It's one thing to imagine sustainable housing; it's quite another to go out and build it. The challenge of such a feat is multiplied when the location is Malaysia, not traditionally thought of as being at the forefront of sustainable development. But the "Solar-Hydrogen Eco-House" has the dual distinction of being aggressively forward-looking in its application of sustainable technology and design, as well as being designed and built entirely by Malay engineers and architects.
Combining a solar-hydrogen system (using hydrogen both as a fuel cell medium and as a utility gas for the water heater and stove) with rainwater recycling, low-energy architectural features, and traditional Malay design, the Eco-House is a proof-of-concept for sustainable dwellings in Southeast Asia and beyond. As a one-off test home, it was fairly expensive to build: RM250,000, or about $66,000, largely paid for by the Malaysian government's Science, Technology, and Environment Ministry. It's not likely to trigger an immediate burst of Eco-Home development across Malaysia, at least at first. Still, it's an extremely positive development.
I have to admit that I find projects like this emerging from smaller, developing/post-developing nations to be far more exciting than equivalent efforts in the United States, Europe or Japans. This comes partially from experience with the inertia of the American housing market, extrapolated to other hyperdeveloped nations. But it also derives from a growing belief that the real 21st century revolution in sustainability (and, potentially, politics and economics) will come from the so-called "Third World." These nations are going to be first to be hurt by the ravages of climate change, and won't have the resources to adopt -- or time to wait for -- Washington-approved technologies and practices.
The second US Solar Decathlon is already beginning. The schools which will compete have been chosen from the proposals submitted and the teams are getting ready to plan throughout this year and then build their houses on the Mall in DC in September of 2005.
In my neck of the woods, RISD and UMass Dartmouth are going to be competing. I've met with the RISD folks and they are psyched!