Survival Retreat Design

 Personal Pods: The basic unit of retreat design

How much space does a person or couple need? In a survival retreat this becomes an ethical question. Whatever the size of the retreat, space will be limited, so more space per person means fewer people who survive. On a lifeboat the answer is whatever space a person needs to be able to sit down in. You could design a lifeboat with standing room only or with lying room, but sitting room is the typical answer—about 6 sq. ft. (0.55 m2) per person.

This is a generous amount of space, about twice what many third-world prisons provide—hellholes in which prisoners have to take turns lying down. The prisoners complain, and the conditions are certainly inhumane, but people do survive, sometimes for many years, in such conditions. This downward progression can be taken too far of course—the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta, providing a mere 1.7 sq. ft. (0.16 m2) per person, lead to many deaths over the course of a single night, clearly dipping below the lower limits of needed space.

Federal guidelines for fallout shelters specify a minimum of 10 sq. ft. (1 m2) per person. This assumes bunk cots (30 in. x 75 in. or 15.6 sq. ft.) are used. So 10 sq. ft. may be taken as a lower limit.

For several hundred thousand years your ancestors had an answer: about 20 sq. ft. (1.8 m2). Their dwellings were, of course, larger than this, meaning more than one person lived in a room. Archeologists, when estimating ancient populations, assume that ancient dwellings (huts, wikiups, tipis, hogans, pit-houses, etc.) housed on average 5.5 persons per room.

In more recent times, pre-Columbian Native American longhouses in some of the more wealthy permanent agricultural villages offered luxury accommodations for their inhabitants—as much as 60 sq. ft. (5.6 m2) per person. The longhouses had a series of firepits down the center with one family living on one side and another family on the other side of each. They were surrounded by vast forests, so there was no shortage of wood. They could have built larger dwellings—for the price of an effort. That they did not implies that no one thought any more space was needed. Bigger wasn't better—wasn't worth the effort to create. So 60 sq. ft. might be taken as an upper limit beyond which we pass from the realm of need to the elm of want. Of course, wants differ from needs in that there is no limit to what people can be made to want.

Thanks to relentless promotion and advertizing, modern Americans have been convinced they "need," on average 970 sq. feet per person (the average single-family “McMansion” in 2007 was 2,521 sq. ft. (234 m2) and was occupied by 2.6 persons). Note that 970 sq. ft. is an average meaning half of all Americans think this is too little (since they bought more) and the other half who have less probably think they don't have enough and want more. Until people start to say "enough," then they will never have enough.

Not that long ago, in 1954, Levittown offered, for those looking to move up in the world, large 1,000 sq. ft. (93 m2) homes designed for up to 8 occupants (125 sq. ft. [11.6m2] per person). In 1845 Thoreau thought himself well served by a 150 sq. ft. (14 m2) cabin he bought from its former occupants—an immigrant family. Just a century or so ago, in urban areas, people lived 2-3 persons per room (or about 0.4 rooms/person) and in much of the world people still do. Today, in America, there are on average 2.2 rooms/person (5.8 rooms/house, not counting bathrooms and storage rooms, divided by 2.6 persons/house).

This inflation of perceived "need" follows a familiar trajectory:

Space needed

But try convincing a real American that 20 or even 60 sq. ft. is all they really need and few will even listen. And yet tens of thousands of Americans have learned by actual experience that 60 sq. ft. is far more than they really need. They're called long-haul truck drivers, who may spend 40 weeks a year on the road. Most could afford to stay in a motel, but at some point are forced to use the sleeper behind the cab. And then a miracle happens. Most discover it's not all that bad, in fact quite cozy. Why waste good money on a motel room? So if true-blue all-American truck drivers can adapt to dwelling in a truck sleeper without experiencing intense suffering, perhaps others, in a survival situation, could do so as well (as impossible as they think doing so may be).

Think of Personal Pods as being like the semi-truck sleepers. Minimum legal size for a sleeper is 75 x 24 x 24 inches (12.5 sq. ft.), though most are between 32-42 inches wide and 75-80 inches long (16.7 and 23.3 sq. ft.)—exactly the space our ancestors found to be adequate for hundreds of thousands of years.

But unlike the huts of our ancestors housing multiple people per room, Personal Pods can provide for privacy as well as vastly more amenities. Instead of sleeping on an animal skin you might prefer a six-inch foam mattress that can be configured from a flat bed into a recliner. Each pod might include an intranet connection, individual heating/cooling system, sound/thermal insulation, lighting, drinking water, and power to run/recharge low-power devices—MP3 players, ebook readers, tablet computers, DVD players, netbooks, and games.

Personal Pods come in three sizes: Twin, Full, and Queen to fit standard mattress sizes. A Twin/Single XL mattress is 39" x 80" or 21.6 sq. ft. (2 m2); Full/Double size is 53" x 80" or 29.4 sq. ft. (2.7 m2), while the Queen size is 60" x 80" or 33.3 sq. ft. (3.1 m2). Twin Pods would be adequate for one adult or two small children. A Full Pod is adequate for two adults who like each other, while a Queen Pod, excessive for most, may be needed by the more plus-sized couples. A Queen could be partitioned and shared by those not on intimate terms. A King Pod, while possible, would simply be excessive, so may the Queens rule.

 The Three Levels of Survival Retreat Accommodations

The lowest cost survival retreat would be built around army-style bunk beds (having only curtains for semi-privacy) in dormitories along with storage rooms for food and supplies. Add shared toilets/showers, a mess hall, and you have the minimum. Keep this in mind or you will overlook the fact that Personal Pods offer a relatively high level of comfort and amenities—at a higher cost, of course. On the other extreme, if everyone in a group decides they need a 970 sq. ft. apartment to survive in, then that too could be designed for—at many times the cost. Retreats could include a mix of levels, but everyone might get along better if all have approximately the same accommodations.

So survival retreats will have to be designed on the basis of how much space and amenities a group wants, which is constrained by how much money they have to invest. The Retreat Design Team can offer what might be called Dormitory Retreats, Pod Retreats, and Apartment Retreats. Individuals/couples/families will have to decide what level of accommodation is acceptable to them and join a group of like-minded investors. You might want an Apartment Retreat, but if you know you can't afford that option, then that leaves the Dormitory and Pod options. If you'd rather die than live in a Dormitory Retreat, then the Pod option may be your only choice. Most reasonable and moderately affluent investors should find the Pod Retreats both acceptable and affordable. Pod Retreats themselves can range from low-end to high-end, as will the Dormitory and Apartment types, so many choices remain within the three levels of retreat designs.

 How Retreats Will Get Built

Individuals and couples, on their own behalf or for whatever family or friends they wish to include, have to make some choices:

1) Will you and your loved ones cruise into the future with or without a lifeboat?
2) What level of accommodation is both acceptable and affordable?
3) How many family members/friends can you, will you, provide a place for?
4) How far would you be willing/able to travel to get to the retreat? (How far will your  car go on a tank of gas?)

To those who opt for no lifeboat, thanks for reading this far.

For the remaining, you will need to indicate your general location (country, city), your level of accommodation (any or all three), how many people you will provide for, and how far you are willing to travel (the wider the circle, the more likely you'll be to find a group).

With this information we will contact you only when there are enough people in your area to form a retreat group. The Design Team will then work with your group to come up with an acceptable design. Designs will vary greatly with location, the number of people, the level of accommodations, and so on. The Team will offer a design, the group will provide feedback, and the design will evolve until all or most of the group is satisfied. There may be a few individuals who will never be satisfied and who will have to drop out, but in the end everyone will have to be happy with the proposed design.

Typically architects expect payment up-front for project analysis and the schematic design, especially if there are multiple revisions. The Retreat Design Team are professionals with a personal interest in design for survival and are willing to work with you because they are commented to what they're doing. So partial payment of the standard architect fee (6-15% of construction cost depending on the size of the project) will not be expected until after the site survey and actual development design and working drawings are needed for permits and construction. This means the group will have a very good idea of what the retreat will be like before they have to come up with any money to start the building process. The Design Team will work with your local authorities and your building contractor until the project is successfully completed.


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