UN Environment, Yale University, UN-Habitat Build Ecological Living Module at HLPF
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The Ecological Living Module, a “tiny house,” constructed outside the HLPF, represents a self-sufficient housing option that can meet the needs of growing populations.

The Module is designed by Yale University’s Center for Ecosystems in Architecture, in collaboration with UN Environment, UN-Habitat and Gray Organschi Architecture.

10 July 2018: Unveiled at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment), Yale University and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the Ecological Living Module (ELM) aimed to spark discussion on how to provide sustainable, affordable housing to growing populations.

Speaking at the launch, UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim stressed that, with the housing sector contributing a third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, new solutions for sustainable lifestyles are needed. The ELM, a “tiny house,” designed by Yale University’s Center for Ecosystems in Architecture (CEA), in collaboration with UN Environment, UN-Habitat and Gray Organschi Architecture, is able to operate independently using renewable energy. At 22 square meters (approximately 236 square feet), the structure can house up to four people, and is built “from locally-sourced, bio-based renewable materials.”

The ELM is intended to showcase adaptable construction techniques (SDGs 9, 11); the integration of locally-sourced materials (SDG 12); on-site solar energy (SDG 7); water recapture and purification (SDG 6); indoor air quality remediation (SDGs 3, 11, 13); and waste management integrated with micro-farming (SDGs 2, 6, 11, 12). According to the ELM pamphlet, which maps the structure’s various features to the SDGs, the Module is intended to provide an off-grid living solution that can function independently from utilities and other infrastructure.

With nearly one billion people worldwide living in informal settlements, a press release notes, the ELM offers an example of a circular system that does not require external support. The designers highlight that, as a self-sufficient system, the Module can address challenges relating to energy and water access as well as food security, while mitigating the environmental impacts associated with society’s current development paradigm.

In terms of environmental systems, the house’s many features are combined with data systems that allow for demonstration and tracking of the ELM’s performance. The creators highlight that both the materials used in construction, and the design of the home itself work to limit the amount of energy needed to both build and live in the structure. For the ELM built on site at UN Headquarters this month, the pamphlet maps out exactly which types of materials, down to the species of tree, were used for each part of the home, be it roofing, siding, framing or insulation.

The ELM’s design and choice of materials minimize the need for lighting, heating and cooling appliances through passive systems. They also aim to provide a living space across cultural and geographic contexts. Future iterations of the ELM in Kenya and Quito, the pamphlet notes, will respond to specific local climate and cultural contexts. [UN Environment Press Release] [ELM Photos and Pamphlet]

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