In a quiet field on the wild northern island of Hokkaido in Japan, two groups of scientists, architects and urban planners are performing two side-by-side green building experiments that attempt to merge conventional barn designs with the rhythms of nature.
One of these barn-like houses, by the Co+Labo Radović urban design laboratory of Tokyo’s Keio University, is concerned with the merging of the animal and human environments. The other, designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates, seeks to use natural building materials and ancient techniques to capture and retain heat. Both are located a few feet apart on the same Memu Meadows farm in Taiki-cho, on the south end of Hokkaido, known for its brutally cold winters.
The Co+Labo “Barn House” project was conceived in the spring of 2012, with the help of Japanese home furnishings company Lixil and several other design universities. The prototype, which researchers are calling the “next generation sustainable house,” uses a combination of passive solar design and all-natural fuels that come from biological sources — namely horses.
Because Taiki-cho has long been associated with an ancient horse culture, the Co+Labo researchers decided to incorporate horses, literally, into the house design. Since November 2012, two researchers have shared the small, two-story barn-like structure with two horses; the humans mostly take up two rooms in the upper loft.
The horses are free to roam the wide property and have their own hay-lined stables on the ground floor, but they do more than just add to the pastoral beauty. The manure they produce is collected by the researchers and composted for use not only as fertilizer for the grounds but also as fuel. By mixing in sawdust from a nearby wood-cutting operation and the urine from the horses, the researchers can create a natural charcoal that is dried in the sun and burned to heat the structure.
In addition, heat that is produced naturally by microbes in during the decomposition process in the compost room is also captured by heat exchangers in the walls. This heat is then radiated through the concrete foundation to warm both man and beast within the entire structure.