Design Experts

Inside design: Avi Friedman

Inside design: Avi Friedman Author: Style At Home

Design Experts

Inside design: Avi Friedman

How do we make even the smallest of homes -– strike that, especially the smallest of homes –- more space-efficient? There are few as qualified as architect Avi Friedman to respond to that dilemma. Avi's ground-breaking work on flexible housing design includes the concept of the life cycle home –- one that evolves as our lives evolve. His ideology is both creative and humanistic, founded on a desire to build better homes and communities. His is an artistic approach that makes the renovations that are a part of family life seamless. This brand of revolutionary thinking is spelled out in Avi's book The Adaptable House (McGraw-Hill, 2002). He has earned a United Nations World Habitat Award and a place on Wallpaper* magazine's list of 10 people who'll change the way we live. As a professor at the McGill University school of architecture in Montreal, Avi is educating a new generation of designers about the virtues of thinking outside the box. We asked him for a lesson on living big in small spaces.

S@H: You've masterminded the life cycle home -– a house that can be modified for changing living needs. What kinds of lifestyle changes radically affect housing?
AF:
Conflict exists between the dynamic nature of people's lives and the homes in which they reside. We buy a house considering our immediate needs. We fail to recognize our future needs. My argument is that it should be much simpler for a house to evolve to meet the needs of its occupants. We have children and need more bedrooms. People are living longer, so we need homes that can be adapted to the elderly. More and more people are choosing to work from home and need home offices. Environmental concerns mean we need to update houses to become more eco-friendly. These sorts of influences are constant, and it would be better for most people if their homes could be easily adapted, saving them from the stress of moving.

S@H: I think most people consider renovating stressful. Is there a stress-free way to create what you call “the adaptable house”?
AF:
There's a scale of stress, and currently, renovating a house is extremely high on that scale. But if you design the house so that adding or subdividing spaces later is a much nicer experience, people won't dread renovating and they won't need to move -– consider the effect that would have on communities. The technology exists to build life cycle homes. We know how to make clip-on/clip-off walls, for example. They're demountable wall systems that make adapting and changing a room a snap. And in the past few years, we've introduced technology that allows builders to install all the plumbing and wiring for a house right in the mouldings and baseboards, rather than inside the walls. When the time comes to reshape the house, the mouldings pop off and the wires and pipes are easily and inexpensively moved.

S@H: Is that adaptability achievable in small homes?
AF:
Even the tiniest houses can be efficient –- they must be. In a small space, every square inch must be utilized effectively. One error wastes so much functionality. The Grow Home [codesigned by Avi and Witold Rybczynski in 1990] is 14 by 36 feet. It's one of the smallest houses in Canada today. It's become so popular [10,000 Grow Homes were built for buyers last year alone] because it's flexible. We left the top floor unpartitioned, which is a psychological trick, really; when a space is unpartitioned it feels bigger, has multiple uses and provides the opportunity to subdivide later.

S@H: Are there other design tricks that make a small space function more efficiently?
AF:
When you design a space, you must consider the potential for double functions. For example, if you hang one window in a room, you can't ever subdivide the room, but if you hang two, you can partition the room later. Windows may also be easily replaced with doors to accommodate changing needs. The placement of interior doors is also of critical importance. If you walk into a room from a corner, the room feels bigger. Similarly, if you walk into a room and find a window facing you, the room feels more expansive. Hallways and corridors can also be designed so that they're adaptable. They can take up to 30 per cent of a home's floor space. If we built them 48 inches wide, storage could be built along one wall and still leave enough room for passage. Also, in small houses, corridors can later accommodate stairs leading to a new upper level. You see, if you're thoughtful from the beginning, even the smallest houses can be efficient and can evolve as the homeowners' needs change.

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Inside design: Avi Friedman