A Hole In The Wall

A little “wine window” in Florence.

If you strolled through the cobbled lanes of Florence, you’re likely to see little apertures in old buildings that are about the size of an airplane window.

Well, they are windows.

In the mid-16th century, when the grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici, decreed that wine could be sold out of people’s cellars—bypassing the taverns and innkeepers—Florentine nobles built these buchette del vino (Italian for “holes for wine”) into the walls of their palatial residences. By selling directly to the consumers, they evaded taxes in the process.

In the early 1630s, when an outbreak of the plague swept through this town and elsewhere in northern Italy, these dainty architectural features allowed sellers to pass a flask of wine into the hand of a buyer, without coming into contact with him or her.

In the era of the coronavirus, they’re are enjoying something of a Renaissance.

Tree Houses On Mars, Sort Of

A team of Malaysian architects has envisioned building a human outpost on the red planet with bamboo, grown locally on Mars. It won’t be cultivated on the Martian soil, though, but in an ETFE chamber. Robots will weave a row of silo-like settlements from the trees.

Sidelight: In Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars,” the initial batch of 100 settlers build a dorm constructed of bamboo.

Settlements On Mars Won’t Be Domes

Homes on the red planet could look like enormous eggs.

They’ll be powered by nuclear energy.

Mars is very cold. Its average temperature is about minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Earth, at 58.3 degrees, is a boiling blue kettle, by contrast. Its frail atmosphere—about 100 times thinner than Earth’s—is laden with carbon dioxide. It has furious sandstorms that whirl over areas the size of a continent.

No matter. We’ll have to leave Earth one day. What kind of housing can we expect on a new world?

Science-fiction has pictured future human societies as living in a myriad of settlements in the near and far reaches of space, in everything from gleaming, orbital modules that look like huge tops to hollowed-out asteroids to yurts on mesas to a honeycomb of aquatic pods.

But a perennial favorite is the dome. Take Trantor, the planet-size capital of Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire, whose land area of 75 million square-miles—which is about 40 percent that of Earth’s—is almost entirely enclosed. The ecumenopolis, which extends into the underground, is home to a population of 45 billion people.

Or Arthur C. Clarke’s Diaspar. Or the edifice in “Logan’s Run” (1976), which looks like a humongous, upside-down contact lens. These structures make the hostile environments of alien worlds livable.

In reality, though, erecting gargantuan glass hemispheres or tucking away an entire civilization inside a geodesic building à la Epcot’s Spaceship Earth isn’t that feasible. The chief reason is the staggering cost of shipping raw materials from Earth. (Every 10 pounds of payload need 90 pounds of propellant.)

So, it’s best if Martian real estate is developed with materials found on Mars itself.

AI SpaceFactory, an architecture firm based in New York, is the winner of a NASA contest to build a house for Mars. The concept—“Marsha” (a portmanteau of “Mars” and “Habitat”)—marks a radical departure from the earlier space age habitats. Although not quite as sprawling or grandiose, it still arouses wonder—a wonder of a different dose.

It looks like an egg, whose shell is made from an innovative mixture of basalt fiber (extracted from Martian rocks) and renewable bioplastic (obtained from plants grown on Mars.) It’ll be powered by nuclear energy.