Currently on display in New York’s UN Plaza, one of the city’s most prestigious addresses, is a 22-square-meter ‘tiny house’. Constructed primarily from locally-sourced, bio-based renewable materials, the eco unit has been erected to spark public discussion, and inspire new ideas as to how sustainable design can provide decent, affordable housing, while limiting the overuse of natural resources and impact of climate change.
Unveiled during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the so-called Ecological Living Module is the result of a collaboration between UN Environment, Yale University and UN Habitat. It is fully powered by renewable energy, and has been designed to test the potential for minimizing the use of natural resources such as water.
The multi-functional unit, which can accommodate up to four people, was designed, fabricated and installed by The Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture and Gray Organschi Architecture. Engineered to operate independently, the module’s built-in systems include solar energy generation, on-site water collection, micro agricultural infrastructure, plant-based air purification, passive cross-ventilation, and a range of flexible, adaptable components for both living and working.
“We clearly need more housing, but the key thing is that we also need smarter housing,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda. “The housing sector uses 40% of the planet’s total resources and represents more than one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Making them more efficient will benefit everyone, and it will mean lower bills, too.”
Millions of people across the world currently live in buildings that are not environmentally friendly, and rapid urbanization and economic growth challenge communities to sustainably expand capacity, heightening the need for innovation in building systems and infrastructure. As Maimunah Mohd Sharif explained, “The use of proper building materials, better planning, and improved construction techniques can make energy use in buildings more efficient. If adopted widely, this practice can create jobs and prosperity with lower greenhouse gas emissions.” Sharif is the executive director of UN Habitat, which is tasked to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.
The Ecological Living Module, which contains features relevant to the local climate and its New York surroundings, will be on view in the UN Plaza until 18th July. Future iterations of the module, including one in Kenya which is the home of UN Environment, will be individually designed with locality and respective cultures firmly in mind.