A Swiss house built by robots promises to revolutionize the construction industry

The DFAB House meets Switzerland's strict building safety codes.
The DFAB House meets Switzerland’s strict building safety codes.

Erecting a new building ranks among the most inefficient, polluting activities humans undertake. The construction sector is responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s total energy consumption and CO2 emissions, according to a UN global survey (pdf).

A consortium of Swiss researchers has one answer to the problem: working with robots. The proof of concept comes in the form of the DFAB House, celebrated as the first habitable building designed and planned using a choreography of digital fabrication methods.

The three-level building near Zurich features 3D-printed ceilings, energy-efficient walls, timber beams assembled by robots on site, and an intelligent home system. Developed by a team of experts at ETH Zurich university and 30 industry partners over the course of four years, the DFAB House, measuring 2,370 square feet (220 square meters), needed 60% less cement and has passed the stringent Swiss building safety codes.

“DFAB” stands for digital fabrication. ROMAN KELLER

“This is a new way of seeing architecture,” says Matthias Kohler, a member of DFAB’s research team. The work of architects has long been presented in terms of designing inspiring building forms, while the technical specifics of construction has been relegated to the background. Kohler thinks this is quickly changing. “Suddenly how we use resources to build our habitats is at the center of architecture,” he argues. “How you build matters.”

DFAB isn’t the first building project to use digital fabrication techniques. In 2014, Chinese company WinSun demonstrated the architectural potential of 3D printing by manufacturing 10 single-story houses in one day. A year later, the Shanghai-based company also printed an apartment building and a neoclassical mansion, but these projects remain in the development phase.

Kohler explains that beating construction speed records wasn’t necessarily their goal. “Of course we’re interested in gaining breakthroughs in speed and economy, but we tried to hold to the idea of quality first,” he says. “You can do things very, very fast but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually sustainable.”

Robots at work. ROMAN KELLER
Man and machine


A 3D-printed ceiling in the DFAB house.

Any mention of automation necessarily conjures concerns about robots edging humans out of their jobs. But Kohler believes that embracing technology will actually augment human creativity and even foster a revival of craftsmanship. “Like a craftsman may have an iPhone in his pocket, I think that future machines will be less separated from human.” MORE

 

Cold comfort: How we cooled ourselves before A/C

Roughly 2.8 billion people live in countries where the daily average temperature is 25 C, which is set to increase as the planet warms.

As a result of cheaper technology and a greater quality of life, more people will have access to air conditioners in the future. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2050, as much as two-thirds of the world’s population could own an air conditioner.

This is both good and bad news. Air conditioning certainly makes people more comfortable during hot spells, but more A/C units put more stress on electricity grids, which in turn contributes to climate change.

While our grids are likely to become greener as we use renewables like solar and wind energy to replace fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, we can also become smarter in how we design buildings.

“From a technical perspective, pretty much anywhere in the world, you can build a building and not need air conditioning,” said John Dulac, an energy consultant with the International Energy Agency. He said it depends “on how you design the building environment and the ventilation in the building.”

Today, many of the office towers and condominiums we see are predominantly glass. This brings in more sunlight and therefore heat, which means a lot of electricity goes into cooling. Right now, a lot of buildings contain “thin walls, poor insulation, a lot of air gaps,” said Dulac. “It’s very hard to keep [buildings] cool.”

Even if we were to do so with greener energy, it would still be a waste of resources.

Dulac points out some older methods that can help us keep cool. For example, typically hot countries like Italy and Greece have used white roofs and lighter-coloured walls to resist the heat.

In the past, homes also had higher ceilings that kept rooms cool. Windows were built with shutters that would keep direct sunlight out, saving the home from the punishing daytime heat in summer.

In the Middle East — no stranger to extreme heat — buildings were constructed based on the typical direction of the wind and available shade. Also, the placement of buildings was important: it was common to have a courtyard that maximized shade during the day and allowed heat to rise, which was in turn replaced by cooler air from surrounding rooms. These buildings didn’t have many windows — just a couple to ensure air flow.

Dulac notes that it’s difficult to retrofit existing buildings around the world with these concepts, especially since most people live in cities, where it’s “cost-prohibitive to do those kinds of designs, and there’s not a knowledge around it.”

But since greater cooling is going to be a necessity, we might consider incorporating some of these older methods to keep us comfortable. SOURCE

‘Nowhere to go.’ Iqaluit homeless stay in shacks, old boats amid housing crisis


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, takes part in an announcement with Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Friday, Aug 2, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

Nushupiq Kilabuk wakes up every day in a shack on the shores Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit with only a lantern and a camping stove to keep him warm — but he says he’s one of the lucky ones.

Next to his shack, which he built himself a little over four years ago, there are two abandoned boats. One is a wooden fishing boat with a small front cabin, the other, an overturned canoe. Inside the fishing boat are sleeping bags and a jerrycan. Underneath the overturned canoe is a mat and an empty packet of cigarettes.

People have been sleeping in and under these boats at night — often several people crowded together to escape the elements.

That’s why Kilabuk believes he’s fortunate for his shack.

“I thank God for the abundance of what I have. But the people around me that are sleeping around in the boats … I have warmth. I’m lucky. I feel bad for them,” he said Friday.

“But I feel bad for myself too because I don’t have an apartment or running water or power.”

Kilabuk is one of many homeless Inuit living in dilapidated shacks along Frobisher Bay. Some are families with small children. Some are elders. Some, like Kilabuk, do have jobs and incomes, but simply cannot afford the steep rents for homes and apartments.

A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report published last year found the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Iqaluit was $2,648 in 2017.

There is also a major shortage of housing across the vast territory of Nunavut.

The federal government estimates Nunavut needs more than 3,000 units to meet its current housing demand, with over 4,900 individuals on waiting lists.

That’s why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was keen to call a media conference during his two-day visit to the territory to announce a new housing agreement with Nunavut.

It will provide $290 million over eight years to “protect, renew and expand” social and community housing, as well as repair and build affordable homes across the territory.

“We recognize that this is a big step forward that is going to make a huge difference in creating thousands of homes and we know this is really going to make a tangible impact in the lives of people here in the North,” Trudeau said in Iqaluit.

The newly allocated money will flow to the territory under the Trudeau government’s previously announced, decade-long national housing strategy.

“A few of them have no other choice than to commit a crime and go to jail for the winter. They get themselves a criminal record just to stay in a warm place in the winter.”

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern stood next to Trudeau and expressed gratitude for the federal cash — but both also noted that more is needed.

“It is a housing crisis,” Savikataaq said. MORE

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How Swedes and Norwegians broke the power of the ‘1 percent’


A march in Ådalen, Sweden, in 1931.

While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.

Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change. MORE

5 Ways Doug Ford’s Government Costs Us More

Neoliberal economic philosophy wants minimum government, regulation and services, minimum taxation, and the removal of all impediments to business’ efforts to maximize profits. Doug Ford is proclaiming Ontario is ‘open for business’. His government is an example of extreme neoliberalism. The other side of the coin, social democracy, proposes government is for people. It champions the plight of folks struggling with housing, those stuck in bad jobs with poor pay, families depending on public education to help their kids get ahead, and the sick. 

If there’s one thing top of mind for most folks, it’s the cost of living. Recent polling commissioned by the Broadbent Institute showed that whether it’s housing, healthcare, or simply paying for daily basics like food, Ontarians and the rest of Canada are worried that their largely stagnated incomes just can’t keep up. And they expect their government to start doing much more to make life affordable.

When Doug Ford rolled into office last June on a simple and effective slogan: “For the People”, many expected that under his rule their affordability concerns would be answered. Within the first few months however a pattern started to form of choices and policies that benefit special interest groups, while making life for the rest of us less affordable. This budget is yet more proof that Premier Ford will end up costing most folks more.

More healthcare costs on the way

It started on his second day in office when it was quietly announced that pharmacare for those under 25 was cancelled, closing the door on the promise of pharmacare for the rest of us. It’s a good deal for drug companies and insurers who make more money off of a fractured system of largely private coverage, where little is being done to control drug costs and premiums. It’s a crappy deal for the rest of us who continue to see our out-of-pocket costs for medications rise.

Yesterday’s budget plans to “save” another $200 million through the PC Government’s controversial plan to merge Health Units, but details are non existent and it’s always dangerous to cut a critical service like healthcare before identifying where the money will come from. Many public officers of health are saying it will likely mean less locally responsively service for people. MORE

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NDP angling to put progressive policy on the agenda as the House resumes

 

Watch the video Here

Image result for jagmeet singh new green deal
In an interview with The National’s Rosemary Barton, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made it clear his main goal heading into the 2019 federal election is to “make people’s lives better.” (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC News)

OTTAWA – With just seven weeks left before Parliament adjourns ahead of the fall federal election, NDP Leader and Burnaby South MP Jagmeet Singh is angling to put a trio of progressive policies on the federal agenda.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period, Singh said that his three focuses will be housing, pharmacare, and spelling out his Canadian version of the “Green New Deal” put forward by U.S. lawmakers.

“We need more housing. Canadians are struggling with it; I’ve heard so many stories. Pharmacare for all. I really want a plan that lifts up everyone, that covers everyone in Canada. And finally, a Canadian version of a Green New Deal. We need to really take action on climate change,” Singh said.

Now, with talk of the Green party gaining momentum, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brand damaged in the eyes of some progressive voters, and the countdown to the campaign already on, Singh is promising more details on his party’s “bold” policy propositions in the coming weeks.

Among them, his own take on a Green New Deal.

“What I want to do is move towards full investments in green energy, ending all investments at the federal stage, immediately ending all subsidies to fossil fuel sectors, and moving towards investments in renewable energy,” Singh said. MORE

 

Meet the Economist Advising BC on Whether to Go Ahead with a Basic Income

‘I’m an agnostic because I can see both sides,’ says UBC’s David Green.

Cover-David-Green.jpg
There’s no clear case for or against basic income, says David Green, who is chairing a BC government advisory committee.Photo by Geoff Dembicki.

The idea of adopting basic income in B.C. is appealingly simple.

During an era when the gap between rich and poor is reaching levels not seen since the Gilded Age, machines threaten to automate tens of millions of jobs and owning a home is becoming impossible, the idea that governments should make no-strings-attached cash payments to citizens struggling to survive seems to make sense.

That’s the basic logic of an idea that has been debated and tested in Canada for over 40 years and is at the centre of a potentially groundbreaking new $4-million study funded by the B.C. government.

“In British Columbia, as in Ontario, 70 per cent of the people who live beneath the poverty line have a job.”

The three-person expert committee leading the study will compile findings from about two-dozen independent research projects later this year. MORE