according to its developers. Another example of this trend of apocalyptic architecture reminiscent of war planning would be the Survival Condo project, a former missile storage silo in Kansas that is being converted into a luxury apartment building in which residents could survive underground regardless of what takes place on the surface. Hydroponic crops, diesel generators, walls up to three metres thick, wind turbines and a weather station coexist with leisure services such as an indoor swimming pool or shooting range, facilities that owners can enjoy right now without needing to wait for potential catastrophes to occur.

Constructing with awareness

Governments are already paying attention. Some countries such as Australia or the United Kingdom publish official recommendations on which climate risk factors to consider when buying or building a house. The climate will be the key factor affecting future migrations on planet Earth, as it will drive humans towards areas less punished by the effects of climate change. The New York Times published an article in 2019 explaining how this trend is already a reality for the younger generation: some millennials now look at the future of the climate before buying or building a property.

In addition to the topic of where to live, the key question is how to live, how to coexist with the environment in order to be sustainable and as self-sufficient as possible. The Resilient Design Institute defines passive survival as the ability of a building to maintain habitable conditions when it runs out of energy sources such as electricity, water or gas. Architecture and engineering already suggest futuristic solutions and proposals based on these principles.

The OOIIO firm proposes the creation of an interpretation center for devastated places that allows analyzing and understanding the reasons behind the climate apocalypse. Credit: OOIIO.

An inhabitable ocean

The key seems to be, again, in the water. The oceans occupy a large area of our planet and climate change will cause the temperature and sea level to rise. Combating flooding is already a task confronting many regions of the world, but what if water could become an ally? Floating architecture does not have to rely on pillars or anchors fixed to the seabed, so it would facilitate relocation according to the seasons and climatic conditions or the geopolitical situation. Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal and one of the first investors in Facebook, has become an activist of marine colonisation through the creation of the Seasteading Institute, a think tank created with the objective of developing a floating city project. For him, colonising the sea is one of the frontiers that human beings can cross in the coming decades. The approach of floating in a city format instead of in a building or individual house format has a logical basis, since according to the theory of systems emergence, just as an anthill is more complex than the sum of the intelligence of the ants that inhabit it, a floating city would be more "intelligent" and would optimise resources better than an isolated house floating adrift.

Some architectural projects offer less ambitious solutions, but along the same lines, from amphibious dwellings that rise above their foundations when flooding occurs, to floating buildings that can even provide a public service, such as the floating school in Makoko, designed to provide schooling for children in the floating district of Lagos, Nigeria.

The Spanish architectural firm OOIIO has even considered the ultimate scenario: a planet devastated by the effects of climate change where architecture would have an important message about what happened and could have been avoided. Their proposal is an interpretation centre for devastated places, a building that would float next to the remains of the Statue of Liberty, in an imagined scene in which one could contemplate a New York City submerged by the floods of a fatalistic future.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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