“How can we design large projects without necessarily imposing uniformity and rigidity where variety and adaptability over time are desirable? How can the big project nevertheless do justice to the small scale?”

N. John Habraken, 
Control of Complexity, Places, Vol. 4, No. 2. 1987


Welcome to the 1st article of the “Durability and Sustainability through Mass Timber Technology” series. You can read the introduction article here.

In the introduction, I mentioned the difficulties and costs people have to bear when reshaping the internal layout of a building, to meet the different needs that may arise during its useful life span. This is one of the rigidity elements inherent to conventional construction, and one of the reasons why we should consider new building solutions and ways of conceiving living spaces.

The dynamics of this building evolution need to be considered right at the beginning of any conceptual design phase. Whether it is a residential or commercial building, whether it is a detached house or a building with several apartments, the original functions will change over time, as our needs – as well as our lives – keep evolving.

The simplest example is a family with children. The space the inhabitants need at the beginning, when the children are growing up and staying at home, is different from the space available once they leave, for studying elsewhere or starting a new family.

Similar needs for spatial rescheduling also occur in commercial buildings.
Consider the transition from single offices to open spaces, and how digital technology has increased remote working and online meetings and, ultimately, how the COVID outbreak has further made the working environment so critical.

If needs and spaces are changing at such an increasing pace, flexible planning must become an essential element for any building.

Read here how Flexibility is achievable through CLT technology.

A practical example is what Innovhousing has proposed as a conceptual project for a client in Plettenberg bay.

The client, a young couple, decided to build a new housing unit on top of an existing one to be demolished, and make the most of an unbeatable location, within a private estate, overlooking an unspoiled beach on the Indian Ocean.

In the photos above: the unit to be demolished and its surroundings.

The building capacity equivalent to 220 square meters, allowed the architect Alessandro Zuanni to fully exploit the features of the new building technology, offering a wide range of solutions, all equally possible, implementable and upgradable over time.

In our experience, sustainability has different interpretations and meanings. We should consider sustainability in environmental, financial, social, and lifecycle terms.

When it comes to financial and lifecycle sustainability, it is fundamental to be flexible and imagine a building that could evolve to accommodate new functions and needs throughout its life.

Keeping that in mind, we integrated the single-family house concept into the high quality surrounding landscape.

The inner layout was developed as a continuous spatial experience, divided into areas with lightweight partitions that we have already considered movable for further layout changes.

Ground Floor Plan

Few structural elements inside the floor plan, along with sliding doors and walls, allow homeowners the flexibility to adapt space and configuration to the evolving needs of the family.

At the same time, the open floor plan allows the right amount of natural light throughout the day in every area of the house, regardless of the configuration of rooms.  The lack of room hierarchy in both floor plans, along with the centrality of the entrance and stairs, allow functional flexibility for the building.

The floor plan develops around two central spine walls, that are the only two fixed elements of the house, and accommodate plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems. The primary, structural core enables technological flexibility: easy access to installations and building subsystems, for maintenance and future modification.
Innovhousing conceived non-load- bearing partitions by implementing movable architectural components and panels instead of walls.

All paths inside the house are continuous, with no interruptions so that people can move freely, without passing through any door, from one room to another.
We achieved room separation through the combination of soundproofing sliding walls and the use of lightweight walls.

The ground floor accommodates the living areas while the first floor features two rooms and a flexible open space used as a leisure area, study, or office room.
Alternatively, the open space could accommodate two bedrooms, if necessary.

First Floor Plan

Last but not least, the configuration plan offers the opportunity to divide the house into two small apartments, or to use the ground floor as a vacation house, without moving the entrance, staircase, and facade.

When we refer to a building as a value, we conceive it as a set of advantages developing over time.
A building should be made with sustainable materials that do not degrade, with solutions designed for the best well-being of its present and future inhabitants.

Even if we cannot foresee precisely the future of the building, at least we should visualize it as a precious, adaptable, asset to pass on to future generations.

Written in collaboration with Architect Alessandro Zuanni