Urban Homesteading: The Integral Urban House

Once a Victorian mansion, The Integral Urban House has been converted into a model of self-reliant living.

| November/December 1976

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    In the middle of Berkeley, California, a 100-year old house was converted into a prime example of urban homesteading.
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    House resident Charles O'Loughlin inspects one of three wooden compost bins. The containers feature slatted sides, to allow easy removal of compost (which is ready to use after about three weeks of biodegradation).
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    The containerized rooftop garden. Proof positive that anyone, even apartment dwellers, can grow their own food!
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    The IUH garden, as seen from the roof. Crops are sown in raised beds that recovered with an inch of compost.
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    Members of a Saturday afternoon tour group stop to admire the IUH solar collector.

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For all the current talk about getting "back to the land" and becoming self-sufficient, darn few folks have taken the lead in showing urban residents—apartment dwellers and city homeowners—how they too can enjoy a more self-reliant way of life. One organization that is doing encouraging work in this area is the Farallones Institute of Berkeley, California. Here's a report on just one of the Institute's project: the conversion of a Victorian mansion into an urban homestead! 

Away out here in Berkeley, California—in an aging semi-industrial neighborhood—an enthusiastic group of "doers" has come together to restore (and display to the public) a 100-year-old Victorian house. What's so unusual about that? Nothing . . . except that the stately dwelling—now known as the Integral Urban House—has become one of the country's most innovative and successful "urban homesteads".

Half a dozen IUH residents grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise chickens, rabbits, and fish, recycle 90% of their wastes, solar heat their hot water, and conduct a variety of alternative technology experiments . . . all on a 1/8-acre city lot!

"The Integral Urban House exists," explains house resident Charles O'Loughlin, "to serve as a model for a more ecologically sound urban habitat, and to provide urban dwellers with physical and conceptual tools for creating a more self-reliant lifestyle." In other words, the IUH staffers want to show by example how city folk can "live better for less" . . . while doing a good deed for the planet at the same time.

A Mini-Ecosystem

The Integral Urban House is a project of the Farallones Institute, a non-profit organization founded in 1969 by a group of northern Californians interested in low-impact, non-resource-intensive living . . . among them Sim van der Ryn (now the official California State Architect) and Bill and Helga Olkowski (authors of Rodale Press's City People's Book of Raising Food).  

The Institute's members bought their two-story Victorian building in 1974 and remodeled it inside and out during the following year. Now the structure is no longer just a house but the nucleus of a mini-ecosystem in which rabbits, chickens, fish, honeybees, plants, microbes, and people interact in a flourishing example of interrelated self-reliance.

Diana Burns_1
2/12/2009 2:26:00 PM

I was really interested when I read the article on the Integral Urban House in Berkeley, CA started by the Farallones Institute and was wondering if this house is still being used as it was originally started in 1974? I ordered the book about this house and am awaiting it's arrival. Are there any other homes in the US that are similar to this one and if so, where are they?


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