by Catherine Teegarden
The Center for Architecture’s K-12 Education Department was pleased to host a special Family Day program on Saturday, March 9, introducing families to a sustainable building toy currently under development by House4House, a team of four Danish architects working in Denmark and Tanzania. Concerned about critical housing needs worldwide and architecture’s impact on our environment, they have created a construction toy with a threefold mission: to help children learn about architecture and environmental issues through play, to create a source of funds for charitable building projects around the world, and to create a market for recycled materials.
The kit is in the prototype phase and is produced on a small scale by the four founders themselves, using sheets of recycled materials and a CNC cutter. The “playshop” at the Center gave families an opportunity to play with this new toy and give feedback to the House4House team about both its design and its business model as they move to scale up production and make it available for sale.
After a brief introduction to the kit and its larger goals, families were challenged to create a building for a hot, humid climate using the tropical building kit, the first of four planned sets keyed to different climate zones worldwide.
The pieces are made entirely from recycled materials. A solid white material flecked with bits of silver comes from recycled yogurt containers. A similar piece in a warm, translucent brown color is a mix of recycled plastic and cardboard. The wooden pieces are bamboo. The building blocks are cleverly designed, with a range of cut-outs and protrusions that allow them to be connected in a myriad of ways. The cut-outs also make it easy for kids to create shading devices and screened openings that provide good ventilation in tropical conditions. In addition to generic building pieces, the kit also has giraffes, elephants and other tropical animals made in the same style, which allow for fun design solutions like a giraffe-shaped column or the lion railing around a balcony, as well as giving kids characters to populate their buildings.
Participants from ages four to 40+ happily set to work creating their own tropical houses for the first half of the session. After a gallery walk around the room, where each family presented their creations to the others, everyone was given markers to add landscaping and other features on the brown butcher table covering the tables, and clay to create furnishings, people, and other details. Following another building period, a second round of presentations followed. It was clear from the fun everyone was having that the kit is a successful and engaging toy that can provide hours of creative play for all ages.
The House4House team finished up by explaining their plans to dedicate the proceeds from the sales of the kit to real building projects around the world, hence the name “house for house.” Each purchaser would have an opportunity to choose a real project to support from the options presented on their website, house4house.org. On their site, Hortencia from Mozambique poses in front of a partially built concrete block house, with a goal of collecting $400 to help buy construction materials. Oanh in Vietnam needs $1300 for sand, cement, bricks, and equipment to build a toilet. Envisioned as a micro-loan system, the team acknowledged that funds would be made as a donation if the recipient were unable to pay back the loan.
The program was one of the culminating activities of Circular City Week, an initiative of the Danish Clean Tech Hub, a public-private partnership that seeks to foster collaboration on issues relating to energy efficiency, sustainability, and resiliency. This weeklong festival, offered for the first time in New York City March 4 – 10, 2019, provided a forum for a wide range of organizations, city agencies, and individuals to share and promote ways of creating a circular economy where “waste” materials are repurposed as viable new resources. The House4House team certainly met this goal with their ambitious project.
Tone Søndergaard, Project and Strategy Director at Danish Cleantech Hub and founder of Circular City Week, reflected on the week by noting, “the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received clearly indicates that this agenda resonates with New York stakeholders, and I can’t wait to see how this movement will grow, and where it will take us going forward.” We wish the best to the House4House team as they continue to develop their delightful building toy and look forward to participating in another Circular City week in 2020!