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From the autonomous house to self-sufficient territories
Author: Fanny Lopez

The energy autonomy project defies a century-old system: that of the industrial model of large networks which, on the scale of cities or vast territories, comprised the dominant production mode of many utilities – water, sewage, energy – marginalizing decentralized solutions. Today, with the energy transition a vital issue, this unified large technical system is tottering. A new imaginary dimension of the infrastructure is being built within which the world of architecture has taken hold of the energy question, imagining autonomous inhabitable machines, self-sufficient cities, eco-infrastructures and micro-grids. Right from the beginning, these disconnection protagonists have fueled two ambitions: being emancipated from the hold of the large infrastructures and, through a utilities system incorporated into buildings, guaranteeing minimum comfort in water, electricity and heating. Among the figureheads are forgotten personalities and others who are famous, such as John Adolphus Etzler with his autonomous mechanical system of 1841, and Thomas Edison and his electrically autonomous house of 1912. The energy autonomy movement, however, did not reach maturity internationally until after the 1973 oil crisis. Propelled by American counterculture, autonomy spread geographically and became institutionalized, moving from the housing unit to the city and the territory. Alexander Pike’s autonomous house or Jeanne-Marie and Georges Alexandroff’s self-sufficient city attest to the power of this trend, which combined technical virtuosity and the economic, political, social and environmental project. All of them heralded today’s discussions, which this work sheds light on through its historical approach.

Fanny Lopez

– Darling, tonight’s Kilocalary was superb. – It is because of our high-density energy battery! – Cooking with digestor gas is so easy. – Well, you run some grade two water for a bath, and I’ll switch the aerogenerator wind rotor into the heat-pump compressor. – And remember to put the goats out before locking the solar insulation shutters. I hazard a guess at the film script for the first commercial advertising the Autonomous House, a Science Research Council backed research project being carried out in Cambridge. A revolutionary living unit. 1

in Dreams of disconnection
Fanny Lopez

Autonomy’s growing popularity In 1973, architects, engineers and urban planners began to vigorously debate the possibilities and perspectives of energy autonomy. Architectural Design published two issues on “Autonomous houses” in November 1974 and January 1976. The latter included a chapter from Peter Harper and Godfrey Boyle’s Radical Technology , which devoted considerable attention to energy autonomy. 1 The authors noted: During the last 3 or 4 years, one of the programmes which had dominated the architectural avant-garde has been the conception

in Dreams of disconnection
Fanny Lopez

experimental habitats on university campuses. This was the case for the Ecol House , which acquired its name from Buckminster Fuller when he visited the McGill University campus in Montreal (see Figure 63 ). Led by the Minimum Cost Housing Group, construction started in 1972. The aim of this group of students and architects was to build a low-cost model of an autonomous house for developing countries. 5 The unit was mostly composed of recycled materials, water recycling was established and the distillation system and waste treatment was carried out in the bathroom. The

in Dreams of disconnection
Abstract only
Fanny Lopez

certain maturity on an international scale after the 1973 oil crisis. Led by the American counterculture, the autonomy movement quickly spread to other countries and contexts, becoming gradually institutionalized. The scale of projects also expanded, growing from individual housing units to cities and entire territories. Alexander Pike’s autonomous house and Georges and Jeanne-Marie Alexandroff’s self-sufficient city attest to the potency of a concept that combines technical virtuosity with social, political, economic and environmental spheres, in a critical inversion

in Dreams of disconnection
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A problematic development
Fanny Lopez

technological devices. The categorical position-taking of a few fanatical autonomists forged these views. Though they did not represent the major trend of this movement, a few small groups assumed it. This efficiently deprecatory argument was often used to destabilize and marginalize the practice of autonomy (see Figure 111 ). Figure 111 Monica Pidgeon, “Autonomous Houses” (1976) The cover of the January 1976 issue of Architectural Design took this line. Behind the gate we can see one of Pike’s autonomous houses. Cows, a kitchen garden and a biogas

in Dreams of disconnection
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Genesis of a new technical utopia
Fanny Lopez

in Germany and one of its most ardent representatives, Leberecht Migge. In the late nineteenth century, criticism of the dense and compact industrial city, amassing demographic, hygiene and management problems, intensified. An international anti-urban current was organized; it constantly referred to the myth of the self-sufficient colony, one of whose incarnations was the modern project of urban dissolution, in a leap in scale. 10 The planning of autonomous houses, of agrarian communities or garden cities, attempted to establish an alternative built framework in

in Dreams of disconnection
Fanny Lopez

notably envisaged techniques that could move the water and energy supply networks, the sewers and circulation, without degrading the land and without causing the losses incurred by demolition. If the “heavy” networks freeze the structure of the city, let us note that Friedman imagined disconnection in 1958. Only the new techniques in physics and chemistry will meet the requirements of dispersion: autonomous house with photoelectric cells eliminating the need for conduits; overhead circulation or circulation on an air cushion eliminating the problem of roads, etc

in Dreams of disconnection
Lucy Simpson-Kilbane

registers for the Dun Laoghaire Laundry, and offered incomplete records for the Laundry in Galway. 49 The Sisters suggested that the material was unavailable as the congregation had previously operated autonomous houses ‘where record-keeping was perhaps accorded less priority’. 50 The McAleese Report failed to question this claim and presented their explanation without criticism. The women admitted to the Sisters of Mercy Laundries were thus subsequently excluded from the

in Legacies of the Magdalen Laundries