embedded house

The name aloni refers to a stone platform used for threshing wheat, an example of which was discovered and preserved adjacent to this house. Man's prehistoric taming of this harsh landscape for survival is reflected in the typology of this house. The dry stone walls that formed the terraces on steep Mediterranean slopes to retain water and make them suitable for cultivation, have been used here to define a living space on this apparently inhospitable hillside.

The Cycladic Islands now have a new destiny far removed from the subsistence farming of their past. Whilst most of the rest of the Islands in the Mediterranean have been butchered on the altar of tourism, this small holiday house squats almost invisibly between two hills in stark contrast to the faux vernacular so predominant elsewhere.

Situated in a valley sloping from East to West towards the sea, the building is embedded between two hills, and the dry stone retaining walls enable the landscape to flow over the dwelling. These same walls provide the thermal inertia and insulation that protect the house from it's harsh surroundings, whilst the 4 courtyards, apparently carved out of the earth, provide light, shade, views and passive heating in winter. The green roof insulates, retains water and provides the desired continuity within the landscape. A discrete, elegant, sustainable and eminently habitable intervention in a blasted landscape.

aloni House 237m2 2006-08 
37º02’12’’n 25º04’00’’e antiparos cyclades greece 

deca architecture
alexandros vaitsos
carlos loperena
lena zabeli
kyle gudsell
katerina chryssanthopoulou

rieta attali
ed reeve
julia klimi
deca architecture


nature's secret weapon

ann demeulemeester shop design by mass studies

There is a Symbiotic relationship between humans and plants

we consume O2 and produce CO2.

plants consume CO2 and produce O2

Life is sustained by the O2 produced by plants.

We were evolved to live outside.

We actually spend only 20 minutes in the open every day. 

We now spend most of our time in controlled but polluted environments.

valcucine edible greenwall


Plants are the most efficient way of improving air quality and maintaining adequate humidity levels (1).

Our bodies contain 100 synthetic chemicals  more than those of our grandparents(2). Plants absorb harmful manmade VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds), emitted as gases from certain solids and liquids, and which have proven adverse effects on health. plants emit natural vocs in the form of scent.

"manmade VOCs are typically not acutely toxic but have chronic effects such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness."

common VOCs are: Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Toluene, Benzene, N-Hexane, Xylene, emitted by Printers, copiers, Monitors, chipboard, fibreboard, some Insulation materials, Furniture, floor finishes, adhesives, Paints, Cleaning products, air Fresheners (!) and Cosmetics (perfume, deodorants, hair spray etc).

VOC concentrations are approx. 10 times higher indoors, and are responsible for 1.6 million deaths a year(3). Plants absorb VOCs through their leaves and convert them into Nitrogen in their root systems, a basic nutrient for plant growth. So plants recycle VOC's into their own food.

Plants reduce stress levels in buildings.  N.I.C.E. recommends the use of planted areas for pre and post-operational areas in British hospitals following research(4). results showed that pulse and blood pressure return to normal more rapidly in planted areas.


Plants improve acoustics, and can define spaces, be used as divisions, features and objects. Plants dissolve  barriers between outside and inside, and create a perception of a relaxed and comfortable environment.


Employees appreciate planting  by their employers, feel more involved in their place of work (think of pathological plant strokers and waterers), and work more effectively as a result.

failures to engage employees input in workspaces (5)  can reduce productivity by 32%, or €92 bn, and most employees want planting. Men are less aggressive and more creative in planted environments, whereas women improve their problem solving abilities. Both sexes show 23% higher concentration levels.

The denial or removal of plants in order to achieve perceived cost savings adversely affect motivation,  productivity, absenteeism, air quality and CO2 levels, so perceived savings are converted into real costs. 

Plants can reduce symptoms linked to Sick Building Syndrome and consequential absenteeism by up to 45%.

plant filled buildings require less humidity control, air quality control and naturally extract CO2, with consequent energy savings.

best office environment paris 2008


Plants should be incorporated at the beginning of the design process, and not merely artistically positioned once the building is completed and/or sick.

planting should be adequately selected, serviced, lit and easily maintained.

until non-voc producing products, furniture and materials are readily available,, plants should be used to counter these currently unavoidable pollutants, and it is clear that economic arguments against the incorporation of plants in built environments are both deeply flawed and clearly counter-productive.  

Plants should therefore be an inherent part of any building, through legislation if necessary. properly specified planting is part of the accreditation process for LEED in the US and STAR in Australia, but apparently not elsewhere.

Kitchen herb Garden proposed by Eon


(1) Thomas Palfreyman, eFig (European Federation of Interior Landscaping Groups) Green Building Podcast BrightTALK 21/04/2011

(2) Guardian Environmental Supplement Jan 2000

(3) world health organisation

(4)The National Institute for Clinical Excellence

(5) Research by the University of Exeter


bolivia's law of mother earth

bolivia has the worlds largest reserves of lithium, for which the usual suspects will be fighting tooth and claw as demand for batteries for electric cars increases exponentially. Do we support bolivia's brave initiative, and their  intended conservation of a small part of the planet, or do we allow multinational companies to destroy yet another part of the planet in order to save it from oil powered vehicles?

"the demand for lithium won't double but increase by five times. we will need more lithium sources - and 50% of the world's reserves of lithium exist in bolivia, in the Salar de Uyuni," 
according to eichi maeyama mitsubishi's general manager in la paz, pointing out that without new production, the price of lithium will rise prohibitively. the demand for lithium will outstrip supply in less than 10 years unless new sources are found.
"We will not repeat the historical experience since the fifteenth century: raw materials exported for the industrialisation of the west that has left us poor. If all the world had consumers like North America, everyone with a car, it would grind to a halt. It (lithium mining) is also going to generate pollution, not just from fossil fuels but also from lithium plants, which produce sulphur dioxide. This isn't a magic solution." Luis Alberto Echazu, Bolivian minister for mining
bolivian president Evo Morales, is keen to expand state control over its natural resources and to protect the environment. "We want to send a message to the industrialized countries and their companies.

here is john vidal's article (guardian.co.uk, april 10 2011) outlining the new bolivian legislation.

Bolivia enshrines natural world's rights with equal status for Mother Earth
Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social measures in South American nation
Bolivia is set to pass the world's first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country's rich mineral deposits as "blessings" and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.
The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature "to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities".
"It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all", said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. "It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration."
The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.
But the abstract new laws are not expected to stop industry in its tracks. While it is not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in court to bugs, insects and ecosystems, the government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and to appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries.
Bolivia has long suffered from serious environmental problems from the mining of tin, silver, gold and other raw materials. "Existing laws are not strong enough," said Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, the biggest social movement, who helped draft the law. "It will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels."
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Bolivia's traditional indigenous respect for the Pachamama was vital to prevent climate change. "Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values," he said.
Little opposition is expected to the law being passed because President Evo Morales's ruling party, the Movement Towards Socialism, enjoys a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament.
However, the government must tread a fine line between increased regulation of companies and giving way to the powerful social movements who have pressed for the law. Bolivia earns $500m (£305m) a year from mining companies which provides nearly one third of the country's foreign currency.
In the indigenous philosophy, the Pachamama is a living being.
The draft of the new law states: "She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation."
Ecuador, which also has powerful indigenous groups, has changed its constitution to give nature "the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution". However, the abstract rights have not led to new laws or stopped oil companies from destroying some of the most biologically rich areas of the Amazon.
Coping with climate change
Bolivia is struggling to cope with rising temperatures, melting glaciers and more extreme weather events including more frequent floods, droughts, frosts and mudslides.
Research by glaciologist Edson Ramirez of San Andres University in the capital city, La Paz, suggests temperatures have been rising steadily for 60 years and started to accelerate in 1979. They are now on course to rise a further 3.5-4C over the next 100 years. This would turn much of Bolivia into a desert.
Most glaciers below 5,000m are expected to disappear completely within 20 years, leaving Bolivia with a much smaller ice cap. Scientists say this will lead to a crisis in farming and water shortages in cities such as La Paz and El Alto.
Evo Morales, Latin America's first indigenous president, has become an outspoken critic in the UN of industrialised countries which are not prepared to hold temperatures to a 1C rise.


building information modelling

"BIM: an object-oriented building development tool that utilises 6D modeling concepts, information technology and software interoperability to design, construct and operate a building project, as well as communicate it's details."
we have been using ArchiCAD very successfully for the last 15 years to create 6D representations of the elements used to create a building from the concept design stage. our clients and collaborators are therefore able to both visualise and quantify the proposed design from the outset. 
bim (building information modeling) covers geometry, spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, quantities and properties of building components. using a bim programme like archicad we can represent the life cycle of the whole building , including construction processes and facility operation. quantities and shared properties of materials, including the carbon footprint of each building element, can be extracted and easily quantified. dynamic information of the building, such as sensor measurements and control signals from the building systems, can also be incorporated within bim to support analysis of building operation and maintenance.

bim goes far beyond merely switching software. It requires changes to the definition of traditional architectural phases and more data sharing than most architects and engineers are used to. using bim, we are able to achieve such improvements by modeling representations of the actual parts and pieces being used to build a building. This is a substantial shift from the traditional CAD method of drawing with vector file-based lines that combine to represent objects.
6-D modeling concepts involve not only modeling in the 3 primary spatial dimensions (X, Y, and Z): but also in a 4th (sustainability), a 5th (time) and a 6th (cost), encapsulated within one model and associated linked files. 
A team of architects, engineers, surveyors and designers work on the same model (Teamwork), and all Modifications to the model are automatically and instantly reflected in the model database. Parametric objects are created and incorporated into the project, as a consequence, 
 BIM offers:
  1. Improved visualisation
  2. Improved productivity
  3. improved coordination of construction documents
  4. Embedding and linking of vital information regarding materials, details and quantities
  5. Increased speed of delivery
  6. Reduced costs

BIM avoids, or at least greatly reduces the need for:

  1. 2d to 3d conversions
  2. manual updating of unlinked layouts, plans sections and elevations
  3. unlinked details
  4. the use of external programs for measurements required for estimation and tendering.
  5. the use of external programs for services design and energy studies.
  6. the use of external programs for shading studies and renders

Building information modeling covers geometry, spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, quantities and properties of building components. BIM can be used to demonstrate the entire building life cycle, including the processes of construction and facility operation. Quantities and shared properties of materials can be extracted easily. Dynamic building data can also be incorporated within BIM to support analysis of building operation and maintenance.

BIM "building information modelling" as a common name for the digital representation of the building process was originally offered primarily by Graphisoft, Bentley Systems, and Autodesk to facilitate exchange and interoperability of information in digital format. The first implementation of BIM was under the Virtual Building concept by Graphisoft's ArchiCAD, on its launch in 1987.


BIG BIM little bim
Published October 2007
Written by Finith Jernigan, AIA
ISBN 978-0-9795699-0-6

Green BIM: Successful Sustainable Design with Building Information Modeling
Published April 2008

Written by Eddy Krygiel, Brad Nies; foreword by Steve McDowell, FAIA, BNIM
ISBN 978-0-470-23960-5

ArchiCAD is a complex architectural design tool offering 2D and 3D drafting, visualization and documentation functions for architects and planners to create three-dimensional designs and detailed technical documentation, thus enabling architects to use ArchiCAD from the earliest design phases to the technical detail drawings.
Graphisoft's second generation collaboration solution lets more architects to work on the same building simultaneously with ArchiCAD by allowing them to access and manage the building information model database over the internet. Graphisoft BIM Server is shipped with ArchiCAD from version 13.
Graphisoft MEP Modeler (Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing) Modeler is an ArchiCAD extension for architects to incorporate ductwork and piping into the architectural design. MEP Modeler allows architects to create, edit or import 3D MEP networks and coordinate them with the Building Information Model, facilitating the BIM workflow between engineers and architects.
Graphisoft EcoDesigner helps architects to use virtual building information to evaluate energy performance, thus the sustainability of the building from the very first concept design. EcoDesigner allows architects to analyze their design for energy efficiency, providing feedback on the building's estimated energy performance.
Virtual Building Explorer is an interactive BIM model presentation tool which allows the presentation of entire building models with self-running executable files, without the need for installing ArchiCAD or other BIM authoring tool. The software combines video game-like navigation with native BIM features, including measurement of real building dimensions.

other bim software includes 


energy producing fab lab house

competition winning off-grid house prototype, producing more energy than it consumes, and using a structure of readily accessible materials readily available anywhere in the world. 

this house is prefabricated using laser-cut plywood, delivered and assembled on location, minimizing embodied energy, but maximising the specific nature of the house: prefabrication as response to specific requirements rather than as a mass-produced panacea. the components are the result of personalised fabrication using CAD CAM, and are designed to fit in standard containers for ease of transport. solar panels adhere to the curved roof maximising solar energy generation. the elevated design allows for natural ventilation, and shaded external areas for play, lunch or just a siesta.

images courtesy of iaac.
the advantages of prefabricated timber design become more glaringly obvious as both clients and the construction industry have begun to take it seriously. 

sustainable forest management for timber production converts CO2 from the atmosphere into building products

timber structures are carbon negative .amongst  building materials, timber has the lowest lifecycle  energy consumption of any building material

timber acts as a carbon sink. a solid timber carbon home contains 30-40m3 of timber, equivalent to approximately 32 tonnes of CO2

reduces construction costs, programme and waste, and improves performance precision and quality control

i can imagine this house in a rural rather than a suburban context, despite it's obvious "sod the neighbours" appeal.