The Integral Urban House

Since 1969 the Farallones Institute has been managing their integral urban house, an experimental home in Berkeley, CA that combines food production, waste management, and resource conservation in such a way that waste output of one system becomes an input for the next.

| January/February 1980

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    Chicken and rabbit cages take up little of a "citysteader's" precious room.
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    Vegetables, too, can be raised with space-saving intensity.
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    The Integral Urban House's attached greenhouse only hints at the innovations inside.

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  • Integral Urban House

Excerpted by permission from The Integral Urban House by the Farallones Institute, copyright © 1979 by Sierra Club Books. 

The Farallones Institute in Berkeley, California is a non-profit educational and research organization—founded in 1969—that has become a leader in showing urban residents how to become more self-reliant. The Institute's "Integral Urban House" project began in 1974 with the purchase and subsequent renovation of a large old Victorian house on a 1/8-acre city lot in Berkeley. It has since become a model for a more ecologically sound urban habitat ... a home "that helps to support its residents while they support it".  

The book from which the following excerpts have been taken is crammed full of charts, diagrams, plans, and all the essential how-to information gathered over four years of living with—and refining—the systems of the Integral Urban House. 

In an integral house, each major functional system employs multiple pathways for material and energy flow. The heating system, for example, includes direct solar gain through windows, a solar air space heating system, and a wood stove space heater for cloudy, cold days. Organic wastes can be shunted in a variety of ways. Human fecal matter decomposes in the Clivus Multrum and, when fully decomposed, is used as a soil amendment on ornamentals. Urine is diluted and used as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Kitchen scraps are fed to the chickens where they are converted into edible protein and eggs, and the chicken manure is recycled in the garden. Garbage can also be composted or fed to worm cultures, which make a nutrient-rich casting for garden use . . . the worms themselves are fed to the chickens or the fish in the pond. Duckweed in the pond absorbs toxic fish waste and in turn can be dried and fed to the chickens.

These are only several examples of the principle of multiple pathways, which is closely linked to the diversity and stability associated with natural healthy systems. Multiple pathways constitute an interactive process within any food or nutrient chain. For example, a diversity of types of plants in a garden insures a diversity of insect life. This condition in turn insures that no particular insect is likely to get out of control and become a pest. Diverse plant and insect life attracts birds, and other natural predators on the food chain, that help to maintain balance. Another feature of the multiple pathway is that each component of the system tends to perform overlapping functions. One test of the integral quality of any system is the extent to which components are integrated into multiple functions.

Consider our earlier example. An electric heater can only be an electric heater, and a garbage truck can only be a garbage truck. However, a window admits light, provides a view, may be a place to sit, and can also be a solar collector. An attached greenhouse can be a solar collector and storage system, a place to grow seedlings and winter vegetables, the location for a hot tub. A garden or planting boxes, however small—together with a composting bucket—take the place of the smelly garbage can and the noisy garbage truck . . . and, besides processing waste nutrients, provide a source of beauty, food, and flowers and can be the focus of many pleasurable leisure hours.

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