As many of you know we have been running Bleuscape Design, our small architectural business for the best part of 8 years. Considering this, we have been reflecting on the design values and intensions of the firm. One major and significant observation has been our ever growing interest in design for the masses.
While the majority of our clientele fit firmly within the 3 percent of those wanting custom architecture our desire to make a difference for the rest of the population is of equal standing.
It is for this reason that we have developing an alternative concept for low – mid range housing.
A few observations.
- The majority of what we build when starting out in property acquisition is generally varying models of volume housing, the options are endless i.e Corel Homes, GJ Gardner Homes, Metricon and many more.
Many of these companies produce a product that is focused on cost competitiveness and high turnover to generate their profit. To stay in the game they construct in specific ways using certain materials. By limiting the choice of options to simple esthetic variation means they remain in control of their refined building processes.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with clever business practice that maximizes profit through refined processes, in the case of low-cost house building, it is often at the expense of maximized livability. What do I mean?
• Volume house design has little to no integrated solar passive design. i.e. Cross ventilation, natural sunlight, orientation etc. This means that one must control temperatures using mechanical means. Yes, for a few extra dollars there are green options however, it is still creating comfort in unnatural ways.
• By limiting the choice of finishes the prospective home owner is only able to individualise their home through interior design and soft furnishing, the exterior often being strictly controlled by others factors i.e Development covenants.
Both these factor when combined with the limited siting and material options offered by developers produces a model of habitation that is inherently the same as ones neighbor.
I believe, knowingly or at the subconscious level, this proliferation of housing can contribute to what Alain De Botton calls ‘Status Anxiety’. This is the amplified need to furnish ones home with increasing uniqueness for the sake of standing out i.e. Stone bench tops over laminate, brand name products, larger flat screen tv’s, facadism – fake wall stone, just to name a few.
Again, while there is nothing wrong with owning nice stuff when it is the only option for expressing individuality there emerges an inherit emphasis on materialism, and I believe this is a negative thing.
- The second observation is about conservatism and the inbreed fear that to build anything other than volume housing mitigates risk. As a nation we have developed a level of trepidation toward constructing anything other than ‘the norm’. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the general public, it is something that is instilled into us by real-estate agents, banking institutions, councils, planning bodies, policy writers and conservative developers. All these factors combined create a circular effect where each institution/industry continues to feed off each other’s dominance. The public most often unknowingly follow in suit.
As usual, the recent GFC has seen its fair share of companies begin to do R&D on new ways to build in the hope that things can be done better i.e. Bondors Insuliving concept, the merging of Pearls and Mii Home to mass build using insulated panel etc. Inevitably, the public has responded to these and many more options with a level of skepticism. I believe there are three perceived stages of risk when it comes to alternative construction verses normal options.
1. Traditional Construction i.e. Brick Veneer, Double Brick, Single skin stud construction etc. (NO RISK)
2. Prefabricated housing i.e. Insulated Panel, Concrete tilt, Composite Concrete panel etc. (MEDIUM RISK)
3. Modular housing. i.e. Housing constructed in a factory and transported to site. (HIGH RISK)
Iterations of options 2 and 3 generally seem to be what comes out of the woodwork in times of economic turbulence. However noble the intentions are of the companies wanting to change the way things are done, I am yet to see a model of alternative housing that the general public have embraced whole heartedly. Most systems fail within their first year of release and pitter off to nothing, I could name many. This is not because the systems aren't good, well thought out or innovative. It is simply that they are perceived to be too risky an investment. The public rarely want to put their money into something that is untested by the 'market'. This is further emphasized when one tries to get finance for anything other than traditional forms of building.
Considering this, I feel that the steps toward more appropriate living have to be small ones. The first step has to come through design and design only. Therefore, at Bleuscape we have created an approach to housing that manifests its difference through plan rather than material or construction type. We call it the ‘Crossroad Concept’. Pics Below:
In essence, the idea draws influence from a reality that we engage with daily; the bitumen cross road. This man-made environment is a space controlled by stop lights; it is a space that forces us to interact with other cars and facilitates the maneuvering of ours in the midst of theirs. The placing of a crossroad layout into the centre of a house plan proposes to provide the occupants with a place of interaction, a hub around which the household revolves.
This cross formation when viewed from the centre allows for four distinctive sight lines, offering four varied and unique perspectives to environments beyond. As the season’s progress and change, so do the experiences of outlook making this a space that is always changing in both light and breeze.
At the centre, unlike its bitumen counterpart, the point of juncture takes the form of a landscaped outdoor court which is surrounded by operable glazing, encouraging adjustment and promoting flexibility.
The versatility of this crossroad layout is in its symmetry. The concept can be flipped, reversed or rotated depending on the lot orientation. This solves the problem of northern exposure as the courtyard can be placed toward the north no matter what direction the land offering.
I would like to suggest that an intimate and direct relationship with landscape at the heart of the plan draws the eye, shifting the emphasis from materialism to a more natural expression of individuality, nature.
In typical volume housing landscaping is so often an after thought that results in a clear distinction between outside and in. In most circumstances it leaves no options for the occupant but to use their spaces in a singular, segregated fashion.
By nature of its layout the Crossroad House intertwines directly with landscaping, treating it with the same level of respect and importance as its own internal circulation. In many regards, the architecture becomes about the whole site not just the interior spaces. There is also the element of surprise once one passes through the entry threshold experiencing the interior space as outside.
Design can be a sensory experience if the architecture allows for it. This is the beauty of integrated solar passive design. It might be the breeze that is captured from all four extremities of the Crossroad form or the guided view that frames the outside. It might be the acute awareness of rustling leaves curiously close or the filtered flecks of dappled light that reflects into the public sitting spaces. These elements together enhance levels of relaxation, rejuvenating the soul.