“a Pod Is No Home” – Really?

So I was googling around about micro-housing, and I found this:


Photo credit: SeattleMet.com

Background info: This sign is referring to a series of buildings with micro-units known as “aPodments.” (Now isn’t that clever?!) While the sign may be from 2012, Seattle has been and still is embroiled in a micro-housing war. Across the city, proposals for putting up buildings with micro-units are being fought rigorously by neighborhood groups and individuals slinging piping hot pour overs at farmers markets. (I made up that last part about the coffee. Although that’s how I envision Seattle-ites fighting with each other.) It’s a strange situation: micro-housing touts itself as being the most sustainable, the most green — why would so many people in a city known as a leader in sustainability and green living (and fantastic coffee and interesting fashion trends) be so against micro-housing?

Micro-housing is one of the fastest-growing housing trends in Seattle for its affordability and sustainable lifestyle. But the problems have to do with neighborhood fabric and taxes. Put up a micro-housing complex and people who have lived in the neighborhoods for years suddenly have 40-100 new strangers on the block, depending on how many units are in the building. Many find this threatening to the fabric of their communities. They also worry about declining property values when a five-story contemporary complex goes up in a neighborhood of 1940s bungalows (or whatever). And finally, there’s the money. Many of these projects are exempt from property taxes. Don’t ask me how that works, but basically the property will not contribute to the tax base that provides funding for important community things like parks and schools. And let me tell ya, if you’re living in a box, you’ll really need that park.

I refuse to take sides in the disagreement. I can see the pros and cons of each side, but I don’t live in Seattle. What most intrigued me was the sign’s claim that “aPod is NO home.”

Really? It’s a very strong statement. It implies that a pod can never, ever be a home. This begs a deeper philosophical question about the meaning of the word “home,” which just sounds like an exhausting brain exercise so we’re not going to go there. But why can’t a pod be a home? Sure it’s small, but it’s liveable as long as there’s some outdoor space as well. A pod was essentially my home, if only for a few days. With a few tweaks in my lifestyle, and maybe somewhere to hang clothing, I do think my SCADpad could be a home.


It’s All In the Details

When living in a small space, details really matter. Pops of color and interesting fabrics really stand out, but there definitely is not much room for decorative baubles. Most of the decor needs to be functional as well.

Here are a few of the details from my SCADpad:

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Living the Green Life

My front porch with garden. I love the marigolds and tomato plant.

What takes the SCADpads from micro-housing to micro-living is all of the outdoor space. The pads are small, but they become so much larger when you factor in the outside areas. Living does not feel cramped because your daily rhythms incorporate a constant inside/outside movement that you don’t really even notice. You make breakfast inside, but step just behind you to eat on the porch next to the marigolds while checking email. Each pad has one of these porches: decks surrounded by potted plants and trees. These inviting little urban gardens are impossible to ignore and become integral to life in a micro-unit. “Life in a micro-unit” is not even an appropriate way to describe it. You’re not really living “inside” the micro-unit because living is a constant flow between the outdoors and the indoors.

There are two larger lounge areas in the SCADpad village surrounded by greenery: turf, potted plants, trees, hanging wall plants. It transforms the parking deck from a vast concrete cave into a kind of urban sanctuary of greenery. There is a den-like feel when walking into these spaces that makes you want to curl up with a book or bring your laptop out to get some work done with a beautiful view of Atlanta’s skyline.

Lounge space

But living at SCADpad is green in more ways than sitting in urban gardens. The community garden has mostly vegetable plants, herbs and edible leafy greens. When ordering groceries for a specific recipe through the SCADpad iPad, the app is designed to make use of the garden, ordering only what cannot be found there. Each SCADpad has its own planters as well — it’s possible to just lean out the door while cooking and snip a few fresh herbs. My pad even has a tomato plant.

The biggest shift toward a general sustainability awareness, however, has been with the water. I have noticed myself becoming much more aware of how much water I use and the mere fact that I am using water when I turn on the faucet. The average home has an endless supply of water. When we turn on the faucet, we don’t think about where the water is coming from. There isn’t even a question of whether there will be enough water: turn on the faucet and the water will come. In SCADpad, the toilet, shower and sinks run as normal, but the water is coming from a tank underneath the unit. There is not an endless supply of water: use up the water in the tank and you’re out. I’m not sure if I’m using less water than I normally do at my apartment — I probably am — and, yes, our property manager will come fill up the tank if we do use up our water. But the possibility of running out of water is there. I am now very much aware that when I turn on the faucet or shower, I’m using a resource that is limited.

I feel like this hits on the biggest misconception of sustainability and “going green.” It’s not about shifting a few things in your daily routine — throwing the plastic in the recycling instead of the trash, composting left over food scraps, turning off the water while soaping up, unplugging electronics and turning off lights you’re not using. I certainly believed that before going into SCADpad — it seems there’s this aura around “sustainability” and “living green” of encouraging people to “change” because it’s “good.” But I would argue it’s not just about “change.” You’ve probably heard the phrase, “sustainability is a lifestyle.” I thought it was just another pithy, bumper sticker-worthy phrase, but living in SCADpad has given it meaning. These buzzwords are lifestyles, but achieving them takes a forced shift in perspective, a willingness to make yourself aware of where your water comes from, where your food comes from, where your clothes come from, even where your electricity comes from. It brings a new meaning to the term hyper-consumerism: we live in a world in which nothing is scarce at a consumer level, though we’re going toward an age that will have real scarcities of things we take for granted like food and water. Sustainability and green efforts are an attempt to stem that hyper-consumerism and make people aware that the electricity, water and food they consume are limited resources. I have found through SCADpad that, when you are aware of those limits, it makes those products much more precious. It turns them into something you want to conserve, because you have to.

Does My SCADpad Have a User’s Manual?

You walk up to your door and turn the key. Lights flash in a ring around the lock — it recognizes you trying to open the door. You enter, press the “home” button on the iPad on the counter and lights turn on. You change the hue from the crisper blue you like in the morning to a warm yellow you prefer in the evening. You want to watch the sunset, so you press another icon, and your misted windows become clear.

This is what coming home to SCADpad is like. Most of the electronics are controlled through the iPad. Each light has an icon that turns it on and off, and the windows can be misted or de-misted by the touch of a button. The bathroom lights are motion-sensored, so no stumbling around in the dark.

In the kitchen, the stovetop is magnetic induction, meaning the burner will only heat magnetized metal. The pots and pans have been coated in magnetized metal to respond to the burner. Have a recipe you want to try, but not all the ingredients? Grab your iPad: it can order the pantry and grocery items you need and have them delivered to your door. Don’t feel like cooking? Grab your iPad: it can order prepared food (and much more than just pizza) delivered in recyclable containers. (Unfortunately, this feature was not up and running while I was living in SCADpad, so I didn’t get to test out this awesomeness.)

Beyond the pods, technology has even been incorporated into the greenspaces. In the “playroom,” a motion-sensored light game projects overhead — you use your body to control the spheres of light on the ceiling. The projector can also be hooked up to a computer for a movie or watching TV, while laying down. And there are lightsabers. Not necessarily completely out of Star Wars, these are hollow tubes that can glow at night. And there is a 3D printer:


Those little baubles on the left were actually printed. The idea is, that whatever is not in SCADpad, you can print, although many of the objects take a few hours to produce. Still, it’s fascinating to watch the printer jets spinning around dropping plastic that builds up into a coaster or a toy car.

These features are novel and fun to play with, but it made me wonder — is this how we are going to live? Many people already have their houses hooked up to smartphones and iPads where they can lock their doors from a distance, turn the lights on or watch their children sleep. Grocery delivery is not a new thing in many major cities, but for most of us, these features are pretty new and exciting. But will this be the new norm? It’s easy to toss out ideas about what the future will be like, but SCADpad incorporates those tech features into the daily life at the pad — it’s impossible to not be in contact with “new” tech for basic things from turning the lights on and opening the windows to playing a game where you control the features with your body, without wearing any kind of device. And what about even further in the future: when the refrigerator senses the milk is low and orders another carton that’s delivered by droid to your door before we step into our self-driving flying cars to go to work? Will we even have to actually go to work? Or will we hologram ourselves in?

When thinking of how science and technology will change our lives in the future, the go-to ideas are flying cars and colonies on the moon. But what’s even more fascinating is thinking about how tech is slowly filtering its way into every facet of our daily life. Think about it: ten years ago, no one had a smartphone. And the thing that controls the SCADpad — the iPad — was introduced to the world only four years ago. There are apps for just about anything — imagine the rest of our electronics and appliances developing similar technologies.


I was going to post next about the technology features of SCADpad, but then I ate lunch. And now, I have to tell everyone about the salad I just had.

Normally, I’m not a fan of salad. It’s something that’s just eaten with a meal, to get the day’s quota of leafy greens. No one ever finishes a meal and says, “well, the steak was ok, but that salad was unbelievable.” Honestly, who has ever had a memorable salad? A salad where one bite blows your life’s worth of eating experiences out of the water and is the most amazing thing to grace your tastebuds?

I have.

As part of the larger sustainability effort for the project, SCADpad has a community garden:

Community garden with both flowering and edible plants.

Community garden with both flowering and edible plants.

While the vegetables have yet to grow, the garden is full of herbs and edible leafy greens. I decided to harvest some lettuce and mustard greens. It really does not get much fresher than this:


For leaves so fresh and lovely, really the only way to fix them is with a simple vinaigrette — just olive oil and red wine vinegar. I had some leftover red onion I tossed in and voila, salad. Pretty and simple, right?

It was heaven on a handcrafted ceramic dish. The simplicity of the vinaigrette, the peppery bite of the mustard greens, a slight crunch with the onion. And the freshness of lettuce just brought in from the sun. It was so good I ate it all before I realized I forgot to take a picture. Which means only one thing: I’ll just have to make another one.

So What Is SCADpad?

I get this question from just about everyone — professors, friends, my family, the pizza delivery guy last night. I try to explain, but I usually get confused stares and then the typical follow-up: but why?

Let me explain. (If you would like the official SCAD version, click here.)

SCADpad began as a conversation: how can the arts change the world? How can a field so many find fluffy, highbrow and irrelevant contribute to larger global conversations in a world increasingly dominated by science, technology, engineering and math? (STEM, if you will.)

The world we live in is changing — rapidly and radically. In the past decade, people have been moving into cities at a rate that has not been seen since the Industrial Revolution of the Westernized world (that was the 18th-19th centuries, y’all). Global population is increasing, resources are decreasing, and climate change is a major issue. Basically, hold onto your hat because the 21st century is looking to be more than just a bumpy ride.

Unless we change.

In the past few decades, certain buzzwords and phrases have popped up and stuck: recycling, going green, sustainability. While many thought they would just be fads, they don’t seem to be going away. We could probably add to this list a phenomenon that’s been around since the early 2000’s: micro-housing. In a sort of subculture of sustainable engineering and architecture, engineers, architects and the like have been competing with each other to build ever-smaller units. Google “micro-housing” and you’ll find these units being touted as ways to provide affordable urban housing and even as a way to shelter the homeless. Seattle has received a lot of attention recently for its microunits, and an apartment complex in Brazil boasts 174-square-foot apartments. Still, not a lot of people would jump at living in a smaller space, let alone micro.

This is where SCADpad comes in. In standard SCAD fashion, they chose an already existing complex — the parking deck — and wanted to find a way to repurpose the building into something that is a little bit more relevant to what the 21st century is turning out to be. Where are people going to live in cities? How can we live greener? Can people actually live in these super small spaces?

From the beginning, the focus was the parking space, and students from nearly every department of SCAD, from interior design to sustainability design to fibers, worked to answer this one question: can we build something livable in 135-square feet?

Fast forward 1 year later, and we have SCADpad and an answer to the original question, a resounding YES. And by having students live in the spaces, SCAD will provide even more feedback to the micro-housing discussion: yeah, it’s cool to build these things, but are they actually liveable?

I’ll let you know.


“SCADpad Village”

Traffic, Trucks and Trains

SCADpad Day 1! A fantastic day of exploring the spaces, attempting to cook, playing with the iPad that controls my lights and windows (and can apparently order food as my SCADpad-mate Rachel just informed me? Clearly I need to play more), and generally getting settled into SCADpad. I have so many things I want to talk about — many, many posts worth of things to document and discuss!

But first, we need to talk about last night.

I was worried that the noise of traffic would keep me awake all night being this close to the highway:


That is the view from my “front porch” (see Instagram feed on the right). Yeah, that’s the Downtown Connector. There is also an Amtrak Station just across the highway.

Surprisingly, it is not the noise that is abrasive about being so close to the highway. No, the sounds of the constant streams of cars is sort of soothing, a relaxing hum of traffic murmuring in the background. During the day, it creates almost a kind of sound cocoon that makes you feel like you’re removed from the city, though right on top of it at the same time — looking out over, into and on top of it. Even the train isn’t that bad when the driver blares his horn way too many times than necessary as it pulls into the station. No, it is not the noise. It’s the shaking.

Whenever a big truck enters the on-ramp that wraps around SCAD’s main campus right below my SCADpad, whenever a train rumbles into the Amtrak station just down the road, perhaps even whenever there is a big wind, my SCADpad shakes. I did not notice this until I had finally put away the iPad that controls my lights and windows (more on that later), climbed into my lofted, “hammock” bed, and was drifting off with that same heady feeling of falling asleep on Christmas night when you’re four years old and exhausted but exhilarated from all the day’s excitement. (Am I really in SCADpad? I’m really in SCADpad!)

And then my SCADpad shook me out of that state. I mean that in the most literal sense. The actual pod shook me awake. The actual pod was slightly shaking. From my lofted, hammock bed, it definitely felt like the earth was rumbling. This happened three or four times before I realized that it was not an earthquake, tornado, or unnaturally powerful wind, but my SCADpad shook slightly whenever a truck or a train went by. I asked my fellow SCADpad residents whether their pads shook last night, and they said no. I’m the only one with a lofted bed, so I think it has something to do with that, and the fact I’m in a parking deck.