• Carsten Sprotte

The making of the Light House (Act I)

Updated: Feb 7

Before there came to be what you are soon to see, named the Light House, there was a certain longing....call it an envie. After some twenty years of exploring high culture in its most exquisite expressions, I found myself, like as so many others, “locked down” in a small apartment located in the dense and sometimes gritty 11th arrondissement of Paris, a hodge-podge of fine 19th-century architecture and late 20th-century building blunders. Locked down, and only allowed to leave the house within a 1km radius with an authorization form, where could one go? Even the city parks were off-limits during this 2020 mandatory confinement.

You could still purchase Ruinart champagne, truffles, and even cigars, if you so desired, but you could no longer walk barefoot on the earth nor swim in the sea. Suddenly, the cry of nature became louder than the call of culture. The words of Henry David Thoreau I had read so long ago, began to whisper from within me:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...”

The time seemed ripe for my own Walden Pond retreat. I could have contented myself with a remote cabin in the woods--as did Thoreau--but what I truly wanted for myself, I also wanted for others. I wanted to find a path back to the essentials of life that others would want to follow, towards a collective good. It would need to be both realistic and enthralling, minimalist yet inviting, set apart but not reclusive, ecological but not regressive. My livelihood still depended on the city, so I was only prepared to take partial leave from it. At best, several months per year.

About this same time, I came across the “tiny house” movement that had led thousands to pursue a new model of happiness in the form of a midget house on wheels. Some were motivated by a minimalist mindset, and others were just trying to escape a crushing mortgage. Even though this trend was a positive and fascinating counter-movement against the predominant “bigger is better” suburbia mentality, I could see it would ultimately create its own share of big problems, as is so often the case when too many people jump on the same bandwagon.

Particularly in France, where the use of land is so rigidly regulated, it was clear that tiny houses were in for trouble. They were too similar to camping cars and mobile homes. If you were to bring a bunch of them together in one place, it would hardly resemble a picturesque French village.

Having started a business for short-term (Airbnb-style) rentals ten years earlier, only to have the legislator later outlaw it, I did not wish to face that kind of Goliath a second time around.

It also seemed unnatural to design a home on the sole basis of a trailer’s rectangular dimensions and load capacity. Admittedly, tiny houses left me luke-warm, even though they did represent a worthy and creative challenge for optimizing space and simplifying one’s life. They inspired Ikea to mobilize several million euros to conquer a new market, and they inspired me to imagine my first micro-house: a tiny house upgrade with more space and more architectural panache.

This micro-house would need to meet stringent French regulations about what could be built without being considered as a “house”, namely that it would be moveable and no larger than 35m2. In this way, it would offer the flexibility of being built somewhere in the middle of nature where a normal house would not be authorized.

After several months lost in a legal labyrinth, I learned that what was practiced “on the ground” was not always specified in the law. Whatever authorization might be given for such a house could also rather easily be withdrawn. In other words, after investing significantly in a house and land, I might someday have to remove it upon the whim of some banner-waiving civil servant.

This risk seemed too arbitrary to quantify, so I decided to abandon the “temporary abode” in favor of something more permanent and reliable, even if that required a building permit on land zoned for building. In addition, I wanted to make this house eco-exemplary, and that would require substantial investment. Before knowing exactly how the house would look, I named it the Light House, because it was clear to me that light and lightness should be its guiding principles.

Two major challenges reared their heads at this stage. The first was that of obtaining the right to build on a plot of land offering beautiful natural surroundings. Without such surroundings, there would be little point. The second challenge was to design an eco-exemplary house at an acceptable cost. It would be senseless to target buyers of high net worth, because they would always prefer doing their own thing free of any constraints. No, this would have to be a house for those (however few) who would recognize and appreciate its eco-exemplarity, and be willing to accept the associated cost. I would have to set the example myself, investing all of my personal funds into the project. I also decided on an ambition greater than just building a single, solitary house. Why not build three to six on a much larger plot of land? In this way, numerous resources could be pooled, and residents would be able to feel secluded but not entirely isolated.

I then met the French architect Rémi Pfligersdorffer, who had also been pondering the potential for well-designed micro houses. Together, we determined to build something worthy of an architect’s name: a house like a sailboat or a violin that could be considered a finely-crafted object of functional design. After a good month of collaboration, this yielded the present preliminary design of a micro house on stilts, adaptable for all types of terrain.

I refer to it as a preliminary design, because it is still (as I write) without finishings, and also because once “released from the box”, much may still change.

This is how things now stand in January 2021, as I launch the initial Light House website and set off in search of a suitable Light House place, confident I will be joined in this adventure by investors, friends, and sponsors. All are a part of the universe conspiring to support what I have committed to accomplishing.

Beyond the way this house now presents itself, there is an evolutionary path that lies ahead, Our preliminary design is really only a first step towards a truly living house. Someday, the Light House will become biophilic beyond today’s constraints, closer to the perfection of nature itself.

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