You could say that a career in architecture was John Ball's destiny.
His dad was an urban planner, and his mother was a PhD student who didn't mind that her son started dumpster diving in 3rd grade for go-kart parts and tree house building materials.
Ultralight Microdwelling with Life Support Module 2014 plans
Microdwelling 2014 will be the first time John is building and exhibiting a microdwelling, a structure that is 600 square feet or less, but he has been thinking about them for a long time. Specifically, he is interested in the concept of the life support module, and it is this area of research that inspired him to create his Ultralight Studio with Life Support Module.
“Humans have been living in small spaces for 30,000 years,” John says, and the Ultralight Studio is his take on a small, livable space that will support the daily functions and work of an independent artist or maker.
“The target user of the Ultralight is my mom. That’s why there’s an easel and a piano in the plan.”
John is a busy guy—he is a practicing architect, a PhD student at ASU in Environmental Design and Art, a faculty associate at ASU in landscape, architecture, interiors, and construction, and also a co-founder of Metropolitan Building Workshop in Tempe—but I was lucky enough to ask him a few questions about his work, and his process of developing the Ultralight Studio.
We spoke about everything from framing to electrical engineering to 3D printing, and why off-grid
water and waste systems are so important to the conservation of natural resources.
You’re using a monocoque system inspired by the aerospace, shipbuilding, and automobile
industries. What are the advantages of using this method, and why haven’t house builders adopted it?
According to Buckminster Fuller, the construction industry is generally 50 years behind. There is hope—an “almost monocoque” system known as advanced framing is being promoted by green organizations. The advantage of monocoque is that it uses the least material to achieve the greatest structural support. Minimizing material is almost as important as minimizing weight. Weight is the key to construction sustainability because EVERYTHING in a house arrives by truck, and gasoline usage is directly related to how much the loads weigh. Building ultra-light is super important.
You've said that the core of the modern home is its technology infrastructure. Can you tell us
more about your Life Support Module System and how it is integrated into the PV–USB Power Delivery 1.0 Electrical System? Will your microdwelling have an entertainment system?
In early Frank Lloyd Wright houses the plan was organized around the hearth. Times have changed. The hearth of a modern home is now its technology infrastructure. It should be pre-manufactured, removable, replaceable, serviceable from the exterior, and the remainder of the house built around it (which happens to be the part anyone can build).
The photo-voltaic (PV) universal serial bus 5-12 volt direct current off-grid power system is likely to find traction in Europe before the USA. The starting point is the PV panel that converts solar energy into a 12 volt direct current. The key is to forget trying to convert that power to 120 volt alternating current (the standard for general-purpose household power in the US). Instead, the more efficient thing to do is to use the 12 volt direct current to power USB. USB is fast becoming the way all devices are powered (from your computer to your coffee maker) and connected to the internet. The forthcoming version raises the power capacity of each device from 5 watts to 100 watts.
I know that sustainability and energy efficiency is important to your project. How do your Thermal Jacket Mechanical System and Off-Grid Water and Waste Systems accomplish these goals?
surrounding surfaces than on air temperature, yet in USA construction we spend most of our HVAC time and budget on trying to control the air contained within the space, because it's easier to do.
One of the challenges of building ultra-light is that there is no thermal mass in the building envelope to slow down the effects of temperature changes on the exterior. Frame houses try to handle it with insulation, which works to an extent, but it also makes the walls a dead space. The thermal jacket concept makes the walls a live space and treats the temperature differential as a resource, not an enemy.
As for off grid water and waste, the idea is that if all you have is bottled water, you'll use it a whole lot more conservatively. Similarly, if every time you went pee you had to take it out in a baggie, you'd really think about what used to go down the sewer. The connection to city water and waste systems promotes overuse.
Going back to Buckminster Fuller, he proposed to bag waste when he invented the molded bathroom way back in 1936. It took 50 years for the construction industry to accept the molded bathroom in the form of one-piece fiberglass tub/showers and showers.
How far away are we from downloading microdwelling plans off the Internet for our 3D printers?
idea. 3D printing wall panels is much more feasible and I've been working on it for the past four years.
Come see the Ultralight Studio with Life Support Module for yourself at the Shemer Art Center through March 23rd. John will be onsite to answer questions and give guided tours of his microdwelling on opening day, Saturday, February 15th, 2014.