From a Dream to the Reality
Jamie, the nephew of Rosey and Tom Cowan, welcomed us while we were finally reaching the Free Spirit Spheres after a long first day of cycling in the Vancouver Island.
Twenty years ago, Tom, an innovative engineer, had a dream to contribute actively to the preservation of pristine forests and to reconnect people to the Nature. Then the Sphere became real. Tom invented and manufactured them, the first 7 years ago in this forest included in the Qualicum First nations territory, close to Qualicum Beach, north of Nanaimo. There are now 3 Spheres balancing on ropes between trees.
Actually, it is like the result of the spiritual process. The spherical architecture is a way of shaping and creating habitat to reflect a feeling and to harmonize with the environment. The sphere is a form of architecture that reflects that thought and feeling of oneness. It can symbolize Peace, a Fruit, the Earth, the Cycle of life, depending on your sensitivity. It is mostly a way to build small houses with local wood that is not damaging the environment, conversely to be part of the Nature.
Whereas all around the world companies try to tackle the necessary challenge to develop sustainable housing, the Free Spirit Spheres Inc. company of unique housing, surfing on the glamping (« glamour camping ») wave, suceeded to become a tiny but international tourism destination. The 3 operating Spheres called « Eve », « Eryn » and « Melody », priced between 145 and 235$/night for 1 person attract more than 1200 tourists per year!
For such a tiny business, it was sometimes hard to find locally the necessary material to meet the ethical objective to be the more sustainable and local, e.g. for the wood needed for the outter and the inner architecture and furniture. But everything is home-made, manufactured by Tom and friends.
We understood that the Free Spirit Spheres found a attractive niche market for foreigner tourists, even with very little promotional investments. But what about locals? When we asked to Jamie how is seen the Spheres company by local people like First nation members, NGO, accomodation businesses, inhabitants of the island, he answered that it can receive very positive feed-back or the opposite. We can regret that this original business works on its own, without any partnership with local people and entrepreneurs. In that case, it could play a role in the sustainable development of the territory and benefit to the local community by participating in eco-tourism tours or educational program for schools for example. « It would be great to build partnership with First National, EcoTrust and Eco-tourism operators » confess Jamie. The idea is already here!
Opportunies for something bigger?
Not really! The philosophy of the Spheres demand to stay sober and reasonable, even if the business could find further developments. Nevertheless, the potential applications are endless. First, the Spheres could be used as educational and raising awareness tools to demonstrate the multiple economic values of (remaining) pristine forests of Japan, South-East Asia, the Amazon… It could be used for military housing because it is easy to settle and remove, as well for humanitarian temporary camps for refugees for example.