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Self-Sufficient Residence
Midwest, USA

Location: Midwest, USA
Date: 1996-1997
Cost: $60,000.00
Square Footage: 1000+ Square Feet

Construction Materials: Reused automobile tires, reused telephone poles, recycled aluminum cans, reused plate and tempered glass, reused lumber, acrylic, flagstone, native stone, sand, stucco and bermed soil.

Special Features: All south-facing glass wall for solar heat gain, north-side waterfall for summer cooling and winter heating, 4 foot diameter spherical wood stove for heating, all recycled structural materials, entire roof acts as rainwater catch directed to 16 foot diameter water cistern at west end of house, outdoor soak tub, north side 18 foot high soil berm, all automotive tires encased in concrete and stucco. All power generation is done through photovoltaic panels. Water is from an underground aquifer and rainwater. Insulation is provided by bermed dirt, automobile tires, aluminum cans, concrete and stucco.

Owner Requirements: Use as many recycled, locally found materials as possible. Ecological relationships are a primary issue to be addressed in the design. Integrate the principles of permaculture for building/site relationship. Find cost efficient methods and materials especially for the functioning of electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems.

Ecological Requirements: Every functional item must utilize ecological concepts as a directive of the design. Building and site should be mutually enhanced by each other�s presence.


General Background of the Project: The client is a unique individual. Having been Vice-president of a local copy business for several years the client decided to step-out of this stress-ridden business world and live �close to the earth--to live off the land�. He acquired 8 acres of property and decided, at first, to build a log cabin-type of residence on the site. Having gone to see the fabricators of this type of building he was immediately disenchanted with this approach to architecture. He then searched for anything that might be of interest in publications and through the Internet. He came upon our web site and perused it with interest. Having liked what he read and saw he arranged to come by my office for a closer look at things.

It was immediately clear to me that I did not need to educate this man about the principles of evolutionary architecture. A rapport was instantaneous. Mr. Gorsuch returned to Columbus, Ohio to think over what was he really wanted.

Some weeks later I went to visit the site in the midwest about 25 minutes. We walked the site. That evening we developed a preliminary concept: the building would be small and would respond to the many and varied environmental factors particular to the site--it would become an ecological benchmark within the natural environment. The budget dictated using the most common, easily found materials available--the least expensive that were structurally sound. Many calls were made to local building materials recyclers and salvage companies. The building would be heated and cooled in the cheapest way possible--by the sun, shade and moving water. It would be constructed of throw-away tires and telephone poles.

The orientation of the building was vital to its function; directly south for maximum sunlight and heat with a great soil berm to the north for maximum insulation from cold winter winds. The south heat can be controlled by the presence of a large continuous garden dissipating blinding south light and solar heat gain. All light and heat is provided by the sun. A waterfall at the north wall of the interior provides moving water-cooled air and added heat in the winter by way of an instantaneous propane gas heater heating tank to the waterfall.

All cabinetry, shelves, appliances, baths, sinks, etc. are built-in to the structure of the house--an integral part of the house. Wherever possible each structural element of the house supports itself without additional material and buttressing. For instance, the south-facing glass sheets are mitered at a 90 degree angle so that each piece is reinforced by each other without the need for cross-bracing and framed reinforcing. The house features a north-side entrance tunnel made of concrete and aluminum cans forming a continuos parabolic archway. Since he client himself is the builder of the house, detailed drawings had to be delineated in such a way as to be readable to a person who has no previous experience reading and interpreting construction drawings. All furniture was uniquely designed for the house and built by the client. The entire house with all appurtenances is built by the client with occasional assistance from Carl Bauer, a local contractor who built a tire-house for his family.

It became clear that the design of the house extended into the site itself: the placement of fruit trees, vegetable and herb gardens, chicken coops, ponds, access roads, barns, etc., all became a crucial design in the overall scheme of things which related to the functional importance of the house--to monitor and harvest the fruits of the land. The resultant design was developed to make use of every available space within. Enclosed spaces have multiple uses: refrigerator and storage under the stairs, mechanical shelf cove over the office and bathroom, garden, laundry together in one room.

All structural items were chosen and dimensioned to be relatively easy to handle without heavy machinery and with only two to three persons. Automotive tires are placed one-at-a-time by a single person and the telephone poles are placed in reinforced concrete holes formed by tires placed in the ground. The poles can be positioned by two or three persons and permanently fixed into place. Fundamentally, the structure of the house is made of the reused materials of tires and telephone poles. These are then covered by concrete and stucco to form an encased shell and to create a continuous structural unity throughout the wall to guide stress and strain forces.

in construction

Ten photovoltaic solar panels provide electrical power to the building and these panels are connected to converters which operate the 12 volt lighting, the water pumps and all appliances. The south-oriented building captures sunlight at a 120 degree swing from dawn to dusk year round. The roof is designed with a continuous incline so that during rains, which are frequent, water is directed by gravity to the north wall of the house and then, through a westerly gutter, to the west side cistern catch basin. The basin is 8 feet deep and 16 feet in diameter. Water from the basin is pumped into the house on demand. The concave curve of the north wall combined with the stepped incline stacking of the tires effectively resists overturn forces from the great north soil berm. The curved design is, in fact, strengthened by the pressure of the soil by pushing the tires tightly together enhancing their ability to act as a unified structural system. The earth and building form an interconnected structure--the one exalting and stabilizing the other over a 120 foot long distance.

The owner considers building and living in the house an adventure and is excited to begin a new way of life harvesting the bounty of the land taking lessons from nature.

in construction

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