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Building a house can be a lengthy, frustrating, expensive project. It takes around 1000 man-hours of labour to build even a small house, projects nearly never finish on time, and construction uses up massive amounts of energy, water and other resources. Building is also very dangerous, with 500,000 deaths and serious injuries annually as a result of construction accidents in the US alone [1].

The difficulty of building is a major reason that a billion of our fellow humans must live in slums and shanty towns[2], where they have only the flimsiest shelter from the elements, face catastrophic damage if hit by a hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster and have no sanitary way to deal with sewage and waste, allowing infectious diseases to run rampant. Those of us lucky enough to have houses find they require constant maintenance, are prone to leaking, damp and rot, and need constant inputs of water, food and energy, burdening the owners with housework and with bills.

Thankfully, there is no reason to continue in this way. It is now the 21st century and we can safely abandon 19th century building methods for something better. Using currently existing technology, it is possible to build – in just a day or two and with relatively little energy – a house that will stand for centuries without needing repairs, keep itself at a comfortable temperature without an input of energy, and produce its own water, energy and sometimes even its own food with little or no ongoing work.

We can re-imagine houses as being more than boxes that we sit in. Rather, a house can be an integrated part of an ecosystem, a life-support system that lives in symbiosis with the human animal by providing him with shelter, water, food, electricity and communication. These sustainable, integrated dwellings will be different depending on local climate, population density and personal taste, but willl have in common a high level of autonomy and effective use of resources.