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.


Salad

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:

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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.

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“SCADpad Village”