Saturday, 3 December 2011

#32 Z-Rated: Zombie Proof Your Home

As regular readers will know, at the beginning of last month I went to the much publicised Zombosium at the University of Winchester, where I gave a talk about the ways Hotel Rwanda resembles a zombie movie that wasn’t in bad taste at all. As anybody who had to endure my company for the two months previous to that knows, I recently had to move out of my house conveniently placed between a gun shop and a shop full of tinned food. As I’ve shown in previous blogs, the majority of apocalypse-proof-housing on the market is prohibitively priced, but fortunately, while at the Zombosium I met Roger Cooper, a freelance architectural designer, and Jordan J. Lloyd, a PhD architecture researcher.

This pair recently entered the 2011 Zombie Safe House Competition and at the Zombosium they unveiled the fruits of their labours. You can see their plans for yourselves here. After giving their presentation, they were interviewed by a visiting journalist from The Sun, but I think it’s fair to say that the definitive interview, featuring questions that have been described as making Paxman “drop a bullock”, is below this paragraph. Featuring not only some ingenious ways to defend your home with flat pack furniture, Jordan and Roger also explained how the Big Society could impact our zombie apocalypse survival strategies, as well as how to fuel your car on dead zombies.

1. So, firstly, so we know where we stand: ANSD sufferers, or zombies. Judging by your materials, your strategy is designed to deal with 28 Days Later/Left 4 Dead style infected rather than the actual living dead? If ANSD sufferers are actually reanimated corpses of the “destroy the brain or remove the head” variety, aren’t strategies such as electrocuting them or setting them alight extremely risky? Burning zombies in particular would be extremely dangerous to have wandering around your street.

Jordan
One of the first things we actually talked about when considering the project was the evolution of the zombie protagonist. I wouldn't say we were hardcore zombie fans, but we'd both seen enough media representations of zombies to understand that around the 90's they evolved from these slow, shuffling hordes of the undead to incredibly dangerous post human cadavers whose thirst for both brain and human flesh was only matched by their rage and intensity.

Assuming that ANSD sufferers will only be 'put down' by compromising the brain function, then we have to be imaginative about how we can do this, as one of the central tenants of our scheme was that citizens around the world for the most part do not benefit from the Second Amendment which allows them to carry firearms. When you have to engage the undead without guns like you see in the movies, then you exponentially increase the risk of getting infected as it usually involves hand to hand combat. Our mitigation measures like electrocution or burning through reconfiguration of household systems will affect brain function. Let's put it this way, if someone is set on fire long enough, chances are brain function will cease because there is permanent burn damage. Without knowing for sure, we're at best killing them (again) outright en masse, or at least slowing them down. How is a zombie possibly going to eat your brains out when their jaws have burned clean off?

Roger
The electro flooded street requires heavy use of water, which could otherwise be used to sustain pod occupants. Therefore this defence mechanism is intended for use only during an extreme zombie horde attack, as a final one off means of buying some extra time to allow a final air lift evacuation to occur. In such an evacuation the leftover water in water butts would no longer be required and could be dumped onto the street and any fire risk generated would no longer be a threat to human safety.

2. Could you give us a rough summary of your zombie survival strategy for those of my readers who are too lazy to click on links?

Jordan
Sure. Basically we're doomed. Mathematical models of a zombie contagion conclude that the spread of infection will far exceed any organised resistance, unless aggressive counter tactics are employed. In the United Kingdom (and indeed most countries in the world), citizens do not have the benefit of the Second Amendment to carry firearms like our American cousins; resulting in a much lower survival rate for untainted humans.

Popular media portrayals of the Zombie Apocalypse show frightened individuals aimlessly heading for an unknown destination, accruing a gang of other frightened individuals fighting their way out of unfamiliar environments, usually ending in military intervention once most of the protagonists are (un)dead; with any survivors being relocated to a centralised military run facility to re-populate the Earth when the contagion has run its course.

So our solution to the idea of a zombie apocalypse is not a ‘one-off’ mobile fortress, but rather a socio-economic strategy, culturally embedded in our social psyche in the way we know best: the cult of consumerism. Rather than create a ‘zombie-proof house’, it is instead proposed to zombie-proof your own home in the event of a zombie apocalypse. The proposal approaches designing a zombie proof house from a perspective which assumes a future of everyday (albeit unwanted) co-existence with the undead. Z-Rated: Zombie-proof your own home projects a typical suburban London based strategy for adapting ordinary Londoners homes for protection against the marauding zombie threat.

If establishing the prime objective of the zombie-proof house is to increase one’s chances of survival, this approach has a number of pragmatic advantages:

• Good defence is based on familiarity, and no place on Earth is better known than your own home;

• Strengthens communities;

• The familiarity of the home will help frightened untainted citizens adjust to their new-found unwanted co-existence with the undead;

• Should our current communications infrastructure break down (i.e, phone, Internet), any untainted close family, friends and neighbours will instinctively head towards a trusted home;

• With forward planning, neighbourhoods can become zombie-proof, creating a safe, self-sufficient haven where life carries on relatively normally until military intervention;

• When military intervention arrives, zombie proof houses/neighbourhoods become stage points for a military counter-strike over a decentralised network;

• Creates a resilient system where the human survival rate becomes much higher and is based on existing community clustering and co operation

• Big Society in action.

Roger
A government response to a zombie contagion considers a strategy without the options of an antigen or vaccination. Integrated into Prime Minister David Cameron’s vision for the ‘Big Society’, a parliamentary response is prematurely distributed online, and runs as the main headline in a popular free London newspaper. It describes a strategy using Big Society rhetoric: building communities, decentralised power and localism. In short- getting the proles to pay for everything themselves, in the perfect union of the public and private sectors.

One quarter of the UK’s housing stock are tightly knit terrace typologies, clustering in cities and industrialised market towns, representing a significant part of the population. Demand for housing in London and the south east of England is high and growing each year. Z-Rated: Zombie-proof your own home locates itself within an already present demand for new space in the city. The strategy’s biggest intervention introduces a string of building regulation approved loft extensions that litter the roof-scape of London, typically providing an extra bedroom and bathroom for an expanding family or space for a new tenant, until such a time it is needed to provide genuine civil defence. An opportunity exists using the combined flat roof-scape of loft extensions to provide a secondary elevated street/battlement protected from the zombie threat at ground level, allowing citizens to engage in a variety of mixed programmes from leisure to food growing - at a comfortable distance away from the undead.

Like ordinary streets, the secondary street is envisaged to provide numerous programmes including:

• Elevated walkway/battlement;

• ANSDiesel & solar powered street flood lighting;

• Zip wire as a low tech means of crossing the street quickly to other terraces;

• Space to grow food (continuous productive urban landscapes);

• Seating and street furniture;

• Means of emergency escape and supply deliveries - helipad;

• Elevated surveillance of immediate vicinity

When the crisis is too big for emergency services to handle, in order to provide the volume of extensions that might be required nationwide, a public/private sector initiative is initiated using army and sponsored RAF air transport facilities to rapidly deploy prefabricated loft extension units produced at pre-existing commercial production facilities. The same mechanism provides a quick extraction if the elevated street is compromised: the lofts cleanly cut away from the existing house when airlifted by air transport and redelivered to a designated safe zone.

A popular international home products retailer is a key commercial partner, being the only company that has suitable worldwide production facilities, understanding of the commercially marketable home, with a suitable track record of high quality design and manufacturing.
They look so cheerful now that everyone they know is dead
3. Why did you decide to take this approach?

Roger
We were keen to explore a design response which consciously explores and addresses our current social, political, economic and environmental condition in relation to the zombie safe house housing typology. In order to reflect this desire we chose to use a newspaper as our presentation format.

Jordan
Nothing is free of consequence and that is certainly true of design in particular. I've been fortunate to develop my design process in an environment that emphasises social awareness and the consequences of what your design brings to the table. The concept itself was really borne out of considering the effects of ANSD and the constraints it would bring on society, then you start asking the right questions. How fast is the rate of infection? How can we best defend ourselves with no access to guns? How can we get on with our lives if our emergency services were compromised? Really, the idea of a 'zombie proof house' at its heart is simply about making sure you survive, but at the same time it immediately conjures up an overwhelming sense of isolation. The thing is, when you look at the course of human history, nothing significant, least of all survival, ever got done in isolation. When you strip away the convenience of the modern world, all that is left is the instinct to survive and have enough food, water and shelter to live another day. Which means you have to band up with your neighbours. And there lies the inherent success of the scheme on a fundamental level. When you band with your neighbours and your communities (or just other survivors), 'zombie proof' streets, neighbourhoods, towns and cities contract and expand naturally based on what resources and ingenuity you have at your disposal. I feel it would be a natural consequence of what would happen in real life if (when) the zombie apocalypse happens.

Let's imagine for a moment that this happened. What would you really do? Run towards the nearest centralised military facility? Of course not, you wouldn't even know where it was. I guess at this point people would be going through a K├╝bler-Ross stages of death mentality: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But before that, people will head home. Why? Because it's familiar. It's safe. You know your own home better than anywhere. You know if you can't get hold of your loved ones or your friends, if they had any sense they would gravitate towards your home. So there is the basis for the rest of the strategy, it's a process that begins with accepting that most people will instinctively head home. All the rest is about emphasising this basic point and mitigating the inherent dangers of zombies invading your streets.

Then there is another fundamental question. If this seemed like a fairly logical approach, how on earth would you fund this? We're still in the turmoil of a large economic recession that's showing no signs of letting up, and so the vast majority of people simply wouldn't have the capital to be able to afford a zombie proof house. It can't just be a 'only the rich get to survive' mentality. The scheme is about quick wins. This idea you can buy some ready to use 'z-rated' items that double up as weapons or defence at affordable prices. Assuming a future with the undead would be taken as normal, then there is this absurd sense of reality in it because we're essentially appealing to the cult of consumerism, which like it or not, everyone is familiar with it.

Obviously, although we treated this as a serious design exercise, a lot of it, particularly the presentation format is very tongue in cheek. We were very pleased when we found an electronic version of the Metro (a popular free paper distributed in the UK's cities), and spent a bit of time researching newspaper graphics and made sure we matched the typefaces, headlines and colours matched. Even the tone of the articles had to match the kind of thing you would read in these popular newspapers. Roger and I had a great deal of fun with the adverts, but it also worked as a graphic device to show off aspects of the scheme that would have only come across in 'architectural drawings' or a text description. I think when you look at things like the smartphone insurance application on the corner of the back page, there is this implication that although that shit has hit the fan, companies would still be making a quick buck out of your misery - but when you put this glossy veneer over it in the form of an advert, you sort of gloss over how crass it really is.
Civilisation as we know it is at an end, but our TV is MASSIVE
4. You suggest that a well-known Scandinavian furniture store may be best equipped to provide the components for your survival pods. Whenever I’ve purchased furniture from a well-known Scandinavian furniture store there always ends up being a piece missing. Won’t that be a particularly serious problem in this case?

Jordan
The pods are largely prefabricated off site to ensure their zombie proof integrity (Z-Rating). On site, they are delivered airlift by helicopter and IEAK's delivery team who ensure the final customisation of the product and a snug fit into the loft.

Roger
There's actually two different flavours to the IKEA/IEAK premise. The first as Jordan said is the survival pod being pre-fabricated to ensure its defence integrity, but the idea of z-rated products has more to do with the hundreds of other products suppliers like IKEA actually provides. For space reasons, I don't think this particular strand came off as effectively as we hoped, but it's a fairly reasonable assumption in the interests of profit, large companies would happily make modifications to their existing products to turn them into defences or potential weapons. Not to mention the amazing IKEA hacking community on the web on websites like Instructables.com or Life Hacker. Funnily enough, IKEA actually do provide spares. I know this because I have just moved flats and as a result have purchased some new furniture from IKEA. They will include one or two extra screws, fixings etc.

With regard to the pod, it was actually a logical extension to the idea of Z-Rated products. Just like you can buy a 99p plate, you can also spend £999 on wardrobes. Why not spend £9999 on part of an 'all-in-one' living survival pod? One thing that made me laugh when we were putting together the pod advert was just how ridiculous the price tag was. We're so used to seeing reasonable or even cheap prices (usually slashed) on IKEA adverts, putting a few extra zeros so it nearly ran off the page just looked absurd.

The pod though was interesting because we were developing this conclusion of the Z-Rated products with this idea of building regulations. As both of us come from an architecture background, we are both very aware of the UK's stringent planning guidelines which have in theory been designed to mitigate the worst excesses of development (arguably with very limited success). The Approved Documents for building regulations basically cover everything from fire escapes to how wide a corridor should be, or the incline of a ramp for wheelchair users. When you're dealing with potentially large changes to the structure of your existing property or land, like putting in a survival pod, even in absurd scenarios like the zombie apocalypse, there would be no doubt that the Government and Health & Safety would find some way of introducing some bureaucracy into it. In fairness, there are already guidelines to cover what you need to do for a loft conversion for example, and the pods were an extension of that.

Then we thought about not just installation, but also using Chinook helicopters as a device to extract pods away quickly in the event of a zombie takeover, so relocation can be immediate. So we designed some anchors and hooks to attach to the helicopters, but we would also use the same anchors to plug in other things like the lighting and zip wire rig. Part of an effective defence involves an elevated condition, and then it led onto this idea of your street potentially being compromised, especially in the early days, but your elevated street being completely safe. When you have this wide avenue spanning all your neighbours and your street, then it's going to be a fairly obvious thing to start growing your food or sunbathe or let your kids play on the roof area. I think my favourite part about the pods is just how complete they are - a lot of work went into condensing basic living amenities into a very small space - a bit like those capsule hotels or the YOTEL chain. In a way, the pod was probably the most literal aspect of the judge’s agenda we addressed as they are in themselves 'zombie-proof houses', but its effectiveness is limited when you don't consider the much wider socio-economic strategy we developed. When you analyse the spatial interior of one, you will find everything you need to live a modern lifestyle in it, which can then expand depending on how many more people you want to accommodate or how wide your house is between your neighbours if you live on a terraced street for example. Then of course, if you wanted to really take the communal living thing to the extreme, why not combine pods together so you can have several families or friends co-exist in a giant pod? People are very versatile and can adapt to any condition.
The best part is, I'm pretty sure IKEA really do have helicopters like that.
5. Your strategy is very much grounded in the ideals of the “Big Society” as put forward by the Conservative party. Part of this strategy includes financing the construction and installation of survival pods through special loans, which would be terminated should the holder of the loan be eaten by zombies. Doesn’t this create a serious risk that, based on their perceived ability to survive the coming zombie apocalypse, some families may be seen as “subprime”, resulting in banks attempting to off-load the debts of less-likely-to-survive families onto one another? The last thing we need is another financial collapse in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

Roger
The pod system has been designed so the rate of survival increases as the number of people daisy chain pods together increases - therefore the individual (and his or her ability to defend her/himself) is less important than the number of people linking together in the pod community. It creates a scenario where individual financial wealth is less important than community spirit.

Jordan
Let's be clear about the Big Society thing - in a way the proposal is a very tongue-in-cheek embodiment of the idea of the Big Society, but this is just as much a commentary on where we are right now as a society as it is about its survival. The 'People's Protection Fund' as you summarised in your question would be exactly the kind of thing that the Government would use as a vehicle to get this whole scheme off the ground. It's not like it's without historical precedent. When a country wants to finance its wars, it offers war bonds to its citizens so when the war is over and when the economy has stabilised, it will pay the amount back. The sub-prime aspect is interesting, because if you look back far enough, one could argue the whole recession started because sub-prime mortgages increased substantially in the years preceding 2008 before shit really hit the fan. When you are a mortgage company handing out mortgages to people with questionable credit histories based on a perception that a. your regulators have relaxed the rules, and b. you want in on the profit derived from an increasingly hyper-inflated housing market, then somewhere along the way, it's all going to come falling down. I'm referring to the US market primarily, but the UK isn't far behind. A friend of mine illustrated that if the price of a chicken was to match the same exponential inflation of property over the last decade, then a chicken would cost about £47 - ridiculous isn't it, but so is the credit based banking system because it is based on a perception, and now we have to live in a world where the majority of people will suffer because a small minority of people thought it would be a good idea to not think about the consequences of some terrible investments. To be honest, would another financial collapse be all that more tragic when you're trying to not get eaten? I don't really have an answer for a perceived preference in who the People's Protection Fund would be awarded to, because the zombie apocalypse would inherently change the rules of the game - like any major global conflict, attitudes shift considerably, and the zombie apocalypse isn't about resource control or territorial expansion; nor is it an ideological battle. It's about survival.

6. On a similar note, as our national infrastructure collapses under the pressure of the ensuing zombie horde, your plan proposes we fall back on a more decentralised system, generating the power in our own homes through methods that include breaking down slaughtered zombie corpses into bio-fuel. I mentioned this at the zombosium, but isn’t this setting people up for a fall? Sure, initially there will be hordes of zombies littering the streets, but, if your plans actually work, zombies will not be a renewable source of fuel. Eventually, don’t you run the risk of us hitting “Peak zombie”?

Jordan
Yes this is true. However zombie generated fuel is seen as a means to help battle against the zombie threat, not to replace existing fuel sources or true renewables. A post peak zombie scenario would imply the zombie threat is on the decline and therefore we would no longer require the extra fuel source.
The downside is you will need an absolute shit-load of Dettol before you can use that for chopping vegetables again
Roger
You make a great point. However, consider this. If you read academic papers on the spread of ANSD infection, it concludes it would happen very fast indeed, so you're essentially left with not a lot of humans, and a lot of zombies. A decentralised, or should I say hyper localised energy production wouldn't produce anywhere near the volume of bio-diesel commercial practices such as crop farming or algae farming would generate, nor would we be consuming anywhere near as much fuel as a pre-apocalypse society would either. We'd have to do some serious calculations on how much fuel zombies would actually generate, but I'm guessing it would be a pretty good rate of return for a considerable period of time.

I think it's worth actually explaining how the bio-diesel production from zombies actually works, because people are thinking how absurd the concept is, and something that really annoyed me about some of the other entries is that there was no discernible explanation on how they would derive fuel from zombies. Just like everything else we proposed, we take real ideas or things and just slightly stretch them into a new context and the bio-diesel thing is no different. The zombies themselves don't actually produce the bio-diesel, they provide the feedstock for its production. The idea is you would grind up the zombies organic matter and spread it as a substrate (along things like garden clippings, food waste and sawdust) in a container. You then add the vegetative part of fungi, known as mycelium, onto the substrate. The mycelium is amazing in itself - it cleans up contaminants, breaks down complex hydrocarbons and lignins, purifies water, and least of all, they sprout mushrooms you can then pick and eat! It's the reason why the earth isn't covered in 200 ft high dead organic matter, because mycelium is an integral part of the decaying process. So you have this mycelium and this rotting substrate. Then you add some yeast and a few other active ingredients to the fungal sugars that occur naturally as part of the process, let it ferment and voila, you have an ethanol that's no different from the bio-diesel you use in vehicles. Paul Stamets, the mycologist who pioneered the technique claims you can produce 3.5 litres of fuel from 48 kg's of organic matter. Now considering the average zombie would weigh just under twice that, it's a reasonable assumption you can produce about 5 litres of fuels per zombie you process. You can drive a car about 40 miles with one zombie's worth of bio-diesel or a lot more depending on how good your fuel economy is. A 5KW diesel generator would use up about 5 litres per hour, which is enough to power your home for a small period of time. Thankfully though, unlike other fossil-fuel based processes, this time the feedstock comes to you - all you have to do is kill it (again), collect and process it. Now I'm pretty sure most inner city neighbourhoods won't have any trouble acquiring a fair amount of fresh fuel sources every day! I'd estimate 'Peak Zombie' wouldn't happen for a long time and is entirely dependent on how successful the scheme is on a national level, and let's face it, if you're running out of fuel source then that's a good thing, right?

7. Do you think connecting up the survival pods is a wise move? In most movies it’s not the zombies who break the siege- it’s either a foolish mistake, or infighting among the survivors that lets them in. Surely the more people you bring into you network of survival pods, the more potential weak links you are adding to the chain?

Roger
Every pod has its own secure access. Whilst the pods could have been isolated, connecting gives many extra functions a space to occur, e.g. a further means of escape to a local elevated helipad, space for food growth, a surveillance platform. Most importantly the spaces created encourage individuals to work together as a community, where the whole becomes much greater than the sum of its parts.

Jordan
There are two hatches in the pod. One at the bottom where you would be coming up from the floor below, then an additional hatch directly above it that leads to the elevated street level. This controlled access requires a ladder. Now, even with hyper-dangerous '28 Days Later' zombies, I think even they would have a hard time breaking into your home, going up at least one floor, then negotiating a small ladder, trying to unlock a hatch, climbing through a pod, then doing it again to get to the elevated street.

We're not saying that the system is entirely fool-proof. On paper, it looks pretty tight but you raise this concern about the human condition. Human behaviour is anything but logical. Whether or not it's bikers assaulting the mall or Kevin Eldon's character in Dead Set literally opening the gate, somewhere along the line your system will be compromised. I happen to actually study resilient systems as my main line of research and one characteristic of resilience is this idea that when compromised an isolated part of the system can still operate and adapt under new circumstances. One of the more morbid considerations of small pods daisy chained together is that even if one pod was compromised, all the others are independently sealed. Saying that mind, the idea of seeing your neighbours getting eaten might appeal to some. After all, we're providing a suggestion in how to radically increase the rate of human survival against zombies, people fighting themselves is a whole other discussion!

8. Of the other designs in the zombie-proof home competition, which were your personal favourites?

Roger
Vanquisher, Gantry Stronghold and Vagabond.

Jordan
Yeah I really liked Vagabond, the eventual winner and I'm pleased it won as it was completely different from last year's winner. The idea of a mobile 'back packed' survival pod is very compelling and is infinitely more affordable and accessible than some of the things we were suggesting. I particularly liked the mirrored 'armadillo' shell which acted as a brilliant camouflage. That being said, there are some limitations to a truly mobile system, because you are trading genuine defence with mobility, which is great for your short term survival, but after a while, people would naturally want to settle and fortify as the novelty of constantly moving around would eventually get at people.

The Gantry Stronghold was also very well considered, but highly location specific which in my opinion made it a specialised option for a lucky few people. Funnily enough, I actually liked the basic idea behind the Zombie + Termite. It assumed that humanity would inhabit giant termite mounds that floated in the air on hydrogen generated by termites digesting zombie remains. That said, I think the entrants may need to recalculate a. how large their floating fortresses need to be, and b. how much hydrogen the termites would produce as the calculations in the entry were looking at a 100% hydrogen generation efficiency, which simply isn't the case otherwise we would already be in a hydrogen based economy based powered by termites!

9. With the financial climate the way it is, many of us cannot afford to buy our own homes, living in rented accommodation that we don’t have either the necessary permission or the financial resources to modify. What zombie-proofing advice would you give to those of us unable to buy a fortified, bio-fuelled, entirely self-contained habitat to add onto our homes?

Roger
Answer - start with a modified Expedit bookcase spike pit and go from there.
A book case, some sharpened table legs and BAM, you're ready to go.
Jordan
Ian Conrich made a brilliant point at the Zombosium about this and in a way it's the one major design flaw of the entire scheme. To answer Ian's question in more detail, I think a number of points should be addressed. Firstly, many people do own their own homes, and in an extreme circumstance such as the zombie apocalypse, there is no doubt at all many homeowners would gladly reinvest their kids university funds or their pensions in order to live. Secondly, we projected the scheme as a Government led initiative, and I'm sure more qualified professionals can make a better judgment on how to finance full out pods to provide from economically disadvantaged or renting tenants. In part, that's what the People's Protection Fund was intended to imply, but as with many initiatives, people can easily pick holes in it which was kind of the point - present some sort of glossy financial package that would literally save your life but then find out it's all a sham. One of the big drivers of development in the UK over the last decade has been PFI (Private Finance Initiatives) schemes popularised when Labour was in power. In essence, it creates a public-private sector partnerships (PPP's) that allow private investors to help the Government to build things like schools and hospitals and other large capital public services. The upshot is of course, that the private sector operates the service as a higher cost. It's a completely profit driven agenda, one of course that is struggling in particular when the credit based economy is crashing down all around us. Z-Rated is a reflection on the power of consumption, and is intended to have mass appeal on a number of levels, so as stated earlier, the Z-Rated scheme from a product point of view assumes the pod as an end result in a long chain of goods determined by value. As Roger says, spend £80 on a book shelf cum spike pit, or at the very least, buy yourself a kitchen knife for a tenner!

Thanks both of you for your answers.


You can see Roger and Jordan’s plans in full here.

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