Monday, October 18, 2010

Concept: Ultra-efficient living system

Andrew D Atkin

How do you wish to live?

Most of us live in private one-family units. That's all good of course because we want this feature as our personal living base, and I would say we need it. However, I think we still have a 'missing link' in the structure of our modern living systems, which is what I call the "tribal dynamic".

To specify: The tribal dynamic, by my definition, is immediate access to a neutral territory but a territory that is private to the group ("tribe"). Most of us don't have this. When we visit our friends we are in their place - it's not "our" place. And this territorial dynamic has an effect on social intercourse (at least subconsciously). And when we do meet with our friends in an interpersonally neutral setting, it's pretty much the entire world's setting too (restaurants and bars etc.) i.e. it is not private to the group. This too has a critical effect.

Generally speaking I believe that people are happiest when socialising with their well-established friends in a neutral but exclusive territory; well, at least when they're not socialising for the sake of meeting new people. I can't prove this assertion to be correct of course, it's just my personal 'human' perspective.

So, if you agree, then we can ask ourselves: "How do we provide for the tribal dynamic", so to speak.

My ideas:

Firstly you must have your own private zone (like we do today if we can afford it) and that zone needs to be more than just a bedroom. It needs to be a cabin or "mini-house". It needs to be a place where you can exclusively reside to for as much as 1 or 2 days and without feeling too cramped in. However, it doesn't need to be huge - it can still just be a big sleep-out linked to a "tribal" neutral zone.

Here is my example for what I think would be an ideal cabin:

Description: On the far left is a small Kitchenette close to a corner couch, and the room on the far-right is a double bedroom. In between is a toilet with double-boundary walls. The external (but connected) room is an office.

Additional external rooms can be added if/when needed.

The following image is a perspective of the front of the cabin.

Design: This cabin is practical, space-efficient and good-looking. It's extremely quiet (easy to sleep in) and is structured so that people can move about without tripping up over each other. Even though it's small, it does not have the "just one big room" effect. The internal rooms are well segregated.

The following image provides another perspective of the cabin, showing the kitchenette and a corner of the couch.

Obviously this cabin is thin on facilities. It is in turn supported by the main "tribal" house, shown next.


The following is my idea for an ideal main house (also the neutral "tribal zone").

It would suit a sunny context with lots of surrounding plants. (Such as a classic New Zealand lifestyle setting).

Description: In the front of the house you have 2 external showers, 1 toilet, 1 bath, and a movie theatre which is the far-left external room. All of these facilities are acoustically isolated from the main body of the house, employing double-boundary walls. In the main body of the house you have a big kitchen (supporting at least two operations) and a dining area to the right of the kitchen. You have a lounge-type area at the far-back of the house.

Design: The main house is designed to provide an open, casual social setting--moving closer to the feel of a cafe'. When people want to watch TV they can go into a separate room, so they don't interfere with people wanting to chat (or vice-versa). The movie theatre also provides a "cosy zone" for people.

You can see with this design that behaviours are more closely (and exclusively) linked with rooms. There is a "place" for everything and it's always "on". You could have a dinner party at 1 o'clock in the morning for example, and no-one would care.

The external showers are spacious and therefore comfortable to use. Being external to the main house you can access them quickly, and without having to make a statement to everyone that you are about to take a shower.

Note: The showers do not need to be in the cabins. The showers would literally be only about a 10-15 second walk away from any given cabin. Also, isolating the showers (and other) from the cabins means that no-one is rushing about in a "get things done" mode, inside the cabins. This feature would help significantly to make the cabins feel more settled, and easy to relax in. (This is also part of the reason why you would want to externalise the office).

The kitchen needs to support 2 operations at least because you would probably have 1 main house supporting about 4 cabins. So that's maybe 4 couples, plus some children if it's for young-ish people. An external wash house (or other) can be added at will. (You can put these things anywhere so I don't need to talk about them here).

You would find that people would be out-and-about at all different times, so you would find that you never need more space/capacity than what I have suggested in this example.

Note: A key feature of the main house is that no-one is there who does not feel like being there. When people are not in the mood for company they can (and will) automatically retreat to their cabins. So the main house would virtually always have a sociable atmosphere, and provide a pleasantly informal context for everyone.

To make my point clearer: there would be no second-guessing as to whether or not you've outstayed your welcome in the main house, or whether or not anyone is hanging around just to be polite etc. On this level it would be unusually fun and "free". But, of course, there is still the option of meeting with people privately in your cabin as well, just like in a traditional home (which is what the cabins basically are).

The following are some perspective shots of the main house:

Front of the house...

Looking at the lounge area from the dining area...

Looking at the kitchen from the dining area...

Rear of the house...


Other advantages:

Going by my model system, a couple could have a mortgage of about $100,000 - that would cover the cabin and say 25% shares in the main house. That's a mortgage you can pay off in 5-10 years - not 20-30 years (the banks will hate you!).

You can of course share all kinds of other facilities and costs, which further compounds the economies-of-scale advantage.

If it is a lifestyle development, you can plant lots of fruit trees and develop raised vegetable gardens etc, which also reduces the cost of living and improves nutrition. I would imagine that this option too would benefit from an economies-of-scale.

Social advantage for child-rearing:

Personally, I think it's much better for children to grow up in a more socially diverse context, where they have freer access to other (well known and trusted) people and other children around their age. It can also take a load off parents as children can entertain themselves more easily, and friends within the "tribe" can conveniently help take care of their kids as well.

It can also provide for an economies-of-scale for home-schoolers i.e. only one adult may need to stay home for all the kids.


Overall, the "tribal house" can make for extremely sociable, easy and economic living, whoever you are or whatever you might want to do. I think a tribal house may represent a better living-optimum for many people, and in turn this post is an example/invitation for people to maybe consider it.

Note: Thanks Richard (my very useful brother) for drawing up (and improving) my ideas using your ancient architecture programme.


  1. An interesting presentation. Quite a bit of thought put into it. I have read about some unique sorts of cultures like the Hutterites in N. America, who live communally. The Bruderhoff do the same. I do think there is a strong need for close communities. But one needs to be attached to the land or otherwise there will not be enough uniting them.

    A group involved in a cooperative business venture might live as you suggest. Many people are united by who their job mates are. There are those S. American tribes for examples as well as SE Pacific Island peoples. But I do favor autonomous families bound in communities like the Amish.

  2. I agree Apollo we need closer communities...but to say, those communities should be created from the ground-up (people getting together to make it their own way) and not top-down (such as extreme left-wing political parties telling people who their company should be, and how they should live, with forced urban planning designs and anti-discrimination laws, etc).