"We should not be housing the increasing numbers of environmental refugees in what are essentially boy scout tents when we could make portable homes from recycled materials that could be moved from one disaster area to the next"
ECOCLUB.com: Based on your extensive experience with designing and building "luxury tented camps" what are they key misunderstandings of, and mistakes made by, (aspiring) proprietors?
Louis Thompson: I think one of the classic errors is to buy a waterproofed canvas tent in a humid tropical environment – there are a lot of 'resort' tent products which are glorified bell tents – unfortunately they simply do not last in a humid environment and are also quite risky in intense weather. You do not want your resort to blow away or decompose after 6 months. The other considerations are of course to make sure the tent is pest proofed (which is why our pods are on stilts)...in far out places you can get some seriously unwelcome visitors. The site security also has to be properly planned.
ECOCLUB.com: You have just launched a new concept, the Looper pod - to what extent was it inspired from natural organisms and classic designs such as the mobile, safari (tent) camps and in what key ways does it innovate?
Louis Thompson: The looper is a biomorphic design based on a caterpillar which breathes through spiracles in its skin. The innovations are quite numerous – basically the structure is made from an insulation layer covered with a tensioned architectural membrane. We considered all of the mechanical and electrical elements as organs – the rainwater harvesting system is the belly of the beast, the photovoltaic energy system is the brain and the waste water treatment system is the liver. The pods are well insulated and extremely efficient (even when air-conditioned) so they can function completely off-grid without the need for massive diesel generators.
ECOCLUB.com: Are you currently developing any other models perhaps with alternative, non-tourism, uses (for example field research, relief agency work, mobile classrooms/ clinics) or do you exclusively focus on the tourism sector?
Louis Thompson: The whole concept was actually born when we were watching the floods in Pakistan in 2010 – we saw families in UNCHR canvas tents freezing in icy temperatures and cutting down whole forests to try to keep un-insulated structures warm – the tents will only last one or two years and the energy costs are huge. We truly hope that we will be able to produce simplified models for humanitarian efforts in the coming years as part of our social responsibility program – we live in a technically sophisticated age – we should not be housing the increasing numbers of environmental refugees (often families who are sometimes homeless for decades) in what are essentially boy scout tents when we could make portable homes from recycled materials that could be moved from one disaster area to the next.
ECOCLUB.com: How much does the Looper pod cost, who should buy this and why? Do you also assist with funding?
Louis Thompson: We have no funding or finance options at the moment...but may consider this when we launch the franchise. The price depends a lot on the location and the material selection – if you are in Alaska and have heavy snow loads much of the year we need to modify the structure accordingly – some cyclonic areas also require additional anchors. There are also a large number of options – the solar panels, solar hot water, rainwater harvesting system and sewerage treatment all have an extra cost – in general the pods range from between 25 000- 45 000USD/unit. They are ideal for owners who are developing lodges or resorts in remote locations where planning may be difficult and logistics are a challenge – national parks, remote island destination and hiking lodges in the mountains are all ideal.
ECOCLUB.com: Is it possible for the pod to be modified / customised so as to incorporate local architectural features in each case?
Louis Thompson: The interior design, decking and landscaping can all reflect the local textiles, available timber and regional handicrafts…selecting the appropriate membrane color to integrate the surrounding vegetation and the use of native landscaping is also hugely important. Later this year we will be developing the Morpho design based on a butterfly which is a large membrane roof designed to protect traditional building materias such as adobe, bamboo and rammed earth which can be vulnerable to extreme weather…if traditional tribes had access to modern architectural membranes they would have appeared in all vernacular architectural forms.
ECOCLUB.com: In an increasingly regulated world, did you see a need to seek patents or eco-labels for your design so as to guarantee its minimal environmental footprint to potential customers?
Louis Thompson: Though I am a LEED accredited professional I have become slightly disillusioned with the certification system, largely because there are some terrible LEED certified buildings around. We are considering opting for the Living Building challenge which is a lot more ambitious. LEED is essentially a graded check list... with each credit representing an environmental consideration - some buildings incorporate huge air-conditioned spaces when natural ventilation would be a much better environmental option but get the credits because they use an efficient air-conditioner with the right refrigerant.
ECOCLUB.com: How portable is it exactly? How many person-hours are required to dismantle it and set it up, how much does it weigh and what type of vehicle should be used to carry it?
Louis Thompson: It is a tensioned membrane structure – so it is quite a different undertaking and requires some experience. With an experienced team it will take 3-4 days to set up the structure and it will weigh around 300kg - a flat bed truck would be a good vehicle. Remember the looper is the size of a small apartment – 45m2 or 485ft2 with a fully functioning bathroom. It will take between 100-120 person hours but this depends on the interior fit out and the skill levels of the workers. We can assist clients with concept development, landscape design and MEP design. We can even do turnkey projects including the project management.
ECOCLUB.com: Does it, unlike other mobile structures, provide protection from temperature extremes and how does this work?
Louis Thompson: It is designed with a natural ventilation system which evacuates hot air from the peak of the structure (3.5m internal height) It also has 80mm of insulation, two ceiling fans and a small air conditioning system (optional).
ECOCLUB.com: One can imagine that the "Nomadic Resorts" pods are ideal for areas that have very strict building permissions, such as protected areas. But how easy is it to obtain local licensing / legal approval for installing the pods in such areas?
Louis Thompson: This depends to a large extent on local regulations, however the pod is technically a temporary structure (it has no concrete footings for example) so it can often be built in locations where conventional building would not be allowed (directly on the beach for example when there are setbacks) or in areas that may be prone to flooding (its on stilts). It is also fantastic for high risk locations – if there is a major political problem. Natural disaster or terrorist attack you can simple pack up and move somewhere else temporarily until the situation has passed.. Many developers want to build them on leased land or land with complicated legal issues. It's alsp a fantastic opportunity for local people to learn new building techniques that can be combined with vernacular elements to extend the life of fragile materials.
ECOCLUB.com: We see that you are based in Sri Lanka, is there any specific reason for this such as local support, specialisation or involvement in this project?
Louis Thompson: Nice weather, good surf, fantastic wildlife and a booming tourism industry are all pretty good reasons. We are building the first resort in Tangalle in southern Sri Lanka at the moment.
ECOCLUB.com: In terms of marketing your Looper pods and your other products and services, do you prefer social networks or rather rely on more traditional avenues such as local representatives?
Louis Thompson: We are focusing on web based marketing at the moment but we are actively seeking local representatives in the US, South Africa and Australia.
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much.