Thursday, December 22, 2011

FROM ROOFTOP SOLAR TO ROADWAY ASPHALT, Our Next American Public Utility Infrastructure Model


(Please note, this essay is a continuation of my essay on: Solyndra.)

If we as Americans know that virtually every aspect of our public utility infrastructure and our public transportation infrastructure is obsolete, it only stands to reason that many other aspects of our man made 20th and 19th century urban architectural blueprint are equally obsolete. Thus, if the electrical power coming into our homes is being provided to us via deteriorating, above ground electrical power lines, electrical substations as well as electrical generation plants, it is fairly obvious that the electrical wiring inside virtually every American home (regardless of age) is in exactly the same poor condition. As our homes are, so to are the retail environments, offices, hospitals. schools, factories (and so forth) that we live our professional lives in outside of our homes.

While all of us truly do know that all of the above is true, one would think that some sort of universal 21st century industrial blueprint would be forthcoming from those we elect into public office to assure that the various energy sources we have come to rely upon over the years continue to be upgraded with the latest technology. In the same breath, as these same sources need to be seamlessly integrated with new energy sources via the same intelligent technological interface, it is perfectly clear that we as a collective body of dysfunctional American energy junkies, have not put forth the tremendously complex and discerned effort required of us all before all of us can expect to realize the enormous wealth that will come to our 21st century industrial, social and economic livelihood once we do.

As I have attempted, in my essay on Solyndra, to explain how a multitude of seemingly opposed energy conglomerates with singular financial interests could benefit from what I would characterize as "a renewed sense of collective, energy sector collective bargaining", I believe it is crucial to put forth a new, entirely non partisan and entirely non-economically competitive 21st century American public utility and public transportation blueprint so that those industrial sectors that are indeed involved with the development of large scale energy infrastructure can actually compete financially. In other words, as their are several groups of ambitious mixed energy use tag football teams wanting desperately to find a football field from which they can compete with one another in a friendly game of dynamic 21st century, mixed energy use and highly profitable new age American football, neither the playing field nor the rules of the game have as yet, been clearly defined. As a result, every industrial football player in America continues to stumble. As I am an architectural designer and a master carpenter, I speak from the viewpoint of America's building tradesmen who just like America's corporate level mixed energy source providers are looking for a way out of the political quagmire that prevents any and all of us from getting anything at all accomplished.

The three public utility questions I posed at the end of my Solyndra essay are, in my view crucial to find answers to - IF - WE AS A WHOLE AMERICA - are actually going to get to the point of applying the combined knowledge we possess in varied construction sectors to our collective 21st century national industrial goal of building beautiful American 21st century economic progress.

These questions are as follows:

Question Number One
When and how does a stationary natural gas appliance grow wheels?

Question Number Two
When that natural gas appliance leaves the homeowners garage on wheels, does that vehicle enter into the realm of new public utility transportation infrastructure?

Question Number Three
If the infrastructure is on wheels, then doesn't it appear somewhat obvious that we as a nation have created a substantially new public highway improvement funding mechanism?

These three questions are designed to provoke a high degree of advanced yet extraordinarily basic industrial/economic thought. As they are, they are, as well, designed to produce equally remarkable industrial/economic answers or solutions to the relatively simple challenge of finally creating a true mixed energy based public utility model that everyone in America can clearly benefit from.

As you may find it helpful to read or re-read my essay on Solyndra to understand where these thoughts came from in the first place, if you have done so, or, if you will do so, then let me get on to the first question.

Question Number One
When and how does a stationary natural gas appliance grow wheels?
In my Solyndra essay, I brought forward the notion that once our natural gas public utility infrastructure is supported by the infrastructure of solar, wind and geothermal technologies, natural gas has the distinct possibility of being freed up financially as well a structurally to address the fueling needs of an entirely new group of appliances that consume this gas. As solar, wind and geothermal become "the new stationary energy technologies of our 21st century" and as stationary simply means that these technologies are devoted almost exclusively to the heating and cooling and "micro-electrifying" of America's massive collection of buildings, natural gas free to become a "transitional public utility" which simply means this gas can now serve as a supplemental source of power for our nation's buildings as it is well serving as a primary source of power for the vehicles we all require on our daily comings and goings from those buildings.

As the moment natural gas is regulated in such an articulated manner, its fuel function is essentially transformed, that transformation is then the basis for all future funding of our nation's "micro-modular-light duty transportation infrastructure". Not really out of the business of providing natural gas to our nation's buildings, natural gas is none the less, fully prepared to take on its dynamic secondary 21st century responsibility of fueling a whole new generation of natural gas appliances that happen to have wheels, are drivable and have a clearly defined set of distance parameters from which the underground utility infrastructure required to direct natural gas to new sources and fueling outlets becomes, quite clearly financially doable.

Question Number Two
When that natural gas appliance leaves the homeowners garage on wheels, does that vehicle enter into the realm of new public utility transportation infrastructure?

While the answer to Question Number Two has been partially defined by the answer to Question Number One, the larger question becomes - What does the actual industrial and economic blueprint look like when natural gas does become a primary fuel source for our nation's 21st century mixed use transportation infrastructure?

An answer to this question is really quite easy to define.

When we consider that natural gas powered vehicles have become quite the dream of a host of manufacturing companies in our 21st century mixed energy use America, successfully defining the market based parameters that make these vehicles cost effective to produce, fuel and maintain is the issue. Having said this, the whole distance such vehicles can actually travel before being refueled is in fact, the larger issue. Thus, providing filling stations integrated into every building within the urban circle of travel of natural gas vehicles is crucial. Knowing that such circles are generally confined to the area of everyday travel most Americans in most communities travel within a given week should therefore sustain the justification for utilizing these fueling stations and the micro-urban geographical areas they serve as micro public transportation financing districts as well. Just as solar, wind and geothermal infrastructure is now being applied to every building in every micro-urban geographical area and in doing so creating stationary public utility financing districts across all of America, the financial gain of these two combined public utility districts that exist in virtually every neighborhood in every community throughout America would be astronomical in scope and lead to nothing less than enormous economic expansion of all industries having anything whatsoever to do with these two newly formed federal public utility mandates regulated by state to state, region to region and locality to locality state managed public utility commissions.

In other words, the answer to Question Number Two is widespread, highly disciplined regulatory management of the very same public utilities that have always been regulated and managed by different authorities that exist within both our federal and state governing bodies, but, with the simple added benefit of finally and intelligently acknowledging that with the advancement of a host of new understandings our our nation's combined mixed energy management brilliance, we all simply know that we can put this brilliance together to form a most dynamic and exciting industrial blueprint all of America can reasonably and practically digest socially and benefit economically from.

Question Number Three
If the infrastructure is on wheels, then doesn't it appear somewhat obvious that we as a nation have created a substantially new public highway improvement funding mechanism?

I want my readers to truly think about Question Number Three. In particular, I want you to take note of the phrase "new public highway improvement funding mechanism".
Thus far, this essay has addressed solar, wind, geothermal and natural gas energy as public utility modules that once combined and then strategically separated at crucial architectural points of sustainability or non-sustainability become the blueprint for some fairly advanced industrial and economic growth in our United States of America. As management of these some new and some old energy sectors can and should add significantly to our national goal of becoming energy independent, and, energy independence can be loosely defined as our national capacity to rid ourselves of dependency on imported energy, the much larger issue remains to be about how we export energy.

In a global economy, which is of course the economy all in America have had to contend with for far too long, reliance upon imported fuels has been the benchmark from which we could, in the same breath also rely upon the global sales of our American made products to provide among other things - jobs and personal investment portfolios that would continue to grow and expand. As it is quite obvious that neither of these two scenarios is playing out in either our America or our world today, the reason they are not is tied directly to the answers I provided to Question Number One and Two above.

As the only reason our American economy has ever been successful either nationally or internationally is the fact that America has always managed to be the global leader in industrial inventiveness and this is clearly not the fact today in 2011, I find it fascinating that while American based companies such as heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar are growing almost exclusively due to foreign sales of their earth moving equipment, the entire American building sector is virtually at a standstill. As within this profound industrial oddity there is essentially within our own national industrial borders, the overwhelming need for earth moving equipment to actually move and reshape American earth in virtually every American community, it would seem obvious that we probably should get on with the task of doing so. But as the reason Caterpillar is growing globally is due almost exclusively to the fact that developing nations need the infrastructure improvements America needed close to one hundred years ago and indeed got, what foreign nations are getting today is not the infrastructure improvements America has evolved to understand it needs today but rather a shallow industrial and environmental essay of how America has chosen to live quite repetitiously in its industrial past.

In other words, instead of great American industrial giants such as Caterpillar staying home and being directly involved in the transformational 21st century blueprinting of a truly mixed energy use American domestic industrial economy, our American grown and bred intellectual and engineering brilliance is squandered on the mass production of second rate infrastructure models for third world economies that do nothing other than deplete our own national industrial brilliance. As there has been a certain national urgency over the course of the past thirty years to expand America's economic presence globally and as that urgency has long passed a point where global trade has any relevance, the greater irrelevance of today's American economy remains the fact that our entire private sector national construction industry remains at a hopeless, redundant and irrelevant economic standstill.

The answer to Question Number Three then - is this.

If we know (and we do) that solar, wind and geothermal technologies properly applied in a regulated mixed energy use domestic American economy will diversify the building trades associated with retrofitting our nation's enormous collection of buildings, and, if we know that through such regulation, many new manufacturing, building trade and service sector industries will flourish once such regulation is properly structured, then we also know that heavy equipment will be needed as part of the building by building retrofitting we as a nation must embrace in virtually every community in our nation. Having said this and viewing the structure of our entire national public utility grid as being quite malleable, or, quite capable of being micro-divided into entirely new sub-categories, the heavy equipment that is manufactured by companies such as Caterpillar and must be used to rebuild virtually every neighborhood in America, and, requires an entirely different fuel source to operate its equipment, the knowledge that in fact heavy equipment does require diesel fuel to operate as opposed to natural gas, That knowledge lends itself quite nicely to the notion of creating yet another mixed energy use public utility therefore creating yet another funding mechanism for transportation infrastructure redevelopment here in our United States of America.

As what should appear obvious to my readers is the notion that I am defining industrial as well as economic shifts in our collective infrastructure thinking process, bringing diesel fuel or gasoline into America's vast collection of neighborhoods has the same industrial and economic imperative attached to it as does bringing natural gas or solar, wind and geothermal micro-energy grids into the same communities. In other words, any American community simply cannot consider itself as being financially viable if in fact all technologies associated with bringing all energy sectors into its geographical boundaries have not been considered. In the case of diesel fuel, in the case of heavy construction equipment operating at any time on any size project within a given community, in the case of heavy duty diesel or gasoline powered trucks, all operations having anything to do with the construction or reconstruction of any community and the subsequent transportation of equipment and materials in and out of a community should be federally regulated by and managed from entirely new state by state transportation authorities.

Being so extraordinarily task specific on the micro-regulation of energy sectors simply allows a vast spectrum of new business ideas to flourish within any given community or region. If there is a clearly defined cut off point where solar energy can be logically applied to one particular building and an equally logical cut off point where natural gas can be applied to that same building - if there is a clearly logical point where certain underground utilities going from one home to another and then another within any particular neighborhood grid are then being connected to even larger utility grids in a community, city or region, each industry should be regulated for its capacity to produce the long term revenues required to constantly assure the continued upgrading of the utility grid it, in and of itself, actually belongs to. Thus as solar, wind and geothermal are being regulated for their capacity to produce sustained industrial growth, job creation and long term investment opportunities within their clearly defined environmental parameters, there is no reason for these industries to be taxed for use of our nation's public highways. While they should be taxed for the geographical use of public land associated with interconnecting themselves to the architecture they power, that taxation on both the state and federal level should stop there. In the same breath, as natural gas is still being utilized as a fuel source for the same architecture, the fact that it is being utilized to fuel a whole new transportation sector that moves people to and from that architecture on a daily basis should also be recognized and taxed accordingly. Specifically, as natural gas powered vehicles have limited geographical transportation ranges, all industries within the whole dynamic family of emerging natural gas technologies should be taxed for the continued updating of the transportation (local roads and bridges) infrastructure these industries directly benefit from by manufacturing the vehicles and energy supply (gas stations) networks that require these roads for their associated industries to be perpetually profitable.

As what we are attempting as an advanced 21st century industrial American society is the clear and conscious production of truly advanced management criteria of a host of mixed energy resources,  without very clear boundaries from which a particular energy sector can constructively merge and co-mingle industrially and economically with other sectors, we simply will not be able to advance towards our larger economically viable infrastructural goal of doing so. Whereas the failure of Solyndra was clearly due to the insular goal of a handful of politically well connected solar visionaries to use the federal government both for false financing of and equally poor industrial regulatory visualization of America's whole infrastructure potential, the stark reality of our whole American industrial failure is that a company such as Caterpillar, which is using its heavy equipment engineering expertise quite profitably worldwide could just as easily find itself bankrupt if in fact we as intellegent, forward thinking, 21st century industrial Americans don't apply in a universal and across the board manner, the combined knowledge of virtually every energy sector that exists within our collective 21st century "labor intensive and financially quite valid", American Industrial Portfolio.

Thanks for stopping by.

Mike Patrick Dahlke

Please visit some of my other essays.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How To Build An Organic Grain Bin

What happens when a traditional farm family who has done what they have done for decades chooses to fully embrace 21st century, alternative energy technology?

What happens is that life on the farm becomes anything but dull.

The above grain bin had been storing corn and soybeans for the small Illinois farm family that has owned it for more than fifty years. Always doing its’ job, always serving as a container that housed the contents of annual harvests for both themselves and neighboring farmers, this bin, because of its’ age and physical condition was in the process of being retired when I was presented with a design challenge.

The challenge as defined by the friendly, wise and caring Jungian schooled, family systems therapist, matriarch and retired public school science teacher who owns and operates this bin, three others just like it and the five acre farm the bins are located on, was to turn this decommissioned grain bin into a living quarters that would house the many travelers the owner felt would be attracted to the notion of living on an historic working farm absolutely filled with highly relevant local agricultural history while in turn being filled with conversations of future agricultural dreams.

As the conversations we had were of utilizing the bin to create memorable experiences, the experiences and dialogues we talked of creating were about why small family farms were on one hand going broke, while on the other, attempting to figure out why in fact they were. As the gist of our conversations were ultimately about reinventing a greater rural 21st century American agricultural and economic dynamic, this bin represented our mutual attempt, as visionary friends, from entirely different generations and backgrounds, to do so in quite a conscious and clear manner. In turn, as doing so represented each of our own seperate needs to be recognized as both teachers and students of progresive architectural and environmental thought, the more compelling urgency of our collective compassion was to truly eliminate the social blocks that were preventing the larger rural American farm community from embracing some rather simple concepts of technologically enhanced, economic advancement.

While reinventing that dynamic most certainly centered on the realization that building a thought provoking, rural architectural, alternative living environment would compel those who stayed in that environment to think well outside of the box, the whole reinvented farm experience, that was actually experienced, would compel many of the "urban visitors" to this progressive rural environment to do the same with their own inner city environments once they left her farm. In turn, as this rural architectural farm experience would compel "city dwellers" to both "step back and slow down", the "locals" would be equally compelled to "step forward and speed up". Thus, the need to be aware of the whole dialogue of a purely organic and rural farm based economic conversation as that conversation was dispersed among rural farmers and potentially new urban farmers was paramount.

As many questions arose within our dialogue of creating this remarkable environment, perhaps the most important question was why an "eightysomething"  year old rural female American science teacher and a "fiftysomething" urban male American architectural designer carried within their mutual hearts the same yearning to teach their collective vision of 21st century architectural cohabitation to those who found themselves drawn to what the two of us were building on this five acres of historic, middle Illinois corn and soybean farm land. Benchmarking this dialogue was the unmistakeable fact that while a huge percentage of the surrounding farmland was quite "corporate" in nature, meaning that the corn and soybeans grown within the region were headed to either global corporate food processors or high tech, multi-faceted industrial food byproduct corporations involved in the worldwide manufacturing of fibers and biofuels, and, the land these farms grew agricultural products on was also being leased to wind turbine companies charged with supplementing our nation's electic utility infrastructure, the much larger fact was indeed the notion that really nobody within this region of Illinois was actually making a sustainable living. As the farmers were making an income off of either their corporate grown agricultural profit or their leased  land, no one else in the surrounding farm community was making any type of sustainable living at all. Understanding all of this, and understanding as well that many other creative economic alternatives existed that went well beyond the boundaries of either national or multi-national corporate profit, the two of us set out to build the grain bin we both envisioned.

As the owner was known for her unique approach to teaching "hands on environmental science" all of her life and as I had the same approach to teaching and building hands on sustainable architecture, we soon became two peas in the same pod, or, in this case, the same grain bin. As designing architecture has at its earliest stage of development, the need to develop a set of design criteria, this project had a rather extensive list of interactive environmental design objectives. Hence, as our focus was on the design and construction of the grain bin, it did as well center on the reconstruction and alternative energy retrofitting of other out buildings located on this farm.How to heat certain areas of the large unheated horse barn by harnessing and directing the sun to specific areas of that barn was every bit as much a part of our dialogue as how to harness the waters that flowed from underground springs and to harness as well, the prevailing winds that blew constantly across the fields of corn and soybeans surrounding this farm. Then there was the converted chicken coop that was to be heated by the kernels of corn stored in the remaining three grain bins.

In turn, as certain energy based environmental questions were brought forward, these same questions had basic economic questions as well as broader community based educational questions attached to them. Can the sun, the water and the wind be harnessed and controlled in such a manner as to affect the positive financial and organic future of this historic family farm? If this could be done, what else could be done to enhance in quite an equally positive manner, the overall social dynamic of the community surrounding this farm?

Needless to say, our conversations were quite expansive in nature.

Having said this, let me get on with the description of the work that was done on this particular grain bin project.

Ode to the 21st Century Green American Organic Family Farmer

“Solar energy shines.
Wind energy moves.
Organic gardens embrace, organic architecture thrives.
Sustainable conversations are engaging.
Rural economic redevelopment becomes real….
…..and 21st century green barn dancers’
Have a tendency to rock and roll once again”.


Take an old grain bin that can no longer be certified as safe to store farm product and turn it into a home for certifiably crazy, new generation, self sustainable, rural organic farmers who happen to have green thumb friends who live in big cities.


The bin itself was structurally sound. Having never been used for anything other than storing and drying grain, all the mechanicals were in perfect working order. Due to the fact that the concrete foundation was never engineered properly however, over the course of time, this foundation split and cracked and sagged.

The first thing to understand before we could begin the renovation was not why the concrete was poorly engineered but what was going on beneath the foundation that ultimately exposed the concrete to structural fatigue.


As the land surrounding this bin was often marshy and spongy to walk on, why it was so became our focus.

Researching the geographical history of the land, we soon discovered that underground springs that had been draining the Illinois River Valley for centuries had served to undermine this foundation ever since the day it was constructed in the late 1940s. Once we traced the path of the underground rivers flowing beneath the concrete, we had a few choices.


The first choice was to abandon the project altogether. But, of course we did not do so because we were then as we remain now “organically nuts”.

The second choice was to look into just exactly how close one particular underground stream was to this grain bin, where it was actually surfacing and what could be done to redirect the water away from the bin’s foundation.
Once this was figured out, we proceeded to carve some 250’ of topsoil into a creek bed that led the water away from the foundation and into a two acre fenced pasture. Needless to say the horses who called this pasture home were quite happy slurping pure spring water once we did so whereas the land that held the bin began the process of drying out and re-stabilizing itself as the removed topsoil was relocated to form a series plant filled earth berms strategically placed around the bin.

With the water out of the way, we turned our attention to the concrete. Sewing it back together was simply a matter of drilling and placing rebar and wire mesh and in turn pouring a fiberglass reinforced concrete product over the existing round concrete slab.


As the original air trough that carried heat from the grain dryer to the grains stored in that bin was cast in concrete, we left the trough in place knowing that in doing so it would become an intake that would draw cool ground temperature air into the bin once the project was done.

Concrete structural issues solved led to steel and wood structural design issues. If someone was actually going to be living in the bin, how would the bin become warm and cozy and extraordinarily energy efficient without (except for a few well placed windows, a door and a deck) altering the exterior physical appearance of the bin?


I engineered a round wood framing system designed to allow continuous air flow between the round steel walls of the bin and this wood frame. In addition, I connected the air chamber existing between these two independent wall systems to the original cast concrete grain drying trough below and the top hatch that allowed grain to enter the bin in the first place. In doing so, managing a continuous current of air to move from season to season through the space between the steel walls and wood stud walls became the next design and engineering challenge.


As essentially, what was created was a living and breathing organically balanced current of air that kept outside temperatures and humidity conditions from ever interfering with inside temperature and humidity conditions, a womb within a womb ventilated from underneath via the duct that once served to provide heat to dry grain and connected at the top to the hatch that was once opened to place the grain inside the bin were controlled by manually operated and fully adjustable air dampers that worked in every bit the same manner as the damper on a fireplace or wood stove.


Once the vertical air exchange system was engineered and built, we set about the task of designing the horizontal air exchange system. Whereas air naturally rises towards a heat source vertically, in doing so, it does as well travel horizontally to get to that heat source. Knowing this, the strategic placement of windows and doors became crucial. Not only were these windows and doors crucial to letting in natural light, they were as well crucial in harnessing the prevailing winds that blew constantly across the farm fields at varying speeds and force around the bin.


After analyzing air flow around the exterior of the bin, it was determined that one eastern facing first floor casement window opening to the south would not only allow the warming rays of early morning sun to enter the bin but in turn capture the prevailing breezes coming from the north. The same was done on the second floor with a western facing casement opening to the north. With these two windows in place, we had effectively harnessed not only the sun but the wind. As the wind that created prevailing breezes could also create wind gusts of more than 40 mph, the hinges that held these opening casement windows to their frames had to be re-engineered for strength as they also acted as air foils. In addition, we thought that it would be important to mount on the inside walls adjacent to these windows, “safe operating instructions” for those who would be staying in this bin.

As a window opened but just three inches could easily create an air current of 5 mph inside the bin and thus create a refreshing and peaceful night sleep, it could at times create a situation where bed sheets would not stay on the bed at all.


As this bin was but 16’ in circumference and 16’ tall, the question became, how would one build a living room, dining room, entry foyer (and mud room), kitchen, library, study, exercise room, bedroom suite, bathroom as well as integrating the various mechanical systems needed into this extraordinarily compact footprint and in doing so create a sense of artistic energy and movement inside the bin that was as invigorating as it was restful?

In turn, how would one heat the bin with solar energy, cool it with wind energy and sustain it on extremely cold winter days with a combination of the bio-fuels produced on this particular farm and the traditional fuel sources this farm had used in the past?


As the pictures below illustrate, all of what was defined as being crucial to the successful creation of the interior architecture of this bin was realized. Through a most remarkable artistic dialogue that flowed continuously throughout the entire creative process that went into renovating this bin, the efforts of many gifted artisans moved this project towards fulfillment.

Please consider the thoughts this particular artist, master carpenter and essayist
has of these pictures.

Alone on a windblown November night contemplating an eventual restful sleep beneath the covers, I sat at the writer’s desk adjacent to my bed with my diary and pen listening quite intensely to the howls of nature coming from outside but feeling nothing but absolute calm within the round walls of this grain bin, turned sanctuary.

The heat from the wood stove below rising, the sense of that heat nurturing enabled me to listen only to the lessons of the howling wind and in doing so write tales only a wind walker could write. Within those tales, I drafted an architectural blueprint for the home of my own windy organic American dreams.

If you look carefully at the pictures above, you will notice a wide variety of architectural details. As the first detail you might notice is that the bathtub of this bin is a horse trough, other details might escape you altogether. But if you pay attention to the caption above these photos, you will be able to understand that the bathroom adjacent to this bin is in fact, a full blown interior architectural bathing spa.


There are many ways for you to soak at your leisure in a bathtub that fully submerses your entire body in the warm waters you seek.

As conventional bathtubs are one of those ways, the bathtubs that have been installed in American homes for the past forty years barely enable one to become fully submersed. Unless you are five years old with a body frame less than four feet in height and forty pounds in weight, the chances of you being able to submerse your entire body in warm water is next to none.

One step above the conventional bathtub is the Jacuzzi tub. With its’ walls higher and water jets flowing and at a cost of a few thousand dollars, you can sit peacefully knowing that bubbling bathwater will soothe your tired body when and if you actually have the time to sit in the thing. While these things are most certainly nice, the moment you exit the tub and dry yourself off, you are immediately placed back into the high speed world that prevents you from experiencing that tub on a daily basis to begin with.

This author chooses to call this form of leisure as the “cart before the horse bathing syndrome”. If I hurry up and get home before anyone else, I can turn on the water jets of my tub Jacuzzi and in doing so find five seconds of bubbling bliss before the world attacks me or I attack the world once again. Not a whole lot of horse sense.

At any rate, horse troughs that come in varying sizes and dimensions are readily available for thousands of dollars less than trendy tubs and many times deeper, meaning that one can soak with or without air blown bubbles and be assured that your entire body is fully submersed in water. Adding custom built teak or redwood benches inside of these troughs only adds to the overall organic simplicity of one’s bathing experience while doing so.


As you noticed the horse trough, you noticed the linen cabinet next to the horse trough and if you are really observant, you will have also noticed a wall mounted high efficiency, auxiliary propane fired space heater below the linen cabinet, whereas beyond your view is an electric powered hot water tank that sits behind this cabinet. As these two mechanical devices provide conventional heating sources to this room in extremely cold weather, both of them are offset by the fact that the floor beneath this bathroom serves as a passive solar heat sink that absorbs heat from the sun of the day only to reflect it back up and into the cushions of the day bed located on the south side of this bathroom.


As the walls of this bathroom have been designed with maximum heat and moisture retention in mind, taking a bath here, getting out of the tub only to soak in the sun blanketing the daybed you are lying upon is all and all, a quite remarkable and rejuvenating experience. Once you are done bathing, opening the air tight, hand crafted curved wooden bathroom door allows you to experience the dry radiant heat of the wood burning stove mixing with the moisture escaping from the air of the bathroom. This affect assures that the dry skin associated with traditional winter bathing is significantly diminished.

In the summertime, all systems designed to keep you warm in winter are shut down and the strategically placed window above the bathroom day bed opens. Working in unison with the other bin windows to assure constant cool and refreshing air movement, it does in turn bring you in direct contact with the horses grazing in the two acre fenced pasture being irrigated by the spring water that once flowed beneath the bin that you are now living in while bathing in a horse trough.

Would anyone like an organically grown and harvested carrot?

I am a piano player. I am as well a lover of all stringed musical instruments. As I have many friends who are as well, all of us have a tendency to view the lives we lead in musical notes. Whether we are professional (I’m not) or amateur (I’m even less) we none the less have the capacity to hear rhythm in every bit the same manner as we have the ability to see rhythm. When I was commissioned to design and build this bin, when I was asked to enter into an entirely round enclosure filled with decades of grain dust and cobwebs, I was in many ways lost as to how I would actually approach this particular challenge. As in any other shape of building one could go into a corner and analyze the masculine architectural shapes of linear architecture, within a round structure there are simply no linear reference points. In essence, a circular structure is constantly in motion. As it is, it is as well much more like a musical instrument than it is a structure. As playing a musical instrument allows one to move continuously through the circular rhythms , as a song or a symphony often ends on the very same note it began with, once I realized that I was building a musical instrument rather than building a home, both my architectural creativity and my industrial common sense merged.

In doing so, I was able to envision a second floor bedroom loft in the shape of a grand piano. As the loft had to be opened to the first floor to allow healthy air flow, it did as well have to conform to the circular shape of the bin. As an open floor plan was the prerequisite, the handrail and spindles of the loft had to be open as well. With the loft floor resembling the shape of a grand piano, the handrails and spindles took on the form of a stand up harp whereas the staircase and hand rail leading up to the loft took on the shape of a violin bow and string all of which were connected to the main trunk of the tree that connected the loft to the kitchen below.

As I have been designing organic architecture for almost four decades, it is my firm belief that what we as Americans today are facing and considering to be a huge problem really isn’t much of a problem at all. As this particular small family farm bin project began with a set of challenges all who were involved were convinced that they could overcome, we in fact did so and as a result of doing so the family who owns the farm now which is of course the same family that owned the farm seventy years ago is well placed to do what all rural farm families are supposed to do. As necessity remains the mother of invention, cooperative sharing of rural based green industrial invention remains the benchmark of rural family based farm communities.

Having said this, the design and construction of this one bin required the efforts of every single job title listed below.

Land Surveyors
Hydraulic Engineers specializing in dams and levees, water distribution networks, water collection networks, storm water management and sediment transport.

Structural concrete and steel fabrication engineers

Structural steel and wood framing engineers and carpenters

Back hoe operators




Cement finishers

Dry waller’s and plasterer’s




Tile setters

Cabinet and door makers

Stained glass artisans


Painters and muralists’

Seamstresses and weavers

Cooks and bakers

Graphic Artists

Marketing Professionals

Web Site Developers

County Building Officials

County Health Officials

Interior Decorators

Local furniture retailers

Custom furniture makers

Tourism representatives

Local organic farming advocacy groups

Local public education advocacy groups

Local nutritional healthcare experts

Local, regional and statewide political representatives….

….and anyone else who would be the least bit associated with turning an outdated grain bin into an expression of advanced 21st century rural American family farm economic, educational and industrial prosperity.

Thanks for your time and keep a smile.

Mike Patrick Dahlke

Please take the time to visit some of my other essays: