Everything matters when we think or talk about housing.
The way homes are discussed today is in number of bedrooms but housing is so much more than that. A home is at the core of one’s identity, individuality & sense of fulfilment; they must be flexible enough to allow this.
As an architect, my biggest satisfaction comes from hearing a client discuss their projects, it often starts from a very practical sense including bedroom numbers and where the sink & hob might go…
But this quickly changes once they feel comfortable enough to tell us how they like to live and what their everyday & social lives are like. That’s when a project truly becomes the reflection of our clients with due consideration of their practical checklists.
This is where I believe Ireland’s housing & development policy is getting it deeply and irreversibly wrong. We are following a path carved by spreadsheets that tell us PROJECTED household compositions into the future and allocating these projections into numbers of bedrooms.
We are then told the household composition means a percentage of people will need studios, another 1-beds, 2-beds and 3-beds. That’s as complex as it gets. But that’s not a real experience of living. People are complex individuals with interests, hobbies, families & friends.
People collect things, take photos, make memories, take up hobbies and buy clunky objects like cellos and cacti that grow tall and slender, they adopt cats, dogs and some even parrots.
Irish housing policy does not cater for the reality of people’s complexities.
My biggest concern today is that the discourse online, in the media, at the Dáil and elsewhere is obsessed with the wrong things. The basic things that every architect and builder must make sure is included in a person’s home will be there (Building Regs).
(Drainage, electricity, ventilation, natural light, water, heat, privacy) But every home must have a place for sleeping, a place for cooking, a place for chilling, space for that oversized monstera, a place for your friend who just came back from a trip or an elderly parent.
I wish everyone held up a mirror when talking about all the new “supply” of homes and only once we can see ourselves in this unbuilt place, then proceed to imagine what could be.
What I’m describing here has been built. It is not a pipe dream, nor is it more expensive. In fact it would be faster and cheaper to deliver bigger, flexible homes at reasonable costs & sustainable densities in blank canvases that actual people can shape to suit their needs.
The example I’m referring to is called Tila Housing by Talli Architects in Helsinki. The premise is simple: 5m wide X 10m deep X 5m tall, DUAL ASPECT homes with supply of the basic infrastructure for kitchens and bathrooms but little else.
The result is housing that is cheaper and faster to build and therefore much more affordable and quicker to deliver than fully kitted-out units. People can afford less expensive units, move in sooner and start living.
This also means each building has less but more flexible homes that can change over time as opposed to high-spec “packing & stacking” of small & inflexible units. Think about the cost reductions of having less kitchens, bathrooms, circulation, structure...
The suggestion here is that we have a huge number of unrealised, unrealistic schemes for unsustainable densities in obsolete bedroom-unit thinking designs. These will require a lot of money & a lot of time to build and at the end they won’t even be affordable nor purchasable.
To think about the inflexibility of this “on average we need x number of studios, 1,2 & 3-beds” with a bit of historical context let’s look at how the U.S. Air Force “discovered the flaws of averages”
In the 1940’s pilots faced the serious problem of not being able to control their planes, this led to up to 17 pilots crashing in a single day. First the pilots were blamed (shocking) as engineers confirmed planes would seldom malfunction...
Pilots knew for sure their skills weren’t the problem… so eventually officials looked at the cockpits. It turns out when the first cockpits were developed engineers had measured physical dimensions of hundreds of male pilots and thus “The Standard Cockpit” was born.
For 30 years the size and shape of seats, distance to pedals, height of windshields, size of flight helmets were all designed and built to fit the average dimensions of a male pilot of the 1920’s. So the engineers updated the assessment and re-measured over 4,000 pilots…
From thumb lengths to distances from a pilot’s eye to their ears, they had it all neatly recalibrated to a new glorious average. But in came Lt. Gilbert S. Daniels who’s research on male hands showed the average hand did not resemble ANY individual’s measurements (who knew)
Long story short adjustable seats and straps were developed and now every single vehicle is adjustable, many times the steering wheel and pedals are as well. Why is this thinking on flexibility confined to these elements?
We know every household is different and will need to adjust over time to suit people’s needs. So why isn’t every home flexible enough to do this? Are we drafting policy, designing & building housing with the same myopia of the 1920’s cockpit? I think so.
One alternative is already in this thread but as we have seen in #HousingUnlocked
, the job of architects is to think of alternatives and we should take these solutions seriously while staying clear of simplistic thinking on housing.