26 January 2022
A New Blueprint for the Future of Housing
It’s time to tear up that old blueprint and rethink how homes are designed. As a CAD/BIM designer, you’re designing for the future. But do you know what the future holds? Do you know what future expectations are? Do you know that the use of the average family home is evolving?
The Turning of the Wheel
Once, bell bottom pants were all the rage. Then they were a big no-no. And then we saw the return of the “flare.” Once, multi-generation homes were commonplace. Then came the single family home. And now we’re seeing a return to the multi-generational home with, perhaps, greater forethought into the varying needs of the various generations living under the same roof. This impacts architects and CAD/BIM designers everywhere.
You're designing for the future, but do you know what the future holds?
The New American Dream
Who is that home you are designing for? Designing for the nuclear family based on that old aspirational idea of “owning your own home” has been a very big part of the American Dream — but is less practical now. (And “less practical” usually equals “less marketable.”) Childcare costs, the costs of elderly care and the effect that living in a less communal way has had on people is driving a change in how we live. It might be time to bump that old blueprint and rethink how the home of the future should be designed.
Over the last few years, multi-generational homes have becoming a growing trend as financial concerns ⎯ driven by health costs for the elderly and daycare for the young ⎯ have put people in an interesting position.
When a young adult first moves out of the parental home, their independence may be a prized achievement they believe they’ll never sacrifice. Things change, though, as they get married and have children of their own. The demands placed upon their living quarters must be met. Bachelor pads are one thing, but family homes bring a whole plethora of different demands. If someone has small children they are taking care of and elderly parents, then they are a member of what is now known as the “sandwich generation.”
One in eight Americans fall into this category, with an additional seven to ten million people caring for their parents long distance. For them, a solution to living with elderly parents would help. Both the UK and Australia are also seeing a similar development of a sandwich generation. This is the new challenge for architects and CAD/BIM designers.
The Sandwich Generation: Who Needs What?
Multi-generational housing obviously has to take into consideration the needs and wants of the various occupants of said residence. Are voice-activated lights suitable for an older person who may prefer traditional light switches? Is the kitchen usable by someone’s elderly parents who may not be able to reach the high cupboards? Is the balance between communal space and private space enough to offset living on top of each other? For members of the sandwich generation, the dynamic of who owns what is not going to be the same as when they were children living in their parents’ home.
The boundaries and rules are going to be set differently as well. Elderly parents may have mobility issues and may also need more peace and quiet than offered by young couples with children. How do you divide up a home? If you go with the modular configuration that some designers are opting for, then the idea is that as the needs of the family shift, the house can be reconfigured with minimal construction required. Aging parents move in, so you create a shared space with separate entry points and enough division to allow them to live their own lives. Your teenager moves out, so you reclaim that space until he moves back home prior to landing his first job after finishing college. The dividing lines ebb and flow as the family dynamic shifts.
The "sandwich generation" is the new challenge for architects and CAD/BIM designers.
The other approach, instead of separation into modules, is to build spaces that work with communal use, coupled with spaces that are for personal use. The uses remain somewhat fixed, but the spaces are designed so that the flow of one group’s needs dovetail with those of another.
Flexibility is a must if quality of life is to be maintained. While some of the necessary changes can be expensive, people are looking for more affordable solutions. The child who leaves home is not the same as the child who returns to live with his parents because of new economic realities. With independence and age, a new degree of privacy is needed insofar as the boundaries between parent and child are concerned.
With older people, mobility and accessibility issues may demand a reconfigured bathroom with a walk-in shower for instance. Storage may need to be rethought. Medical needs may dictate a bedroom that functions in much the same way a hospital room would. It can be something as simple as providing space for the older generation, where their new space feels like they have ownership of it. Having their own entrances, so they can independently come and go as they please, is important too.
Having spaces that have more than one purpose is key. Bedroom functionality becomes the basic building block, with the room being switched up as necessary. It is easier to adapt a bedroom into something else than vice versa. Some homes may already have the germ of this idea: Your typical guest bedroom often doubles as a study or a storage room for part of the year. Foldaways play a big part, as well as the stacking and arranging of storage space. Why dedicate an entire room to a function that doesn’t need to be in place for the entire day?
The desk that recesses into the wall, the bed that flips up into a frame or the coffee table that folds away to become wall shelving: Designers are having to think about shifting functions and raising the level of the aesthetic to match. You don’t necessarily want it to be obvious in a public space that someone sleeps there at night.
You also need to consider that communal areas for kids are not going to easily double as communal spaces for seniors, because they are going to want to use the spaces for different things. Being able to create some sense of separation within the house may be a vital ingredient for everyone’s sanity. Kulinski and Rappe Architects of Chicago have won awards for their work in residential design, coming up with some beautiful solutions for the living situations of the sandwich generation. Scott Rappe, who refers to his style as “inspired constraint”, uses spaces such as hallways to solve this problem. A wide hallway can be a play area and accommodates walkers or wheelchairs. Rappe sees the hallway as a place to be lived in, not just a space that connects other rooms.
A courtyard, nestled within a building, also provides a communal area which can function as a play area for the children during the day, but perhaps shift to an area where the older occupants can relax in the evenings, as weather permits.
Shifting Spaces for Shifting Family Units
The other factor which is going to be of prime importance is to make sure that every part of the house makes the best use of the space available. No one wants to be cramped or feel that their needs have been ignored. Mosaic Design has been looking at the design experience from the ground up. It starts with things as simple as toilet paper holders doubling as grab handles for stability. Mobility enhancing features can help both the young and the old. Rooms are treated in the same way, where the patterns of usage from the younger to the older generations in the house are used to determine what function the room is performing. A play area may become a communal area. A bedroom may become an office when the work day starts.
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As humans live longer, this is going to be more of a concern. Projections put the number of 65-year-olds as doubling between now and 2030. There is also the fact that more and more people are unable to afford to move out or are forced to move back home. A report by the Pew Research Center suggests this trend is even more prevalent among Asian and African American families.
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