Super-Sustainable Dwelling, Built to Push the Limits of Self-Sufficiency, Goes on View at U.N. Headquarters

A collaboration between Yale University, Gray Organschi Architecture, and the U.N., the CLT module was designed and built within a breakneck speed of five weeks.

The grassy enclave just north of the U.N.’s General Assembly building is no stranger to strange objects: there’s Arnaldo Pomodoro’s enormous, abstract bronze Sphere Within Sphere and Yevgeny Vuchetich titanic Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares. But recently these sculptures were joined by another curious object: a dark-brown wooden structure, studded with plants and topped by a pitched roof. The Eco Living Module, built to coincide with the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, aims to “spark a conversation about how truly self-sufficient a family of four housing can be,” says Anna Dyson, a project collaborator and founding director of Yale’s Center for Ecosystems in Architecture (CEA).

The 215-square-foot module got its start when UN Environment and UN-Habitat contacted the Yale School of Architecture about placing a “tiny home” of some kind at the U.N. Headquarters for the upcoming sustainability forum. That request was passed to the CEA, a research venture that straddles the university’s School of Architecture and School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, as well as New Haven, Connecticut–based Gray Organschi Architecture, a firm specializing in sustainable wood construction. The CEA and Gray Organschi Architecture are longtime collaborators and decided to tackle the challenge together. (Architect and firm cofounder Alan Organschi also teaches at the Yale School of Architecture.)

The firm designed the module’s architecture, carefully devising a wood structure that could accommodate sustainability systems (such as plant wall, photovoltaics, water harvesting system, just to name a few) that the CEA would furnish. The team met in person once, collaborating mostly through a shared digital model. “We met on Saturday morning July 8th, 6:00 AM, where the CEA drove their systems to set in with their crates,” says Alan Organschi. “We pulled our building in, and there was this moment where all these incredible systems slid into the cabin…it was amazing.”

The module’s sustainability credentials begin with it’s main architectural material, cross-laminated timber (CLT) spruce, a renewable resource that doubles as a carbon-sink. (Gray Organschi Architecture is a longtime advocate for timber as sustainable material, though the architects are quick to point out that other materials—such as brick or bamboo—are more appropriate to timber-starved regions.) Its CLT panels also feature a thick layer of wood fiber insulation which keeps the interior temperature stable. The large pitched roof, which makes space for an upper-level queen-sized bed, also encourages the stack effect, where hot air from the lower level rises and vents through the roof, and creates a cooling draft.

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