As agriculture developed, and humanity became more settled, permanent towns and villages emerged, again using local materials. These settlements often showed a sophisticated sensitivity to the local environment, whether the longhouses of forest peoples in Indonesia or the Native American villages of the southwestern United States, planned with great care to make the best use of sun and shade.
But as prosperity increased, homes, towns and cities took an ever greater toll on the planet, with ecological footprints stretching well beyond their immediate surroundings. Cities suck in resources from around the world and push out pollution that affects whole regions - even the globe itself. Heating homes and other buildings is a major cause of global warming.
Meanwhile 928 million people worldwide live in unsanitary, insecure - and growing - slums: and numbers are expected to reach 2 billion by 2030. So in both industrialized and developing countries building sustainable housing for the world's 6 billion people has never been more critical.
Slum dwellers usually cannot afford even the cheapest conventionally built housing, but have shown themselves adept at building their own homes, improving them and turning their shacks into solid structures when given a chance. Site-and-services schemes can help greatly: city planners lay roads and concrete floors and - most importantly - provide clean water and sanitation drainage, allowing people to custom-build their homes on top. Such dwellings make relatively little demand on the planet's life-support systems.
If anything, the challenge of providing sustainable housing in industrialized countries, and in the wealthier areas of developing ones, is even greater. But pioneering work is being done across the globe. Here are a few examples.
The Z House, Brazil
Dedetepe Farm, Turkey
Black House, UK
The House with an Umbrella, Czech Republic
By 2014, 30,000 vacationers will be able to visit Mata de Sesimbra, the world's first integrated sustainable building, tourism, nature conservation and reforestation programme. Carried out jointly by WWF, BioRegional and Portuguese developer Pelicano, it will span 5,300 hectares of land, 4,800 of them devoted to natural reserves and forest and wetlands restoration. It aims to provide high standard, low impact One Planet Living - 100 per cent renewable energy, locally sourced cuisine, cultural celebrations and even a golf course fed by treated waste water.
Forest Stewardship Council Dedetepe Farm Black House SEA Architects Mata de Sesimbra PDF Version
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