When the dead start to walk you'd better start building
by N.A. | BRUSSELS
THE streets are full of lurching, brain-hungry zombies and humanity faces extinction. Should you run for your life or stand your ground? Luckily, bespectacled men and woman who stare at blueprints have already started thinking about it. Architects are designing zombie-proof housing for Zombie Safe House, a design competition, now in its third year. It was originally devised by a trio of designers at Architects Southwest, an architectural firm in Louisiana, as an informal platform for colleagues to showcase their creative talents in a “pragmatically unconstrained format”, says co-founder Shea Trahan. It now attracts hundreds of students, practicing architects, industrial designers and artists from around the globe looking for an inventive way to boost their portfolios.
Warwick Mihaly and Erica Slocombe of Mihaly Slocombe Architects, an Australian firm, were finalists last year with a design called the SafetyNet City (pictured below)—an interconnected series of nets and living-pods strung between the top floors of skyscrapers. Mr Mihaly explains the core elements: “A zombie-proof house needs to be secure—not only structurally strong but also with limited openings on its perimeter that are all closable, lockable and impenetrable,” he says. He adds that it needs to be simple and sustainable, capable of generating its own energy, food and water, and of managing its waste. And it needs to be "sacrificial—able to destroy itself and as many of the attacking zombies as possible while its inhabitants escape.”
Matt Jordan and Christina Geros, two American architects, won third prize with Look Out House (pictured above), a stylish and heavily weaponised million-dollar sanctuary on the cliffs of the Tennessee River. As with all real estate, location is key. To survive an invasion of the undead, they recommend retreating to the countryside. “Densely populated areas will probably be the most overrun with zombies in an outbreak scenario, so a rural location is preferred,” Mr Jordan explains. It also helps to be near natural resources such as fresh water, wildlife and wood for fuel. A remote spot in challenging terrain makes it less likely that zombies will stagger their way to you.
By using the apocalypse as a thought experiment competitors can identify the issues that impact all architectural design, and plan for real-world disasters, such as surviving when power, water, or sewerage is cut off. “The designers have to stretch their imaginations to see what kinds of design might be required for extreme circumstances”, says Michael McClure, a professor of architecture at the University of Louisiana and a judge on last year's panel. “This takes the ideas of 'off the grid' and 'sustainability' to great lengths”, helping to push the boundaries and envision how we might live if our modern conveniences were stripped from us. “Sustainability is currently a huge issue due to concerns about climate change and rising energy costs,” says Mr Jordan. If humans can be shown to be self-sufficient in a design such as Look Out House then “certainly we can reduce energy consumption in the here and now,” he says.
Some of these designs presume that zombies are the shuffling, groaning sort made famous by George A. Romero films and “Shaun of the Dead”. But architects admit that the more agile and aggressive zombies seen in Danny Boyle's “28 Days Later” pose different design challenges. “They make everything all the more extreme,” says Mr Jordan. “Personally, we would prefer to face the mindless, brain-hungry ‘Dawn of the Dead’ or ‘Zombieland’ variety than the rage-filled ‘28 Days Later’ variety,” Mr Mihaly agrees. “As cautious architects, however, we would not being doing our jobs unless we were to cater for the worst-case scenario.” This competition might be an unorthodox way for designers to stretch their architectural legs but it considers important design issues too.