Thinking about houses and space

It is sometimes easier to think about what we don’t like than what we do like when it comes to design but ultimately design needs to be positive and constructive.

For context, at the moment, I’m sitting in a stripped out bedroom where floorboards had to come up to locate leaky pipework and the sheer amount of wasted space below the floorboards is very apparent, and I dislike waste especially when this could be put to good use perhaps.

Thus I’m pondering some aspects of aesthetics and engineering to work out what I do like and to balance the contradictions and of utilitarianism and minimalism.

Minimalism – seems to be very contemporary, with abstraction of elements from site where they can be hidden, so that services can be delivered ‘magically’ without connection to source. A pair of power sockets on a wall might be a good example., you see them and know that mains power will be served by this socket, but cannot see the wires behind or where they run to. The same seems to apply to pipes and anything hidden and boxed off.

On the positive side, minimalism allows for clear thought, and sense of space without hindrance or opportunity for detail to catch the eye. However in my view the wondering of where the abstracted services lye and worry of hidden bodge very much outweigh this minimalist advantage.

But clutter is also not good, and everything should have its place. A learning from all the TV shows about tidying up, throwing out anything that does not give you ‘a spark of joy’ etc. often come down to the fact that there is not enough storage to hold all the items someone has, and thus items are accumulated in spaces where they have a negative impact by creating visual and mental clutter.

There is also a scientific solution to the question of what and how much should be kept which considers actual utility of items and future plans for them. Somethings that ‘might be useful in the future’ actually might well be so, but in day to day life we only use a subset of items, be these our tools or our clothes.

Utilitarianism – This is the idea that a space and items in it must serve function and purpose without anything too superfluous. Pipes proudly (or just neatly) on display for example.

To prevent a space feeling small, it should be neat and manageable.

Thinking about a bedroom (as the room I am in now) for example, if we take the function and purpose back to first principles, then what do we need?

Bed / Space to sleep – NB does not need to necessarily be raised from the floor, and could be vertically positioned at any accessible height as long as some headroom left if needs be (ie be open to the third dimension for best use of space).

Space to put / store trinkets (for want of a better word) – ie place a radio alarm clock, phone for charging, glass of water etc.

Access to clothes – Clothes are traditionally stored in a bedroom, but actually they only need to be accessible from this space, and is useful to have present the immediate requirement of items that you may wish to wear that day. Clothes need to go into (clean) and out (dirty) of the room.

Attributes of a bedroom – temperature / air quality.

We may as well digress onto wider house systems while we are thinking about functions etc. Ultimately, again back from first principles, what are the uses and purposes of a house / dwelling (form does not need to be a house)?

So what do we do in a house?

Utility Tasks – Storing, Cleaning (ourselves and the house), Cooking, which enable / serve the above.

Traditionally a house consists of rooms, which serve static primary, secondary and tertiary functions.

These also allow for some space / privacy for residents who may co-exist, but might appreciate split social spaces or indeed solitude for periods of time.

A house (I use this again for simplicity but it could be a flat or other style of tennament) offers some core functions for providing an overall environment with shared attributes across the spaces:

Clean Air
Power, Water and gas utilities

Can spaces be more dynamc than they currently are?

Use of space as a core attribute and compressing all else might be a solution for the fact that we like a sense of space, but space is limited by availability (economics of land cost in urban settings), and also economically that a large house needs more materials, at a higher cost, and has higher running costs than a small house. Thus space is a premium commodity that is regarded as a luxury and very much valued. Ie a larger house is seen as an aspiration goal and sign of success.

So how many rooms are actually needed in a house?

A house can have as few as one room and for much of history this is how dwellings have been in rural and lower social classes, but larger houses with multiple rooms are the choice of the wealthy and aristocracy up to the scale of the palace which is seen as the ultimate abode.

In the current age, people are likely to live in multiple houses in their lives. Starting off (in the majority of cases and all things being equal noting many exceptions etc.) living in a family home from birth to adolescence, when there is a likely departure to university and then into the working world with likely evolution of shared space in a dwelling, then a small dwelling for one or two people depending on if single or in a couple; and then when the next generation of family is started moving to a larger house. Adults where children have left the house (refereed to colloquially as empty nesters) will likely stay in a larger house with excess capacity or downsize to a smaller dwelling again.

Occasionally a dwelling may be sub divided – ie into a house and staff / guest / ‘granny’ quarters, but where this is done, it is often done as a permanent change.

How Dynamic can a dwelling be? There are many examples of dynamic use of buildings and spaces in different ways. For example flats with mutable configurations (one item that is an example of this would be the use of disappearing / pull down beds that pack up to a wall when not in use. In other examples the buildings themselves might be dynamically reconfigured. For example Nakakin Tower in Tokyo – and allows for the capsules that make up the tower to be relocated to different parts of the building, though the small spaces of the units themselves are only traditionally configured (albeit in many different ways to reflect the needs and tastes of individual occupiers).

In future (and current), there is a need to provide housing for large and growing populations. The future will also likely find a closer balance or fusion between public (social) and private dwellings that have been at odds since inception historically or certainly have more commons to them.

So what do we need in a future dwelling?

Structure and solidity (which may not be exclusive to portability where beneficial)
Water (and waste), Electricity, Gas (in future perhaps less so – in fact perhaps we should exclude fossil resource consumption at design now) supplies.
Access to light (with windows / light tubes for ambient) or artificial light
Heat / Cooling / Atmosphere control for pleasant environment
Acoustic Insulation as well as thermal for economy of operation
Spaces for occupants
Storage for occupants
Utilities for occupants (which do not need to be visible as long as they are functional)

Thinking about future hotels – in this current age, hotels are static in configuration so that they might have X number of single rooms, X double rooms, X family rooms, X suites of different sizes and X honeymoon suites etc. Perhaps instead a hotel might have X number of rooms, and provision these dynamically to best match demand? Such a hotel might in part resemble the workings of theatre sets where spaces are created and destroyed (reconfigured) several times a day. As everything becomes electronic and interconnected, doors or partitions between fixed areas of structures & rooms might be allocated to the temporary space holder and a room might be ‘printed’ (configured) between check in and the journey up to the room in an elevator.

.. so back to our house example (thinking about one house again for a bit):

Traditional rooms in a house (some of these appear in every house, others only in some):

Entrance Hall
Sitting Room / Lounge
Loo / Toilet Rooms
Utility Rooms
Dining Room
Drawing Room
Kids Play Room
AV Room
Games Room
Music Room

What will the evolution of rooms be?
Over time, we expect that manual processes associated with rooms will be reduced as automation and integrated systems replace older flows of items.

To give some examples of this:

Clothing – currently this is manually selected, stored, retrieved, washed and put away (Yes, I appreciate overlap in these actions).. but everything except the processing in a machine machine or dryer is manual (done by human) at the time of writing.

Food – currently food can either be:

  1. Prepared offsite and delivered ready to eat (take away / delivery service).. or indeed excluded from household function and eaten externally at a restaurant / Cafe.
  2. By cooked in the home. Which involves shopping for ingredients, bringing these back, storing them (ambient, cool or frozen), preparing and cooking them into complete dishes, disposing of waste and washing / storing dishes and cutlery used etc.

People have appreciated the machines which take much of the traditional manual labour out of some of the above (washing machines / dryers / dish washers etc. are appreciated especially by those who have known processes without their benefit.. but the still manual parts of these tasks can be removed.. maybe little at a time, but saving small amounts of time adds up over time.

One simple example of this might be morning and evening tooth brushing. It does not take much time to brush your teeth, to effect the actions of taking toothbrush, opening toothpaste, applying toothpaste to toothbrush, brush teeth and rinse, put cap back on toothpaste and store toothbrush again. When toothpaste is low make sure a spare is purchased, and swap over when ready. Monitor condition of toothbrush and replace when worn (or to chronological cycle).

But over time small actions add up and make a difference, as they are repeated regularly. Apparently


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