Monday, February 05, 2007

The future is what you make it: Eastern Europe housing edition

You know those awful prefab high-rise apartment buildings of Eastern Europe? There's a move on to not tear them down, but instead to make them more energy efficient. (Making Eastern Europe's Tower Blocks Energy Efficient, Deutsche Welle, 04.02.2007)

I guess saving energy trumps feeding the human spirit with beauty if you're a certain type of efficiency geek. Or if you're a certain type of reporter. The caption on the lead photo with this article actually says, "The prefab's future is looking rosier."

Gee, that's good news. Isn't it?

Well, here, let me be fair. Here's the first part of the article:

Starting in the 1960s, virtually all new public housing projects in eastern Europe were pre-fabricated tower blocks. Millions of people continue to live in the buildings, which were built in an age when saving energy was low on the list of priorities. Now a group of researchers from the University of Kassel is doing their best to make the towers more environmentally friendly.

Engineer Hartmut Hübner and his colleagues have been working in Dunaujvaros, south of Budapest, to convert Communist-era high-rises into environmentally friendly housing. The high-rises aren't just inefficient in terms of energy consumption, they are also a potential source of social conflict, according to Hübner.

(Don't hold your breath. It's not what you think...)

"Here in Hungary, as in other eastern European countries, heating costs are still subsidized," he said. "But that will change. And with rising energy costs, it'll be difficult for the people here to pay their heating bills."

The Solanova Project, of which Hübner is a part, has already succeeded in retrofitting a seven-story building in the small town. The biggest problem was that prefabricated components for the buildings no longer exist, so the engineers had to experiment with parts such as solar panels or energy-efficient windows.

OK, OK, I have no objection to making existing buildings more energy efficient, especially if the government is about to hand over the costs to people who are stuck there.

But does it strike anybody else as somehow tragic that somehow all this gets reduced to 'efficiency good, energy waste bad'?

1 comment:

johng said...

Kathryn, if you're ever caught the English version of the German daily news from Berlin (DirecTV), you've seen in many stories the huge hive that is the German parliament? building. Anyway it's the type of structure to which you refer here-- not that it's prefab (far from it), but it's modernistic to the point of disorientation. It has no meaning. At least for me. I like human sized buildings and towns, with the character of time. They do exist, but you have to search for them, I think.

As loud as the hysteria of the Global Warming is, I suspect the bigger crisis may be how to live humanly with our environment, which we manipulate always to our advantage, or so we think. Those older of us remember a more uncluttered landscape, where malls and sprawl weren't the everyday environment. (And I know they aren't in your part of Oregon.) Where, to put the message of your post in context, things WEREN'T SO UGLY. So much of man's seems to be.

God's creation never is.