Sunday, April 5, 2009

Unity House as Interpretive Exhibit

What will it take for people to imagine living in a house that generates its own energy? The Unity House is a living example… an exhibit, in fact, of self-generation in an unlikely climate. Seeing the energy system in action presents the possibility in a palpable way to visitors.

I remember wandering through the Epcot Center at Disneyland with my children back in the Eighties. We walked through a 1950’s retrospective exhibit full of flashy appliances and gadgets that suggested a new way of living in comfort, leisure and convenience. Richly appointed tableaus of 50’s living spaces, designed by GE, fueled consumer dreams of an electric wonderland. All we needed was the power to turn them on and that was fully available, cheap and abundant with the flip of a switch.

Disney was really on to something. Visitors left craving the new vision and ignoring the cost. Electricity was a gift that we shouldn’t question. Adults hungrily dreamed of the living room with a wall-sized TV. Homemakers mightily desired the ‘micro-wave’ that would cook a full meal in minutes and a washing machine that could do loads of laundry in a few hours. Where would the energy come from to power this world? We honestly didn’t care. Was there a cost to this lifestyle? If so, it was cleverly hidden from view.

Our new sustainable house is an exhibit of a different vision for the future. We hope that visitors who experience this new tableau will feel the same level of desire for a sustainable way of living on the planet. We are awakening from the 'blind-faith' paradigm to realize the enormous actual cost of that seductive Epcot vision. The real story behind the power grid now haunts us with realities of global warming and climate change. Knowing where energy comes from and how it is produced is a priority for homeowners and consumers.

Tours of the Unity House focus on growing the awareness and the accompanying responsibility for being more active participants in how we live. We are very aware of our energy source. The house is proof that one can harness the energy of the sun and, without fossil fuels, support a high-tech, comfortable and convenient lifestyle. Inviting people to witness the workings of the house gives them an opportunity to touch, feel and interact with a solar-based energy system – making the new vision tangible and real.

Cindy Thomashow