Jaap‘t Hooft, Boxtel, The Neatherlands, 1972
CAN YOUR NEIGHBOR'S PIGS' MANURE POWER YOUR HOUSE?
The Autonomous dome was an experimental house built and lived in by Dutch engineer Jaap‘t Hooft in 1972. It was part of a project called De Kleine Aarde (the Small Earth), an experimental farm in Boxtel, The Netherlands, which was an investigation of alternate husbandry, technology and lifestyles (Harper, “The House that Jaap Built”). The Autonomous dome was designed to be highly self-sufficient and cheap, while still contributing a living space with necessary amenities and comfort. While most other projects aiming for autonomy at the time were polarized between high cost solutions for high comfort dwellers and low cost solution for low-comfort groups, the autonomous dome explored a compromise. While not completely autonomous, the compact house maintained essential amenities and comfort for one or two occupants and had a cost of only $3-4000 (Harper, “The Autonomous House”).
The construction of the dome was a compact geodesic frame insulated with cork cement, while the dome was chosen to optimize heat conservation; it was also arguably perceived by Hooft as a more spacious interior (Harper, “The House that Jaap Built”). It had three small, carefully situated, triangular windows, only one of which opened. As a cost reduction method, the interior was very small with only a 28 square meter area. However, the space was open, except for the bathroom and lobby, and the bed was raised above the floor to give way to floor space. These decisions were site specific solutions, oriented to a climate similar to that of southern England, but with more sunshine hours and a colder winter.
The house reached full autonomy in its water supply, waste treatment, electricity, water heating, cooking gas and space heating. However, it was never completely autonomous. Its location on the experimental farm allowed for components to exist outside the main structure of the house, and this ability for non-integration allowed the design of the house to be unconstrained by the components (Harper, “The House that Jaap Built”). Removed from the main structure of the dome, the project utilized a methane digester, solar collector and wind generator. In order for the methane digester to work, it required manure from the neighboring farm’s hogs. In addition, food production was also outside the house, although alleviating this shortcoming is the fact that horticultural farms surrounded the project.
Jaap‘t Hooft reported several failures while inhabiting the house.
The basement filled with water as a result of a leak in the pipes from the solar collector. The windmill was reported to slow and the battery would die on days in the winter with very low wind. The methane digester worked for a short period of time before it was purposely stopped, as a leak in the manhole caused the inability to capture the gas. However, despite its several failures, the autonomous house was firstly an experiment in self-sufficiency. It realized its shortcomings in its conception and contributed in exploring autonomy within a compromise of low cost while maintaining a concern for human amenity.
PROP FOR THE PRESS: This experiment was a prop, staged to create an image of a closed world for the press, but not to test the liabilities, opportunities and limitations of a closed world inhabited by the large number of people who actually entered the pod.
UANSWERED HYPOTHESIS: The system components were basic and toxic build-up from carbon dioxide accumulated inside the pneumatic bubble. It was unclear if people were safer inside the bubble or outside in the polluted air.