Thursday, 6 October 2011

Design in Motion … in a House!?

Jet House by Jerome Olivet Visionary Architecture DesignJerome Olivet Visionary Design: Architecture: Jet House
Image Credit: Jérôme OLIVET Book: Architecture: Plant inspiration

Good Engineering and Beautiful Aesthetics Can Go Hand in Hand in Your Home.
In recent years, there has been an emerging school of thought in design that could be called "motion design" or even "design in motion." From computer animation to automotive, the focus is on designs that look good while moving, not just while standing still. In the automotive world, the approach evolved from ever-more intense aerodynamic testing for performance and fuel efficiency. In other words, it was a natural progression of an age-old tradition in design called "form follows function." When we consider design in motion as another example of form follows function, we can apply the concept directly to home design and layout — and no, we’re not talking mobile homes!

A house is in constant motion. It’s all a question of perspective and relativity. After all, in a wind tunnel test, a car stays in one spot: it’s artificially generated wind that’s really moving; and yet, its aerodynamics can be tested … that is design in motion. In much the same way, rooms, hallways, counters, closets — all these elements stay put. It’s the people living in and around them that move. The motion of a house relates to its occupants. So, if you really think about it, design in motion is perhaps the most relevant consideration when building a house, an addition or any major re-redesign project.

Here are some questions worthy of consideration: in the morning, how many people are there in the house getting ready within the same time-frame? What is the flow of people between bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry and hallways? Where are the “bottlenecks”? We live in Canada: does the home have an alternate entrance and/or mudroom where slushy shoes and snowsuits can be removed and stored away from the primary entrance (i.e. the one used by visitors and guests)? Speaking of guests, is there an office or sitting room relatively near the main entrance close to a powder room where surprise guests can be entertained without disturbing the rest of the household? Perhaps that same office can contain a sofa bed or futon to accommodate overnight guests (in which case it’s best the powder room also has a shower for them to use). Is there a handyman in the house? A gardener? How about a laundry room with a shower within easy reach of the garden, workshop, or wherever soiled people and their clothes enter the house?

Of course, people are not the only things that move in a house. Sound is also an element that is in motion; "sound carries." Anyone who has ever lived in a side-split or back-split arrangement will attest to a design which essentially turns the entire house into a single audio zone (and these are very common among the many "cookie-cutter" designs prevalent in the Greater Toronto Area and elsewhere in Ontario). The placement of rooms next to or above other rooms where "noise contamination" may take place is an important consideration. In some cases (positioning a baby room) you may want to hear every sound coming from the adjacent room. Of course, sound carries through houses in sometimes unanticipated ways. Duct-work can channel noise remarkably efficiently. A finished basement with ceiling vents connected to existing duct-work could inadvertently make a direct (and unfortunate) "audio pipeline" between the basement washroom and the main floor kitchen or living room.

Similarly, light is also an element in constant motion. Obviously, over the course of a day, daylight and shadow shift from one side of the house to the other. But in the evenings, artificial light from one space within the home can "flood" an adjacent space quite easily. There can be too much light or not enough given the activities in any particular room. Often, designer fixtures that "look good" in the showroom are sorely lacking in terms of providing adequate light. Finally, new digital dimmers and timers add a whole other dimension of motion—changes in lighting intensity over time.

The point is this: aesthetic considerations of design aside, a home must be lived in. Designing the layout and functionality of a house in motion will result in a more livable home. The key is to work with a designer and/or contractor who has the ability and the patience to take you through the process of understanding the numerous motions the house will go through to determine the best design.

If all this sounds too much like an exercise in engineering and too little like design, remember: good engineering and beautiful aesthetics go hand-in hand. Truly, having one without the other is not very practical when it comes to building anything that "must be lived with" (lived in). However, one thing is absolutely certain: having a home that just "looks good" at first glance will become very tiresome very quickly if it encumbers the natural flow of the people and daily life. Maybe that’s why so many people in Toronto are opting to build additions or have dramatic re-designs and re-builds done on their existing properties — what was aesthetically pleasing once must be brought up to speed of 21st Century living.

As for the "Aerodynamic House" in the image that opens this blog: in the not-too-distant future, global warming and more extreme weather patterns — particularly here in Canada — may indeed begin to play a more critical role in design in motion considerations as they relate to homes. But that, as they say, is a topic for another day.

Attila Lendvai
VP of Strategic Development
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

Jérôme OLIVET. La boutique

Jerome Olivet Visionary Design home is where the art is: Jet House is a New Look on an Old Design
By Christopher Mascari

Cjacotguth’s Blog: Research: Aerodynamic House
By Charlotte Margareta Jacot Guth The Jet House, Sleek Aerodynamic Living
by Rigel Celeste

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