When Bluto Blutarsky smashed the guitar of a cheeseball singer/songwriter in Animal House, he struck a blow for status-quo-style tough guys everywhere, reinforcing the hippie vs. fratboy mentality of the '60s and '70s in classic style.
Today that iconic movie moment seems like ancient history. Issues like high gas prices, soaring energy costs and a stagnant job market have united even environmentalists and business people.
So when Drexel's student-led SmartHouse project announced they'd be rehabbing a former frat house at 35th and Race, and creating an engineering laboratory focused on sustainability and practicality in modern urban homebuilding, the reaction was simple: "How soon can you start?"
The mind reels at the possibilities. A ventilation system composed of recycled Natty cans, perhaps? Reusing the water from the wet T-shirt contest? A low-emission bong?
The president of the Drexel SmartHouse project, accelerated Ph.D. student and 22-year-old maverick Jameson Detweiler, is the perfect poster boy for the eco-frat of tomorrow. He combines hippie idealism with a grounded sense of practicality that belies his age.
"Sustainability and design are ultimately about people, not about saving the earth," Detweiler says. "We want to make the world better for ourselves and continuing generations, but you're not always going to change people. The idea is to design things so people don't have to change."
The SmartHouse program started at Duke University, where companies like Home Depot and Cisco Systems have sponsored Smart Home, a senior engineering project-turned-eco-dorm. Built from scratch with donated materials, the Duke project is examining earth-friendly building solutions on a new construction in rural North Carolina.
But this is Philadelphia, an urban environment with energy-hogging city facilities hindered by ancient home design, wasteful energy use and subpar management.
SmartHouse seeks to introduce technology that reduces the need for city resources and involvement by improving home air quality, by filtering and reusing water, and by using environmentally friendly materials only.
The project literature outlines five major research premises: health, lifestyle, environment, energy and interaction. Students have already begun work on several innovations that will be practically tested in this live-in laboratory. And since a scientist cannot be a true guinea pig, several residents will have no background or involvement in the project.
Along with testing their various innovations, the SmartHouse team is working on decreasing wasted energy in all forms with the eventual goal of generating all energy on site.
"Engineering and design should involve the ethics of sustainability," Detweiler stresses. "It used to be people talked about 'cradle-to-grave design,' and thinking about where your resources come from and how to get rid of them when you're done. Now we call it 'cradle-to-cradle' because you don't just want to get rid of your resources, you want to actually recycle them into something new."
The SmartHouse team recently selected two student home designs and will name a winner in June. In July they plan to unveil their research and design strategy, and the goals of the SmartHouse plan.
In the meantime, Detweiler continues seeking patents for his various in-the-works designs while preparing for the move to his new home.
Our question is: When's the first kegger?