If one Dutch architect gets his way, we might soon be living in car-free urban forests where the buildings look like trees.
"Imagine living with nothing but green around you," says architect Raimond de Hullu. "Imagine growing flowers or tomatoes on your façade."
De Hullu's new home design, the OAS1S, runs completely off the grid, thanks to renewable energy and on-site water and waste treatment. It's made with recycled wood and organic insulation, meeting "cradle to cradle" standards where no material goes to waste. But the designer wanted to also rethink what a green building—and neighborhood—should look like.
"We need a new building typology that goes beyond the usual technical sustainability," he says. "We need a 100% green concept, not only technically but visually as well, and which is desirable plus affordable at the same time."
The design is plastered with green walls, and the forest-like setting is equally important. De Hullu envisions blocks of the new homes interspersed in cities. "It will be an exciting and new experience of being in a city as well as being in a forest," he says. "Detached and clustered tree-like houses are mixed with trees within an organic and compact layout. Car parking is kept at the fringes of the communities. By a short and delightful walk through a car-free park, people reach their home."
If these mini-forests were inserted in established cities, people could theoretically still use public transportation to get around—helping offset some of the environmental problems that usually come with living in a more natural setting, when people have to rely on a car.
The developments would also be fairly dense—less dense than a downtown block of high-rise buildings, but much denser than an average suburban neighborhood. "The density of OAS1S communities is much higher because of the double land use as a park as well," says de Hullu. "The concept can integrate a mixed-use of single or multi-family housing, plus hotel or office use. On top of that, leisure and commercial use can be integrated on the ground level, covered by green roofs with tree-like units above."
To make the units affordable for everyone, de Hullu plans to use a community land trust model. A nonprofit will own the land, and homeowners could sell the properties on top only for a limited profit. "This is a proven concept to create affordable housing," he says. "This principle combines very well with the public park-like layout of OAS1S communities."
He's currently looking for the first location for one of the developments in an urban area, and says that it could also work well as a way to build a small vacation community in a less developed area. "Both options focus on the essence of the concept, which is constructing a true balance between architecture and nature," he says.