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Grumman Integrated Household 
Grumman Corporation, Bethpage, NY, 1972

ARE PLANS FOR OUTER SPACE PROJECTED DOWN TO EARTH?

 

In the late 1960s, the Grumman Corporation was the leading aerospace firm associated with the habitability of future space stations, primarily specializing in bioastronautics, human performance, life-support systems and outer space hygiene. Although highly invested in actualizing the dream of the space station, Grumman was equally interested in adjusting their inventions to residential applications. The company’s engineers developed several domestic apparatuses inspired from astronauts’ lavatory and recirculatory devices in the space cabin, like waste disposal, sewage systems and the “Grumman Sunstream Solar Hotwater System” that could be attached in residences.


Using power conversion machines and life-support concepts already in the works for space travelers, the corporation compiled all their inventions in a modular housing unit, as well as a mobile facility for medical needs based on the lunar module house. With an energy efficiency system that incorporated solar cells, Grumman’s modular house was launched for the civil consumer market under the title “Grumman’s Integrated Household System.” House appliances based on technologies initially used in life support systems for spacecrafts, sold a considerable number of units in the US. In 1969, Grumman offered their research program on domestic space and life support systems to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, an organization charged with the development of improved housing system concepts for large volume production and the construction of 1,400,000 new dwellings (Spade, “Trick Recyclist,” 119).


Grumman’s way of connecting different apparatuses into an integrated building circuit was promoted as an ecological remedy to environmental problems (Anker, “The Closed World of Ecological Architecture,” 539). The possibility of absolute interconnectivity between household service systems with no loss of effluent was evident in strings of articles on recycling systems, spread out all over architectural magazines in the early 1970s. The Grumman Integrated Household System was published first in Progressive Architecture under the title “Effluent Revisited” and subsequently in AD. In both cases, the articles emphasized the collection of equipment that Grumman installed in the modular house, like the air evaporator unit and the bioreactor secondary sewage plant, and its environmental validity given that all units have been tested by NASA.


Along with “ecology,” one of the labels in Grumman’s agenda, (as well as in the agenda of most self-sufficient houses of the time) was “economy.” In fact the etymological kinship between the two words, both incorporating as an affix the Greek word «οίκος» (house-home), demonstrate the conceptualization of the house at that period as a microcosm of a larger societal and organizational setting or the earth at large. Both words indicate to the rules and regulations that establish autonomous governance for the house; the house as a system and an environment ordered by reasoning and law.
Equipped with digesters, hydroponic gardens, solar panels and other apparatuses, an ecological house was a productive device that executed a series of functions in favor of domestic economy. Yet, offsetting NASA’s specific techniques to the building industry resulted in a new kind of fixation with biological substances and physiological flows in the design of the household.

 

KEYWORDS: Bioreactor, Effluent, Life-Support

KEY FAILURES

 

DRINKABLE WATER FAILURE: Using NASA’s conversion diagrams for spaceships as a starting point to examine the Grumman house, every solid and liquid waste stream was segmented and decomposed to its utter constituents in a tenuous plan to produce drinkable water from collected droplets and oxygen from carbon dioxide. This plan did not really work.

“ATOMIC RECYCLING”: Towards the ideal that would generate no loss, all human waste was planned to be treated chemically and aimed to dissolve matter into base data, such as the prime strings of proteins and ideally to atoms that could potentially be reconstructed in new combinations. This approach, labeled as “atomic recycling,” operated upon the same premises of noiseless conversions that have proved impossible in earlier studies for closed loop living simulators.