New house of the future built at Seattle Center


SEATTLE — Now, here’s an unusual place to build a house: smack-dab in the heart of Seattle Center.

Over the past few months, as a modest two-story house has risen in the former Fun Forest, one might almost have imagined a real-estate listing touting its proximity to the Monorail, the Space Needle and dining options mere steps away.

But you won’t see such an ad, for two key reasons:

1) The house is already spoken for, and

2) It’s not staying put.

People attending this weekend’s Bumbershoot festival will get a look inside what’s being billed as the “House of the Immediate Future,” part of the “Next 50” anniversary celebration of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

The 1,400-square-foot home, built largely with volunteer labor, is a project of Habitat for Humanity Seattle/South King County, along with Seattle City Light and the architectural firm The Miller Hull Partnership. This fall, it will be moved to a new affordable-housing development in the Columbia City neighborhood.

Its purpose isn’t just to create a home for one family, but also to showcase affordable, environmentally sound construction techniques, said Mike Jobes, a principal with Miller Hull.

Half a century ago, depictions of futuristic homes stressed their many conveniences. Inventions of every description would take the drudgery out of housekeeping. And as the World’s Fair program notes, “After dinner, there’s no need to wash the dishes — they are disposable.”

As Jobes sees it, “They weren’t thinking much about finite resources back then. They wanted gizmos.”

These days, disposable is out. Sustainable is in.

Before the first shovel of dirt was turned for the House of the Immediate Future, more than 60 local experts in design, planning and building brainstormed methods and materials not just for this job, but for others to follow.

A key idea — a particular fit for projects using volunteer labor — was the creation of what are being called “wet cores.”

These are prefabricated sections containing much of a home’s plumbing and electrical workings, the parts of house building in which technical skills are most needed. These sections are made off-site by professionals, who can perform most efficiently without having to maneuver around volunteers.

Among the energy-saving features of the four-bedroom house are extra-thick exterior walls to hold more insulation, triple-paned windows and a heat pump. Salvaged and reclaimed materials also are being used.

Not every earth-friendly feature of the house will be installed right away. For example, although the house is set up to run on solar power, the funds available haven’t been enough yet to purchase solar panels.

No one on this job is more enthusiastic than Mohammednur Mohammed, 43, a nursing assistant at Harborview Medical Center. When the house is moved to its permanent location, it will be a home for him and his wife, along with their 10-year-old daughter and twin 5-year-old sons.

“It’s amazing, almost unbelievable,” said Mohammed. “I appreciate everyone who has worked on it.” He’s well on his way to putting in the 400 hours of sweat equity required by Habitat for Humanity.

Among other requirements, recipients of a home through Habitat for Humanity Seattle/South King County must have family incomes between 30 and 60 percent of King County’s median. That range is intended to fit families that are in need but can still make monthly payments on the house.

About 10 years ago, Mohammed worked as a volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity home for a friend in Holly Park, with no expectation he’d ever have one himself. But family finances have been a challenge since he was laid off from his job as a welder in 2009.

Some volunteers on the project come on their own. Some come in a group. Last Friday, more than 20 workers came from Jet Parts Engineering, which donated its time for the day. “You could always write a check or be in a run, but this has a direct impact,” said Bob Kondziola, an engineer with Jet Parts.

Building a house that’s intended to be moved has its challenges, said Matt Haight, Habitat for Humanity construction manager. It means using screws instead of nails, so the structure can be reduced to relatively flat panels.

A concrete foundation poured at Seattle Center to support the house during construction will be broken up and removed later. Much of the insulation, and parts of the plumbing and electrical systems, will wait until the house reaches its permanent home.

This year, the local Habitat for Humanity organization will build or rehab 12 homes for new occupants, and will do remodeling or maintenance jobs on 10 homes already occupied, Haight said.

On the house at Seattle Center, volunteers have logged some 5,300 hours.

About 40 of them have been worked by Marilee Fuller a retired real-estate appraiser who moved to Seattle from Boise a year ago to be closer to her children.

“The emphasis on sustainability is something I’ve supported as a citizen and an activist,” Fuller said.

Fuller, who had worked on Habitat for Humanity in Idaho and served on the organization’s board there, has put in a couple of construction shifts on the Seattle house and also has conducted tours there.

“Even if you just go for one day, you can see that you’re accomplishing something,” she said.