One Dutch architect has re-envisioned suburbia and city centers as car-free urban forests in which dwellings are disguised as trees. Raimond de Hullu’s new home designs, known as OAS1S, feature tall, slim, detached townhouses shaped like the numeral “1” as symbols of the “deep human need to become one with nature.”
“Imagine living with nothing but green around you. Imagine growing flowers or tomatoes on your facade,” de Hullu told Fast Company. Airy, wooden cabin-like interiors harken to a simple yet uncompromised way of life, each four-story structure completely ensconced in foliage and topped with a green roof. Each floor is connected by stairs encased in a glass hall with a skylight 39 feet above.
An influx of sunlight and fresh air filters in through the large windows with loggias (a gallery or room with one or more open sides) and French balconies. Solar panels and other off-the-grid power sources are complemented by on-site water and waste treatment capabilities.
“Competitive, middle-class housing for people who demand high-quality and green living,” de Hullu noted.
De Hullu’s designs shoot for cradle-to-cradle construction, a zero-waste approach that comes from using recycled materials and repurposing unused scraps. More or less the size of a tree (20x20x40 feet), the “tree-scrapers” would be prefabricated from recycled wood, with organic insulation and triple glazing to keep the houses self-sufficiently snug. “We need a new building typology that goes beyond the usual technical sustainability. We need a 100 percent green concept, not only technically but visually, which is desirable and affordable at the same time,” said de Hullu.
Delving deeper into the eco-friendly possibilities, the architect proposed a car-free neighborhood, where sidewalks are nullified in favor of houses built on a continuous, multipurpose park. Cars are relegated to “fringe” parking spaces a certain distance away from the complex. With a maximum of 100 houses per hectare (or about 40.5 units per acre), the layout is decidedly denser than suburbia but less concentrated than downtown high-rises.
“The density of OAS1S communities is much higher because of the double land use as a park as well. The concept can integrate a mixed-use or single or multi-family housing, plus hotel or office use,” explains the architect. “On top of that, leisure and commercial use can be integrated at the ground level, covered by green roofs with tree-like units above.”
Hypothetically, if these urban forests were to incorporate within established cities, the car-free idea has likelier sticking power as inhabitants could still use public transportation. In a more rural setting, the automobile would be less dispensable.
To make the units affordable, de Hullu proposes a community land trust model, where a non-profit will own the land and homeowners can sell their properties for a limited profit.