Arcbazar is very lucky as a business. Through our platform we get to interact with talented, inspiring people from all over the world: architects and designers, clients, investors, advisors, scholars and entrepreneurs. We get a glimpse of the world of so many innovators – their vision, challenges, motivation. This is our source of energy, of inspiration, of perseverance to keep expanding our platform and work towards our goal of democratizing architecture.
Last week we caught up with Greg and Jill Henderson, the founders of Arx Pax. We have recently partnered up with Arx Pax, hosting their competition on our channel. Arx Pax [Latin: citadel, peace] has developed and patented building systems that allow for responsible development in areas of the world subject to natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods and rising sea levels. Hover technology and structural isolation are at the core of their business. However, these two sentences summarizing Arx Pax doesn’t really do it justice. The story of Arx Pax is a story of love, support, commitment, global vision and a genuine effort to make the world a better place. So let’s start from the beginning.
How did it all start?
Raised in a military family, Greg moved around a lot as a child. Upon graduating high school, he was accepted to UC Berkley, but decided to turn down the admission to follow in his father’s footsteps. So, he joined the army with the goal of going to West Point. However, acceptance into this military academy required a nomination from a senator or a congressman. As a result, Greg joined the army as a private and shipped off to Ft. Benning, Georgia for basic and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. The following year he got a presidential nomination from Ronald Reagan to join West Point. Upon graduation, he became an army ranger. His career was taking off, yet the whole time he was struggling. “I felt like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” explains Greg. So, he resigned his commission as a Captain in the army, came back to the Bay area and joined a construction crew as a carpenter. He started taking classes from West Valley Community College in, which is where he met Michael Lorimer, “the greatest architect I’ve ever met,” continues Greg. “He removes his ego from everything he does, which results in some truly magnificent designs.” Michael Lorimer and his approach to architecture played an important role in Greg’s future endeavor.
In a couple of years, Greg was accepted to UC Berkeley’s graduate program at the College of Environmental Design. “While in the army, I had witnessed numerous natural disasters. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better way to build.” During his first year in grad school, he got an assignment to design a school in Mission Bay, San Francisco – a seismically unstable area with poor soil conditions. While conducting research for the project, Greg came across a section of the Mission Bay, called China Basin. He was amazed how completely unaffected by the earthquake the houseboats in this area were. By definition, they were also impervious to floods. That’s when he got the idea: why not replicate this and build a containment vessel, fill it with water and build structures? Greg pitched the idea to his partners at the development firm where he was working, however, it was turned down because of the, “if that was a good idea someone else would’ve been doing it,” type of thinking.
It was about that time that he reconnected with Jill, who he knew in high school. “It was only by the power of her love and support that I could do this,” shares Greg. “We knew that this idea could save lives. The world needs this. How could you not do this!” explains Jill. Indeed, re-defining architecture to make it withstand (or rather adjust) to such natural disasters as floods and earthquake can save thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives, every year. That’s simply a fact. The 2015 Nepal earthquake killed over 8,000 people and injured over 21,000. The same year, the South Indian floods resulted in more than 500 deaths and destroyed thousands of homes. These are just a couple of examples from 2015 alone!
Arx Pax Labs, the Company
HWPK – these are the guiding principles of Arx Pax. “Be humble, be wise, be passionate and be kind” – the words of wisdom from Jill when the two were getting started. At the moment, the company employs 16 full-time employees, plus 4 remote part-time team members . Greg is the CEO of the company and primarily focuses on the vision and the technology behind Arx Pax’s projects. Jill runs the company’s internal and external communication as well as takes care of human relations in the team, ensuring that people who work for Arx Pax share its vision and goals, and get the space and the resources to bring this vision to life.
The technology for structural isolation is a complete game-changer in the world of architecture. “It will take time, but its potential is truly impactful,” explain Greg and Jill. “One of the fundamental issues architecture and engineering struggle with from a business perspective is that when architecture and its associated structural engineering is done properly, it is done for one place, one time in history, for one site. That iss, by definition, not scalable,” continues Greg. If you then consider the vulnerability of these structures to such natural disaster as an earthquake, the problem with the current way of architecture becomes obvious. That’s what Arx Pax’s patented 3-part foundation system for structural isolation aims to resolve. The hover engines are at the core of the design. Imagine, instead of a regular foundation, a building will consist of three parts: the support system, the hover engines and the structure itself. UC Berkeley’s ShakeAlert program is an early warning system that can give the structure an advance notice of the upcoming earthquake. This warning of just a few seconds will then activate hover engines. The supports fall away as the building basically hovers above it – just by a couple of centimeters. When the earthquake is over, the support system returns. As a result, the building never moves, but due to its mobility, it does not get affected by the shaking the way static buildings are. It provides vertical cushioning, if you will. Whether applied to hospitals, large computer servers, precious art – whatever it is you want to protect – we can do that now in a method that’s scalable.
The technology for structural isolation for areas prone to floods is based on a different approach – isolation based on a houseboat principle. While some may doubt the feasibility of such projects due to concerns about surrounding infrastructure and utilities, this problem has been solved by cruise ships, which, basically “plug in” upon arrival at the port.
Competition on Arcbazar and the UN World Summit
In a few days Greg will be presenting the winning designs of the Arcbazar-hosted competition during his speech at the UN World Summit on Innovation & Entrepreneurship. While Greg and Jill get numerous invites to speak at different venues, most of the time these invites are based on the organizers’ interest in hover boards, rather than the underlying ideas of hover technology. “We politely say no.” However, when the invitation to speak at the UN World Summit came a few months ago, Greg and Jill couldn’t think of a more important venue to share their concept and ideas with the audience of innovators and entrepreneurs.
They are currently in the process of reaching out to the Association of Small Island States. Many of these places are at risk of being erased off the map if the sea rises just by 1 meter – The Maldives, the Solomon Islands and a number of others. Arx Pax’s goal is to get its technology to such locations.
“Arcbazar is the perfect platform for us when dealing with the international community. We are such big fans of its concept of connecting talented people from across the world and crowdsourcing ideas!” Greg and Jill tell us. While Arx Pax holds patents on its technology in the US, it purposefully is not pursuing them internationally, so that vulnerable locations across the world can use and adapt the technology to their needs.
In conclusion, this was by far one of the most inspiring interviews we’ve done. The passion and the commitment of Greg and Jill Henderson to truly make an impact on the world and to save lives are incredibly sincere and empowering. It’s not about recognition or money or fame. It’s about knowing that we have the necessary technology and the tools to redefine architecture in a way that will save lives and feeling the obligation to do everything possible to make it available. We are looking forward to more competitions from Arx Pax on our platform!