Wednesday, March 11, 2009

--Your House is a Bimbo

bimbo: noun. slang. A physically attractive woman who lacks intelligence. (wiktionary)

The post-war building boom is not singularly responsible for littering our environment with unsustainable houses. But when assembly-line technology met unprecedented market demand, suddenly suburbs sprouted all over the nation. These developments are not inherently bad, of course. They are, however, sites for the proliferation of unsustainable (and therefore unlivable) architecture. According to the New York Times, our most recent stock market decline may spell the end the McMansion. But will it kill a more insidious beast: the Bimbo House?

Like its counterpart in the world of dating, a Bimbo House is aesthetically pleasing but too stupid to make a commitment to. And yet millions of Americans have established long-term relationships with precisely such homes.

A Bimbo House is a home that has no natural relationship to its environment. On the prairie, it may be two-storied and defined by dwarfing gables. In the South, it may be massive and brick and a horrendous heat-trap. Its principle selling point is how physically appealing the structure is--so appealing that no one remembers to test for intelligence until its too late.

A Bimbo House is a home so dumb that it cannot support itself. An external heating and air conditioning unit is required to maintain a comfortable living space. A constant supply of expensive electricity is an absolute necessity. Were the power suddenly cut off, the Bimbo House would immediately become an unlivable chaos.

Why have Americans en masse signed themselves over to Bimbos? Because the alternatives were so utterly unappealing. For decades, anyone who did not want to live in a Bimbo House and opted for something more energy efficient had to live with glass and steel absurdities. Most of the homes showcased even today boast features that the average home buyer shirks without a second thought. "Really? An entire wall of glass brick? How imaginative. Straw bales instead of timbers? Amazing. Do you have anything more conventional?" No one wants the Geek, so they settle for the Bimbo. Neither is ideal, but at least your friends are jealous of the Bimbo.

Continuing to build only Geek Houses presumes that energy efficiency remains a niche market for that portion of the population with post-graduate degrees and Whole Foods shopping bags. But if you are paying attention to global demand for oil, you won't need a crystal ball to understand one fact: the bargain basement energy prices that made Bimbo Houses appealing are disappearing for good. You can't be a sugar daddy when doing so breaks the bank.

This is not a global warming issue. This is not a political issue. This is a supply-and-demand issue. The supply of oil is a limited resource. We have so successfully exported our American way of life to Eastern Europe, India, China, Brazil, Russia, Mexico and countless cities around the globe that those people are beginning to demand precisely as much energy as Americans presently demand. What's the first lecture in First lecture in Economics 101? Constant supply + increased demand = higher prices.

The economy America (and by extension, the world) depends on requires disposable income in the pockets of US citizens. We learned in 2008 that, as oil prices increase, the cost of gas increases. The cost of heating and cooling your home increases. Even the cost food increases. We learned a dangerous truth in 2008: We've reached the Affordable Energy Tipping Point. Oil is cheap right now because the global economy is shrinking. The moment the economy picks up, the price of oil will skyrocket. That will seize disposable income in America, and the domino effect will throw us back into recession. Short of an overhaul of our energy system, we're not going to see economic growth on the scale of the past generation ever again. This is not politics. This is not environmentalism. This is economics.

The average American is becoming aware that the dependence on a constant price of oil makes him extremely vulnerable in a fluctuating commodities market. He is also becoming aware that energy costs are increasingly representing a disproportionate chunk of his expenses. The average hard-working, red-state, conservative American is suddenly interested in precisely the same energy savings the environmentalist has been for some time now, though for entirely different reasons. He is not interested, however, in the glass and steel absurdities the market is offering. He does not want the Geek House. He can no longer afford the Bimbo House.

What will the market provide to fill this void? The answer is a house that is both attractive and intelligent. The answer is a house that the average American is proud to display, but can afford to inhabit. A house that looks tailored to its environment, that evokes traditional and appealing aesthetics, that exists in harmony with its environment. The answer is a New Regionalist House.

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