A team of students at the University of Calgary has designed a solar-powered home that produces as much energy as it consumes.
Two years in development, the team’s Technological Residence, Traditional Living, or TRTL, is pronounced “turtle” and in fact, resembles a tortoise shell. More important, it offers an alternative to the poorly constructed homes all too common in indigenous communities of the North-housing that not only falls short of modern building standards but also fails to accommodate the traditional lifestyles and values of aboriginal peoples.
The $300,000, 1,000-square-foot structure, the only Canadian project to make the cut for display at September’s Solar Decathlon 2011 in Washington, is designed with First Nations and other aboriginal communities in mind. The renewable-energy house is a marriage of old and new, of technology and tradition.
Inspired in part by the teepee and designed in collaboration with the Treaty 7 First Nations of Southern Alberta, the home is intended for a young family, with two bedrooms and a large, flexible social space centred on cooking and eating. Its anticipated annual net-zero energy balance will curb rising energy costs in remote communities. Building materials are extremely durable and highly resistant to mould and fire. The prototype also features interior and exterior references to thr traditions and values of the Treaty 7 Nations, such as a sun-honouring front entrance that faces east.
The project passed a major milestone in December of last year when it was blessed in a traditional ceremony by Reg Crowshoe, former chief of the Piikani Nation.
Locally sourced materials such as canvas, fur and wood, along with ochre colour schemes typical of native communities in the area, define the decor. “In keeping with Native traditions, we’re using natural materials and colors based on the four elements: earth, air, water and fire,” says Johann Kyser, a team member and environmental design student at the university. “Another definitive highlight is the canvas that will hang from the walls. It will be decorated with a Native winter count, a traditional pictographic story that describes TRTL’s creation and its occupants.”
The dwelling is also designed to accommodate the preserving and storing of local fish and game such as caribou. Its modular design allows for easy expansion or contraction as family needs change, and its low, shell-like profile fits in with the foothills and plains of western Canada. The design project goes by the name of Spo’pi, which means turtle in the Blackfoot language.
Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.