It’s paradoxical, but it seems that the more we have in the First World, and arguably the more blessed we are, the less free many of us feel. Homes and material possessions take on ever greater importance and rather than simply meeting our need for shelter and security, become millstones around our necks. Increasingly disconnected from nature, and one another, we find ourselves dreaming of a simpler existence.
As the ecologist Aldo Leopold observed, way back in 1949, ‘Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.’
Belatedly, we’re beginning to see that it isn’t and in the scramble to ‘retreat’ from the excesses of modern life we leave our comfortable homes to work or unwind in sheds or even tree houses in the garden; beach huts in England sell for more than the price of a family house; and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ shacks trade as luxury holiday destinations.
The need to be free surely chimes – with the force of Big Ben – with our species’ comparatively recent divergence from millions of years as free-roaming hunter-gatherers, so it should per haps come as no surprise that traditional, seasonal residences – teepees, yurts, caravans, and the like – which were all devised to be easily relocated, leaving scant trace on the landscape – are being reclaimed as sustainable accommodation; particularly holiday accommodation, a taste of freedom being all that some of us can manage.
As interest in ecological tourism has grown, the concept has been reinterpreted, resulting in projects like the award-winning, luxury domed tents by Swiss outfit Whitepod (www.whitepod.com), conceived initially as low-impact accommodation at an eco ski lodge but going into commercial production this summer.
Whitepod’s Sofia de Meyer explains: ‘The geodesic shape allows maximum light and heat efficiency with the least amount of building materials – not my invention, but Buckminster Fuller’s back in the 1930s. Solar panels will be available for basic energy needs … [and] we have added a “modulability” element, allowing each customer to effectively build their own pod from a choice of sustainable materials: wood, organic textiles and recycled glass fibre. Set-up time for the standard six-metre pod is three hours with a team of four.’
For Canadian engineer Tom Chudleigh (www.freespiritspheres.com), freedom is ‘to be able to move into the rainforest and have an experience of it – with as little impact as possible’. Essentially giant, inhabitable globes (formed from two laminations of local, Sitka spruce over wooden frames finished with clear fibreglass), his Free Spirit Spheres measure 2.7m and 3.2m in diameter.
‘I was guided to build a spherical habitat that could be hung in a forest … thus eliminating a footprint on the ground,’ Chudleigh relates, citing his spirituality as the source of his inspiration and continuing, mystically: ‘The web of rope that connects [the spheres] to the forest mirrors our connectedness to the eco system we live in.’
He plans to build 20 spheres to be hung in an ‘old growth’ forest setting as ‘a place people can come to commune with nature and experience sacred space’....