“I want to reinvent the built environment to extend the reach of consciousness,” explains the American artist Michael Jantzen. He approaches his work through the eyes of an inventor. Inspired by the ideas of Buckminster Fuller and his emphasis on sustainable design, Jantzen uses the architectural language to create inhabitable structures that are energy-efficient, flexible, and question conventional architectural practices. In the 1970s and 1980s, Jantzen built a range of sustainable houses that worked off the grid; solely powered by the sun and wind’s energy. Many of his approaches are still relevant today.
One of these structures is the Modular Steel Dome House which he constructed for his parents in the early 1980s and who lived in it for over 30 years. It’s made out of dome roofs, agricultural components that always fascinated Jantzen because of their functionality and beauty. The parts are pre-fabricated, wholly recyclable, and very robust. Jantzen merged three of these dome roofs together, like soap bubbles are merged and left 300 centimeters space between the two clusters of domes that was then filled with cellulose insulation. He designed doors and windows with customed shade louvers to better control the solar heat and light entering the house. It’s like a modern passive house.
Another stunning piece is The M House, a flexible steel structure that can be transformed into many different forms like a kind of architectural origami. “It’s made of rectangular panels that are attached with hinges to an open space frame grid of seven interlocking cubes. The panels are hinged to the cubes in either a horizontal or vertical orientation. The hinges allow the panels to fold into or out of the cube frames to perform various functions, ” explains Jantzen. Some of the parts are insulated and can completely enclose spaces for heating and cooling.
” Other uninsulated panels fold in or out, over and around, open platforms to shade the sun, deflect the rain, or block the wind. Some of the panels unfold from the face of the cubes to become places to sit, places to sleep, places to work, or places to eat. Most of the slotted panels are oriented over and around these open platforms,” says Jantzen.
“The M-house was designed to function as a single private vacation retreat, or in multiple numbers and configurations, as a complete stand-alone, high-tech resort complex. The house can be designed to be self-sufficient, powered by alternative energy sources such as the sun and the wind.”
The M-vironments can serve many different functions thanks to its flexibility and modular nature. The system can be used for exhibit structures, pavilions, play environments for kids, retail spaces, office modules, and many other commercial applications.
Michael Jantzen’s work has been showcased in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Harvard School of Design and Architecture, and numerous publications worldwide. In this episode, Michael Jantzen shares his learnings on sustainable design and how the future’s built environment could look. He also shares an anecdote about the actor Brad Pitt, who wanted to buy one of his pieces, called The M House. Why that didn’t work out, listen for yourself.