Popular wisdom has it that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. I’m not so sure. How could we explain this in terms of ‘necessity’?
I’m not knocking it. I think it’s fantastic.
This, on the other hand, is damn awful.
The designers of the Cube Project are proud of what they have achieved.
The Cube Project is an initiative of Dr Mike Page at the University of Hertfordshire who set out to build a compact home, no bigger than 3x3x3 metres on the inside, in which one person could live a comfortable, modern existence with a minimum impact on the environment.
‘Minimum impact’ possibly… But comfortable — a living space of just 3x3x3 meters? Modern — sleeping and cooking just a few feet away from a composting toilet?
Even if it were on wheels, it would look pokey. The idea of this box being a permanent residence should offend us. There are bigger toilets. There are bigger prison cells.
The designers claim, of course, that it is necessity which drives this un-novation — ‘low carbon living’.
It was an important design criterion that none of the techniques or technologies used in the Cube would be solely applicable to small buildings. When scaled up appropriately, everything we used could equally well be applied in homes and businesses of all shapes and sizes. The Cube illustrates what we believe to be the best of low-carbon living.
If the benefits really do ‘scale up’, then why build so small? Small is ‘low-impact’, see?
Utilitarian approaches to housing people have, in the past, offered less luxury to occupants of new homes than was offered by grander, more expensive houses. For instance, the high-rises and pre-fabricated houses of the post war years, some of which were woefully inadequate, but much of which were solid, and well designed, and offered far better accommodation than had been available. In those instances, the utilitarian calculus was one that began with the $ per sq foot, and the provision of things such as electricity, running water and flushing toilets that many houses lacked. Now, the utilitarian calculus forces people to accept lower living standards for some notion of an ideal balance with the natural world. These are the values which seem to inform today’s designers of the good life. They are so out of touch with people, they have had to reinvent the entire concept of necessity, of utility, and of ‘modern’ and ‘comfortable’.
Philosopher Slavoj Zizek has some interesting things to say about the influence of ideology on design — of toilets, specifically.
Says Zizek, ‘even such a… the lowest of the lowest, vulgar, everyday object cannot be accounted for in direct utilitarian terms.’ It is ideology that informs the design as much as the necessity. That’s not ideology as it might be understood as a concrete political philosophy, but the whole ensemble of prejudices, cultural norms, values, and so on.
Some weight is given to this view by the fact that it was not some university technical department that conceived this project, but the School of Psychology of the University of Hertfordshire.
As part of our School’s work on behaviour change in a number of different domains, such as smoking cessation and healthy eating, Dr Page has been looking at factors which affect behaviour change in relation to the environment. If we are to mitigate the problems of climate change, we are going to need to deal with problems that are as much psychological problems as they are technological problems. The Cube Project is an attempt to show that many of the technologies that we need are already commonly available and at an affordable price. The question is, why aren’t we using them? This is a psychological question.
One answer might be that people can see for themselves the bossy, authoritarian and self-serving nature of the designers expressed in the design of the eco-lifestyle, just as Zizek claims that German, French, and Anglo-Saxon ideology is expressed by each culture’s design of toilet. That is to say that we can see for ourselves that the preoccupation with our lifestyle habits at the School of Psychology of the University of Hertfordshire belies a desperate search for relevance to today’s world. The psychologists should take a closer look at themselves.
So, if it’s not necessity which is the mother of this invention, the Eco-Cube, what is? This cube may be the answer…