Friday, November 12, 2010

A little history

One day, a long time ago in the south of France, Andre, a club carrying Cro-Magnon man with an unusually large head, dragged his wimpy hairless butt into a cave to warm it up from the wind and rain and a little spark in his little brain decided it might be a good idea to claim the place for himself. He set up a couple of comfy armchairs and a table in the middle of the cave and then threw down a futon in the corner. He got himself a kitchen unit (unassembled but cheap from some nomadic Neanderthal who had arrived from Sweden) and looked forward to preparing his signature mastadon steaks au poivre and curly frites. He decorated the cave walls with charcoal cartoon drawings of his somewhat exaggerated exploits and then he got himself a mate, or two, and made little versions of himself, some of whom died - but that was to be expected given the lack of decent socialized health-care back then - and the surviving little versions of himself grew up and eventually moved out and got their own caves to live in.

All the other Cro-Mags in the clan, who at first just laughed at Andre and his brood for living "indoors", calling cave dwelling a fad, weren't laughing when suddenly real estate prices started to rise and mortgages were invented.

Those early "found" homes were quickly all claimed and the rest of the proto-human grunts had to make their own shelters. Fast forward from leaf and twig huts to stone cottages to hand carved palaces to cookie cutter suburban sprawl and now here we are, millenia later, and we all still yearn for our own castles and people being people, we all want our castles to be uniquely special, an expression of our personal values, tastes and, more often than not, our wealth. We want to create a bold statement for our friends, if not the world, to see and experience.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've thought about building my own home, after all, what bolder statement can be made than by saying, "Oh, this place here, yeah, I built it. Used a hammer, a saw, a pile of timber and a bag of nails. No biggie," but that thought was like other thoughts along the lines of "gee, one day I'd like to write a book or learn to play the piano really well or climb one of those mountains where Sherpas do most of the heavy lifting" in that it never materialized. Plus, living vicariously through the never ending reno nightmares of so many friends and acquaintances, the thought of building a whole house by someone who's never built a whole house before, just seemed like a crazy idea.

The closest to building my own home was a one room bungalow in red and white LEGO blocks which I crafted when I was eight and which was promptly destroyed when I did some "structural testing" on it by throwing it out of my second floor bedroom window onto the driveway below. Unfortunately, my father's car was in between my window and the driveway at the time so the hood of the Thunderbird got structurally tested as well.

A few years ago, I met Adrian through work (I hired him). During one of our lunch time conversations, Adrian mentioned that he wanted to build his own house. Everyone at the table nodded knowingly. There I was with my engineering degree, another person had an architecture degree, another person had been reno'ing his house for ten years or more and none of us had ever built our own homes. Here comes Adrian, a recent immigrant to Canada, and he wanted to build his own home. He wanted to design and build a house that would only use a minimal amount of energy to run. He was talking about a net zero house, though I didn't know the term at the time - and he wanted to build it in Toronto. That was just crazy talk.

One person's crazy is another person's reality. Apparently, for Adrian, crazy is just a challenge that has not yet been overcome. He's gone and bought the property he will build on. He's come up with an initial design which has been submitted for the first round of city approvals. The old house still sitting on the lot will be demolished in the spring and construction will follow immediately after. I'm going to record the whole process and help out with the build whenever I can. It's still a crazy idea but every day it seems less so.

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