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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Slow Home movement...

I finally got some time to browse through my August issue of Realtor magazine, one of the few remaining paper-based real estate news sources that I get. One article that caught my attention was about the "slow home" movement. This movement was started by John Brown, an architect, real estate broker and Professor of Architecture at the University of Calgary in Canada. The movement is all about a philosophy for housing that takes as its primary analogy the differences between fast food and traditional (or slow) food dining.

Brown apparently had an epiphany while on a vacation to Rome in the early 1980's with his family. While he was there the first McDonald's in Rome opened and he succumbed tot eh entries of his children to get them a meal that they were familiar with, as opposed to the exotic Italian meals that they had been eating. While eating the McDonald's meal, Brown realized that it was the same all over the world – a standardized fast food meal. He started thinking about how architecture had become standardized, cookie-cutter, if you will. His thinking extended to the throw away nature of the packaging and indeed of the whole experience of fast food dining and how our society had adapted the same mentality to many things in life, including housing. It’s getting old, it needs to be updated or repaired – just throw it away and move on to the next cookie-cutter house.

As a realtor, I can attest to the cookie-cutter nature of housing in this area. Even if I'm in an upscale sub; they usually only offered 4-5 different models or floor plans, so every house becomes predictable. It's mainly in the Village of Milford, where I live, that one finds individually designed and built historic homes (I live in one). There are some newer, architect-designed homes in the area; but, even they seem to have fairly predictable sets of features - a trap that all architects likely fall into because of the "fast food" demands of their clients.

So, Brown started the “slow house” movement. One of the basic principals are that it is better – saves resources – to rebuild or remodel in place, rather than continuing the trek further and further out into the suburbs. Another is that it is better to slowly add quality to your home, through remodeling or new furnishings and accessories, than it is to rush to fill the house with tacky furnishings, just to be done with it. Brown espouses taking your old home and restructuring it or refitting it into a more modern and energy efficient home, using "green" building techniques and materials. Slow vs. fast, again. Brown’s philosophies and guidelines for the slow homes movement can be found at his blog – http://www.theslowhome.com/ .

Brown perhaps belabors the fast food vs. slow food analogy a bit, but his basic premises are worthy of some thought. We all are seemingly trapped is a rat race of ever increasing speed and duration. Perhaps Brown’s slow homes movement or the growing movement towards cohousing that I wrote about a couple of days ago are ways to fight back or at least to seek refuge from the hectic and growingly impersonal pace of modern life.

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