Trends in Low-Impact, Recyclable Construction

Engineers are constantly challenged by making eco-friendly construction methods reliable and affordable for both commercial and residential properties. Well a team from UCLA thinks it has the solution, and it can be built in spaces as small as a backyard garden.

The Backyard BI(h)OME

The core elements of the BI(h)OMe’s frame, floor, and skin are lightweight steel and wood, which are recyclable. The homes have a gabion foundation wall that holds various sizes of rocks together. Unlike a traditional foundation, the floor is elevated and rests of removable screwjacks. The building skin is made from ETFE shades that protect interior areas while simultaneously collecting solar energy for internal use. The wooden walls have openings that allow for ventilation and light.


The whole structure has a grey-water recycling system that collects used water from the bathroom and kitchen to use in the surrounding backyard space. Eco-friendly and low-maintenance toilets are also installed in BI(h)OMEs to eliminate water waste.

Outside Features

BI(h)OMES take up only 350 square feet of space and are built to minimize waste and focus on simplicity. They require minimal setup and labor, as they can be constructed by just two people and easily transported onsite.

These tiny, eco-friendly homes are designed to be multi-species habitats as well, allowing city-dwellers to co-exist with the nature around them. Wall modules and external features can be programmed to provide habitats for environmentally-beneficial butterflies, birds, bees, and bats, as well as an edible garden.

A More Sustainable Los Angeles

The primary goal of this particular engineering project is to address the housing crisis in Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti has stated that he wants to build at least 100,000 new housing units by the year 2021. It’s all part of The Sustainable City pLAn, which addresses local environmental, economic, and equity concerns. The BI(h)OME concept would allow new units to be built without buying new land or bulldozing existing areas.

Photekt_KDA UCLA_7981

There are thousands of acres of underutilized space in the backyards of Los Angelinos, so the hope is that some residents would be open to having a BI(h)OME built in this space. In the wake of successful rental business like Air B&B, this arrangement could potentially bring supplemental income to homeowners while easing the city’s housing crisis at the same time.

“Today, we don’t have enough affordable housing, and, given the hotter, drier climate, we’re losing environment to support all kinds of species. So there’s an environmental crisis that corresponds to a housing crisis,” Project Director Dana Cuff said. “These imperatives are something we can begin to solve — and where better to do that than at UCLA where we have an incredible trove of expertise, creativity and unbelievable students. What’s completely unique about this house is that it will add to the environment — the biome —rather than detract from it.”

Project Expansion

The innovators behind BI(h)OME see this type of construction as a viable option for other overpopulated and congested areas outside the Los Angeles borders as well. If successful, the project could even expand to commercial business properties and office parks. If you are interested in sponsoring the development of this project, contact cityLAB-UCLA Director Dana Cuff at [email protected] or 310-794-6125.

Photo credit: cityLAB

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