Indigenous hand-woven home from palm fronds in Lau Group, Figi

Indigenous hand-woven home from palm fronds in Lau Group, Figi

Seven Ideas for the "New Modern Home"

Most modern homes currently utilize an “open plan” on the main level where the Living room, Dining room, Kitchen and Den all open and visible from one another. The advantages are a feeling of spaciousness and sense of connection between the various activities. The drawback is that the plan does not allow for privacy and the space encourages an “introverted” rather than “extroverted” experience.

The “Boathouse” has an “open plan” but one that opens to the outdoors rather than the interior spaces. This allows the room’s functions to be more flexible since the spaces are separated and maintain privacy from adjacent spaces.  In addition, the rooms appear wider than they are (15’) since one wall is glass and open to the side yard pool/garden. There are no enclosed hallways.

1.  Equal rather than hierarchical room sizes
For the most part, all rooms in the house are of equal size (16’ x 16’) and their use undefined. Most modern homes have a hierarchical order — Master bedroom; Family Bedrooms, Guest Bedrooms etc. The rooms usually have amenities specific to their use and attached bathrooms that tend to define their use. The rooms in the Boathouse are mostly the same size without attached bathrooms or closets. Their use is less defined and hence more flexible. For example, any room could easily become an office, study, exercise room, art studio etc. This “democratic” structure provides for more flexibility as the needs of the occupants change without the need to reconfigure the floor plan. The house could be transformed to a commune or office building in the future requiring only a change in furniture.

2.  The use of  “sleeping pods” rather than “bedrooms”
While any room could become a “bedroom”, the intent is that the smaller spaces (7’ x 7’) would become like “ship cabins” with a built in queen bed and a side table.   What would normally be the “bedroom” spaces are then available as “mini-ateliers” to pursue work or artistic activities (writing, art, yoga, music etc).  These spaces have attached protected outdoor decks and high ceilings with clerestory windows for diffused northern light and fresh air.

3.  The "Communal bathroom"
The Boathouse does not see bathrooms as “spaces” but a series of different functions, each with its own needs. The bathing areas, water closets and sink counters have, in most cases, been separated. The reason for this is to express each function in a unique way where the requirements of one (e.g. toilets) due not infringe on the other (e.g. bathing). It is also more functional allowing the facilities to be used simultaneously by many users. Counters are placed in the general circulation space where they are more space efficient and accessible. NOTE: This is not a new idea but different than most modern homes.

4.  Eclectic Architectural Style and use of materials
Because the Boathouse borrows from many different styles and historic periods (factory steel windows, Japanese baths, computer generated wind scoops), it does not fall into any specific architectural style. The aesthetic is intentionally eclectic choosing to have the design be determined by the functions of the house and the pragmatic use of materials. The feeling of the house is neither “upscale” nor “low market”. The creative use of common materials in innovative ways achieves an elegant yet relaxed style.

5.  Built from a “kit of parts” where construction process is apparent
The Boathouse was intentionally detailed such that the viewer is able to see how the house was assembled, almost like a “kit of parts”. Most mechanical connections are visible- concrete panel’s rivets, structural steel beam’s bolts and brackets. There is no trim used so all connections are exposed becoming “design elements”. The clear plastic panels over the exposed framing further remove any mystery of the home’s construction. Most materials have been left in their natural state leaving exposed, in some cases, the markings from the lumberyard and carpenters to chronicle the history of the materials and the building process. The house projects both an elegance and  “let-it-all-hang-out” attitude that both provides visual interest and exposes the history of the building/living process.

6.  Modular Design
In the future, most houses will likely be modular and fabricated off-site.  While the Boathouse is “custom built”, the house was laid as if it were modular. The plan utilizes a 16’ x 16’ grid for the larger spaces separated by a 7’ space for services and circulation. The roofs mounted atop the living modules provide electricity, heating and cooling.  At a different site, they could be rotated for proper orientation. The complexity of the design is belied by the redundancy of its plan.   

7.  Green Design
The two basic system approaches in “green design” are active and passive. The passive systems in the Boathouse are celebrated as an artistic expression of the design. The most noticeable are the 3 wind scoops that provide natural cooling and shelter from rain and sun. Sun control is achieved through the use of vertical and horizontal fins. The location and orientation of the fins is adjustable and determined by the optimal orientation to the sun’s movement. The active systems (solar panels) have also been installed in their proper orientation but mostly out of sight. The Boathouse provides 100% of its electricity and pool heating. An estimated 60% savings is achieved with solar panels for the water and space heating needs.  All rain water is conducted to a 2-way valve where it can be diverted to a water storage system or allowed to return to the water table through a 20’ dry well with perforated walls.

The Future of Residential Design?

When discussing the housing trends, it may be more predictive to look at Disneyland than architectural magazines. Disney ‘s new “House of the Future”, in partnership with Microsoft, is described as “a normal suburban home outside but inside it will feature hardware and software and touch screen systems that could simplify everyday living”. A few features include “following family members from room to room and adjusting everything, including artwork, to preset personal preferences”, closets that pick out your party dress and countertops that make your menu selections.

It is consistent with the trend of our lives being mediated and controlled by technology — from our social circles to our living choices. Will this improve our lives or further alienate us from nature and society?  Natural evolution is driven by the genetic “mistakes” that enabled us to adapt to a changing environment.  Personal and social evolution may not be so different. Would a world where all of our choices were preselected and predictable foster more personal growth than one that held surprise and confronted us with challenges we could not have anticipated or imagined? As our homes have become a “refuge” from a less predictable and more dangerous outside world, the gravitation towards isolation and a “virtual experience”, rather than real-time face-to-face interaction, becomes a dangerous temptation. The “Meridian House” offers an alternative vision for the “house of the future”.


© Copyright 2013 Thane Roberts AIA