TSAZ Origins

TSAZ was the working title for this research during its inception.  I was living in Kansas City during an influx of punks and European investment bankers that were buying up derelict properties for dirt cheap.  I didn’t like the idea of buying a ramshackle house in the deep ghetto but I did want to capitalize on the situation.  I wanted an empty lot a little closer to the heart of town.  Some friends living at The Crooked Hat purchased six consecutive lots just two miles from down town KC for less than $2000.  My mind was blown, but owning a lot would require the means to colonize it.  I was confident that I could some how circumvent all city codes.


Running a mainline to city plumbing costs about $10k which was prohibitively expensive.  A water pump and a barrel cost around $100.  First and foremost I needed a shanty.  Cops are however very real.  Friends of mine in these neighborhoods would get tickets for their composts heaps, while transvestite prostitutes lay passed out at their door steps…pretty much just attacking anyone that had any amount of money they could extort; in a taxation through random punishment approach that has become very popular in the job-less, gutted, post-industrial America.  You can throw a ho in jail but he/she doesn’t have any money to take, so they ticket the compost heap.  Such conditions imposed design constraints that were interesting to work with.  My shanty needed to be fabricated off-site.  It needed to be quickly installed and quickly deinstalled if the law came down on me.  There were some loop holes to consider.  Community gardens were allowed to have sheds.  If a structure is on wheels if falls into different legal zone.  I wanted my house to be reconfigurable, upgrade-able, and backwards compatible.


I learned SketchUp and started drafting out possibilities.  I thought that crates were very interesting.  They are large boxes designed to move objects, but they’re also big enough to crawl inside of and potentially use as housing.  I started designing modular crates that would join together and make a house.

Comparison between laser cut model and virtual model.

All these punks I knew could build things out of trash and it would look pretty charming.  I started thinking I had a mental disorder.  I was trying to do the same thing as them but my approach immediately necessitated the highest technology, software suites and expensive robots.  The house was looking like a spaceship but I just went along with it, never knowing if it would be too fanciful for a practical implementation.  It was a response to issues of social justice but immediately alienated most of society in its complexity.

In my defense the issues I was addressing have been ever present themes through out civilization.  How does the common man carve out freedom under the rule of feudal lords who love the convenience of slavery?  How can we decentralize power and return autonomy to the people?  What the punks were doing in the year 2000 was kind of similar to what hippies were doing in the 60s but these efforts seemed to take no effect on society at large.  Power ebbs and flows.  The mammal is a beast and the central nervous system is a fascists state, but still the tiger is intermittently beautiful.  When it dies, cellular decomposers are the last to carry the body away.  The microbes are perhaps the most anarchical creatures of the wild.  What if the microbes could retain the memory of tigers while diffusing the body?   What makes power ebb and flow and history churn?  What are the primary ingredients?  I boiled it down to resource acquisition and technology.  My role was to explore new conditions in technology that could potentially dethrone the monarchs of ole.  As humans we are capable of so much.  We have a fetish for technology even when it’s practical implementation cannot be rationalized.  Perhaps the sexy solution is the one that will prevail.  Government housing is rational but for some reason makes people want to kill each other.  I don’t think people will ever give up the amenities of industrial civilization so maybe all possible solutions need to have air conditioners.

Composit Panel Rendering Stewart Losee

I started researching potential building materials.  Here’s a composite of OSB, chunks of XPS foam, mylar and tar.  It needs to be insulation and rigid.  The cheaper the better.


A CNC router could carve this into a flat-packable housing component.  I study military history and can attest to the power of flat-packable technology.

Frank Lloyd Wright Arizona State Capital proposal.
Frank Lloyd Wright Arizona State Capital proposal.

Frank Lloyd Wright was really pissed off when the Arizona State Government rejected his proposal for the capital building.  It too, looked like a space ship.  He criticized their love of Rome, claiming that most Americans weren’t even Italian.  Why Why Why have we inherited Roman-eque motifs in our highest seats power?  Why does Washington look like Rome?  Because of flat-packable technology.

An artist's reconstruction of the inner harbor and a replica of the type of Carthaginian ship captured by the Romans who copied the design.
An artist’s reconstruction of the inner harbor and a replica of the type of Carthaginian ship captured by the Romans who copied the design.

The Carthage ruled the old world by sea while Rome was still in the stone age.  During the rise of Rome there was a crucial sea battle where Rome disabled and seized one of the Phoenician Triremes.  The Trireme was basically a flat-packable ship that allowed unskilled carpenters in remote settlements to assemble a war machine over night.  Carthage could instantly raise 100 ships from a settlement of its choosing.  The seizure of this Trireme was a turning point in history.  Romans studied and mimicked the technology to eventually meet the Phoenicians with equal naval clout.  The Phoenicians were eventually genocided and even irradiated from the annals of history with the burning of Carthage.  We know very little about them.

Using CNC routers allows people design and refine in a virtual space.  The files can then be transmitted to any location and replicated with extreme precision.  Any stream-lining and design contributions are shared unilaterally with all participants.  If a core structure is present the design upgrades wouldn’t render old work obsolete.  This is the definition of backwards compatibility.

Here is one of my first experiments in an empty lot in Kansas City:

I’ve smashed about 1000 picture frames in my life and even destroyed a Marina Abromovic piece.  When you try to crush a Star-of-David frame you get a good sense of just how strong they are compared to a square assembly using the same amount of material.  I chose this, the Seal of Solomon as the core structure.

I begin filling out the structure with hypothetical modules that would comprise a common home.  This is just a start.  Ideally I would focus more on kitchens, sleeping quarters, storage, power generation, water storage etc.


Heart module diagram
Heart module diagram

Above is a concept for a water storage and power generation module.  A series of CNC fabricated parabolic dishes are placed below a reservoir to effectively activate a passive solar thermal siphon effect without the need for water pumps which become problematic and expensive when dealing with extra hot liquids.  A 48″ parabolic dish can light a 2×4 on fire in a few seconds in full sunlight.  These things are very powerful.  The hot water reservoir is elevated above the living space so pressure can be generated through gravity.  A cold reservoir is placed next to it so a Thermal Electric Generator array can extract a 12 volt current from the heat differential.  Storing energy in water eliminates the need for batteries.  Making the solar panel eliminates the need for centralized manufacturing facilities.  Here’s a dish I designed and cut:

Stewart_Losee_parabolic_dish_CNCThis one doesn’t work.  I glued mylar to sintra and it bent too much to create a focused light.  I’d rather work with a chrome plated Dibond which is about $200 a sheet.  Next time.

Here’s more renderings explaining the project:

Hexome Architecture  Hexome Architecture

Hexome Architecture

Hexome Architecture



I once grew some mushrooms and was playing with a dried out mycelium cake.  It was light and foamy and took me about five minutes to hack through with a butchers knife.  I knew this material was very special.  Fortunately other people have since realized this and are pushing that field of research.  The 2013 BFI Challenge winner was working in this field.  Here’s a rendering I made years back:


Using Myco-boards (a term I coined) makes everything very eco-friendly.  My current plans involve using a bunch of plywood which defiantly contributes to the global ecocide.  Bamboo Ply wood is another material of interest.  Bamboo is the fastest growing hardwood so it can be grown sustainably in a commercial harvesting process.  If you owned a hydrolic press you could make it yourself which is something Marcin Jakubowski should be interested in.

Here’s a rendering of a potential village:

This is a more elaborate Star-of-David frame assembly that adheres to the principals of backwards compatability

All the pieces of this design were essentially drawn on hexagonal grid paper.  This grid can be mimicked in the underlying structure.  In a woodshop this kind of assembly is called a “torsion table” and its usually based on a classic grid.  This is way stronger.  There was a flurry of excitement about these things called vacuum panels, which now seem to have disappeared.  Traditional insulation like XPS foam can achieve an R value of 5 per inch, where vacuum panels are about R50.  It’s an open cell foam (like Oasis foam) that creates a diaphragm for a vacuum sealed mylar envelope.  The mylar reflects 99% of infrared heat transference while the vacuum chamber is just the absence of any medium which heat could be conducted through.  These things are very expensive, and if poked, break.  Filling out the hexagons with small vacuum panel units would be a good idea.  The constituent parts of vacuum panels are cheap, but they are currently rare and only used for shipping human organs…and thus expensive.

Here are more baroque explorations in something that also has very little internet reference.  This is a Jeffersonian staircase.  Jefferson invented this ergonomic version of a staircase.  I was exploring ways of making it retractable for security purposes.  If thieves can’t even find the door, they’ll never get in.

In the end this whole body of work was abandoned for reasons that I will openly criticize other people for.  Many of the components are larger than standard sheets of plywood which make them very difficult to source.  They require huge CNC beds that can only exist in large industrial settings that are inaccessible to normal people.  The pieces can’t be effectively nested on a sheet of plywood which generates tons of waste.  WikiHouse is a similar project that is still going in this direction.  Many of the pieces of WikiHouse are simple beams but they still require CNC fabrication.  This is ridiculous because a 2×4 costs $2.50 while a WikiHouse custom CNC cut 2×4 costs $250.  Only 100 times more expensive!  My later designs attempt to cut cost by isolating the structural complexities.  I’m still very interested in producing something that can be delivered to common people.  Valuable insights were gained from this iteration of design, but at this point it breaks too far from the underlying ethos of the project to justify continuing in this direction.