At first glance, the home designs appear to be something right out of a science-fiction story.
Which is telling. Perhaps it's that traditional, comfortable-with-the-status-quo reaction that has kept innovative, affordable, sustainable housing designs out of the mainstream.
The Home House Project - touted as the future of affordable housing - features artists who have blended simplicity, scaled-down living spaces and unique architecture in home design that really takes green building concepts to the next level.
The traveling exhibit is on display at the Cleveland Institute of Art until Dec. 22, after which it will make its way to the New York School of Interior Design and the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Mont., early next year.
The exhibit originated at the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art.
``By encouraging the merging of outstanding design with the responsible use of sustainable materials and technologies, this project has the ability to affect the future of affordable housing and to minimize the stigma often associated with it,'' said SECCA executive director Vicki Kopf, in the show guide.
As is true in most sustainable-building concepts, plastics are featured prominently in many of the designs.
Among the most notable is the ``Gradient House'' design by Columbus, Ohio-based Blostein/Overlay Architects, which features an exterior made entirely from translucent polycarbonate. Interior shade cloth is used for privacy. At night, the house literally will glow in the dark.
It is a vision that will soon become reality. The 1,100-square-foot house actually is being built in the Cincinnati area, said Bruce Checefsky, gallery director at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
The total project cost: $43,000.
One of the parameters of the Home House Project included capping total project cost of each design at about $100,000.
Some of the 100 proposals challenge societal norms in terms of design, while others look much like existing housing stock.
Checefsky cautioned against pigeon-holing consumers into a particular category of home buyer.
``Who is Joe Homeowner? You can't profile that person because he doesn't exist,'' Checefsky said. ``Our culture tells us that if you spend more money, it's better. And it's just not true. It's just more money.
``By using renewable materials and innovative design, you can get better houses with less money.''
Checefsky said he was pleasantly surprised with the interest and feedback from those in Cleveland who visited the exhibit.
``What I discovered in doing this is that, under the surface, there is tremendous interest in green in this area,'' he said. ``Now the challenge is to keep the discussion alive.''
Cleveland as of late consistently has been listed among the poorest major U.S. cities, making it a prime candidate for affordable housing developments.
As far as dealing with code officials, Checefsky said it always will come down to education.
``I think if you want to work outside the box, you have to get people to meet you there,'' he said.
The Cleveland Institute of Art, as well as the art and design communities in general, are about challenging the status quo, Checefsky said.
``When we send students out into the world, we train them not to make things, but to think about how things are made. There's a big difference in that,'' he said.
Displayed prominently on the wall at the House Home Project is a quote from the late Samuel Mockbee, a pioneer in using renewable materials to build affordable housing projects. It reads:
``Houses are the great paramour for architects, from the most successful all the way down to the most struggling. We can draw them on the backs of napkins. Too often, when I look at what the builders and developers are doing, we're not talking about architecture any longer. We're talking about capitalism at its most obscene.
``The public has bought into the mediocrity and insipid attitude of manufactured and spec houses, and has given up any hope of creating homes with spirit.''
The Home House Project aims to rectify that. And plastics figure to play a major role.