Sunday, June 06, 2010

Hillside Precedents


Hillside History

By John Taylor; 2010 June 06, Nur 01, 167 BE

This is a draft of a closing chapter of the infrastructure section of People Without Borders.

Precedents for Hillside Housing

Although it takes advantage of the latest technology, in some ways hillside housing is a return to the oldest known forms of urban architecture. Its basic elements are very old indeed. For example, the characteristic feature of hillside buildings is a single superstructure, covering an entire city block, that shelters many living units within. Excavations in at least one ancient city in present day Turkey have turned up a plan where a single roof was shared by an entire town. Olden days sustainability was no mere slogan, it was a necessity. Instead of erecting separate buildings, or even rows of connected buildings, they would build an entire city block at once. A shared exoskeleton was stronger, had reduced surface area and by means of economies of scale was probably much cheaper to build.

One of several examples is the three thousand year old, still-inhabited city of Yazd in Iran. Yazd endures an extreme desert climate by means of a shared, public air conditioning system built under its basements and integrated into beautiful towers above, applying renewable energy to alleviate a terrible combination of extreme summer heat and a total rainfall of only 2.4 inches a year. This cleverly designed system of wind towers and underground canals -- water tunnels called qanats -- blows air over cool water and then into the buildings above.

"The wind gets sucked in (by the wind towers) and pushed down over water below, and the cooled air is circulated through the house. In the ancient homes I saw, the room at the bottom of the wind shaft had a little pool of water and the sides of the room were often built-in brick benches covered with carpet, where the dwellers would spend the hottest part of the day." (Heirloom technology: Yazd's windcatchers,

The air conditioning system in Yazd is in some respects more efficient and uses fewer resources than the most advanced heat pumps. Combine it with the custom, common throughout the Middle East, of sleeping outside on a flat roof during summer in the cool night air, and there is effectively a zero-energy air conditioning integrated directly into the town's infrastructure.

Another attribute of hillside complexes is the use of ROO dwelling units, modular, standard-sized boxes about the size of a standard shipping container that fit into compatible receptacles under the cover of the hillside superstructure. This too is not entirely without precedent.

In 1972 an architect by the name of Kisho Kurokawa, a follower of the Japanese Metabolism movement in architecture, designed the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, which consisted of cubicle shaped living capsules piled one atop the other. Kurokawa's Tower ( has replaceable units that, like the cells "metabolizing" in a larger body, renew themselves over time. Like the proverbial Greek trireme which attains immortality by having each plank replaced periodically with a new one, the entire structure of the Nagokin Tower was designed to last for centuries by replacing capsules as each becomes rickety or unsafe.

Unfortunately, although dwellers could buy and sell their apartments, they did not have cooperative, shared ownership of the building as a whole. Forty years after it was built the building was sold to an anonymous corporation, and then slated for demolition. Most of the original proprietors of this historic building had passed it on to their heirs, who were apathetic as to its fate. A video put out be an architectural periodical featuring an interview with the architect, since deceased, explaining his building in detail can be found at:

Unlike the ROO units of consultative architecture, though, the capsules in this tower are not easily movable, either within the building or to other sites by means of a containerized transport system.

The great obstacle to both block construction and modular design is the local building code. Even the obvious innovation of constructing buildings on a factory assembly line has been resisted for over a century by short-sighted local interests, who use building codes to keep "trailer trash" out of respectable neighbourhoods. The only way around such obstructionism is a world government strong enough to impose a universal perspective upon local building laws.

It could offer as a reward to anyone moving into a hillside complex full world citizenship, with all the advantages it offers of the freedom to roam. Whereas national citizens have to stop at borders and submit to inspection for passports and visas, a world citizen living in a hillside complex could travel anywhere in the world belt without visas or immigration barriers. This benefit, along with living in a full service house, most people would think is a fair exchange for different regulations, building codes and labour laws.


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