Step 8 – Shape / Size

Step 8 – Shape / Size (PDF)
Step 8 – Shape / Size (Page 1)
Step 8 – Shape / Size (Page 2)

  • BradW


    I did not see any examples to illustrate your point about multi-family dwelling.

    But the main problem I have with this section is that most lots are long and narrow. It is very difficult to build a wide house on a narrow lot. The examples, except #4, are really fairly typical and fairly well-designed houses that are simply responding to the site condition. Short of adding a skylit stairwell or an interior courtyard what can be done? It is not good enough to say this is a problem without offering alternatives.

  • John Brown

    You are right that this section could benefit a lot from some examples of both well proportioned homes as well as long narrow homes that are properly designed.

  • Li-Na

    John, I think this section is fairly clear. However, I too was looking for suggestions on how to deal with the issues you bring up.

    It’s rather hard not to get discouraged with all these negative points highlighted without some good solutions thrown into the mix (even if it is something simple like adding a skylight or a solartube). :-)

    Is there any place in your book for a case study of a Slow Home where you could pinpoint how good design and perhaps some out-of-the-box thinking can overcome limitations like a narrow lot?

  • Terri

    I agree with Brad’s assessment on the problem with the section as is. After these negative aspects are featured, we’re left wondering what a good plan would be, given a similar situation.

    The text is quite clean generally. I’ll take a second look at it later to see if I might make a few suggestions for clarity’s sake.

  • John Brown

    One of the most important things we have learned from this editing experience is the need to include examples of homes that follow the slow home principles. In reviewing this section again over the weekend it seems that this is particularly important here because as Brad correctly observes, the narrow long lot is not atypical.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the review. I appreciate the positive comments on the text. Now we just need to add in some good examples.

  • James Scott

    John – I noticed looking at the icons today that they seem to represent smaller, lower density properties. Actually much of what has been posted the past few weeks seems to shy away from high density properties. Is this on purpose?

    We’ve certainly dealt with high-rise examples over the months but I don’t know if that sector is getting its fair share.

    I am also leaning more toward providing clear examples of Slow Homes to support the concept. At first I was concerned that eye-candy would substitute concrete examples. If that were the case the primer could prematurely age. Even the French Chef would have a hard time charging the taste buds with a picture from one of her 1960′s cookbooks.

  • Cat

    The last example seems to have the wrong floorplan attached to it? The text refers to a sprawling bungalow, but I see stairs going up. A strange bungalow: 2 dining areas, 2 living areas, 2 studies, 2 garages, and only one bedroom?

    I didn’t see much about our ubiquitous garage problem. That second garage in the last example certainly eats up access to the southern light in the front of the house. The size and location of the garage in relation to the house, I would have thought, were part of the shape/size discussion.

  • BradW

    What worries me about the book and, indeed, Slow Home is that in the cold reality of the market it is most applicable for bespoke rsidential design where the client has enough money to select the best site and employ the best architect and contractor to a custom slow result. It is unforgivable when given this situation something fast is produced. But at the mid and low end of the market compromises must be made and very few slow designs are available. Fast aspects exist and they cannot be resolved. For example, show me a row house or condo that meets the criteria given in this section that is affordable. Inevitably, rooms will exist in the centre which have little access to light. So if no slow choice exists in the market, this book may not be relevent in the real world. I hope I am wrong…

  • John Brown

    That is a fair comment on the examples. We wanted to address the concerns of the single family house first and multi family second because the single family house is the standard of fast development. With that said we don’t want to ignore the multi family examples. We tried to balance the examples but we will look at this again.

    We hear the need for good examples loud and clear.

  • John Brown

    You are right. That is the wrong plan…. Sorry about that.

  • John Brown


    The purpose of this book (and to a large extent, slow home) is two fold. The first is to give people some tools to help them make better, smarter decisions about the houses they buy. The second, longer term, goal is to improve the quality of the design of mass produced houses. This comes about when the consumers of these houses start to demand better. We hope this comes about as a result of the first objective. I argue for this in the book by using the analogy of food. There have been changes being made in the food system as a result of the purchasing power of the informed consumer.

    The argument in the book is not for a bespoke designed one off house but for better designed new mass produced houses and renovated older mass produced houses. Of course, with this kind argument, it is probably not possible for a mass produced house, particularly a modest one, to have all of the attributes in all of the sections. However, I believe that every house can have more of them than they do now.

    This particular section is obviously not as clear as it should be with respect to proportions of lots and houses and I appreciate your frustration. I also appreciate you telling me about it. I know that we need to rework the message, and the detailed examples, to make our argument clearer and more reasonable.

  • Jim X


    Hi John

    Although this is only slightly related to the Shape-Size chapter, I notice very little has been said about basements. The ommission occured to me because houses with walk-out basements are like two storey houses except they go down rather than up and have access to the back yard and provide more living space than a bungalow.
    I liked the Video with you and Matthew North and I hope you do more with him. The video is more interesting with back-and-forth comments on various issues. Also Matthew’s comments are sharp, concise and he makes a good Siskel to your Ebert (or vice versa).

    Jim X

  • Ruth Hasell

    Hi John,

    I think this is a very relevant section and that you address it well. Although it relates to Pitfall #2, there is one more example that I would like to bring up.

    I have many remodel clients who come to me with houses that are 40-50 years old that have had some unfortunate additions made to them. Many of these were formerly ‘L’ shaped ranch houses or bungalows that have had the ‘L’ filled in with an addition. ‘Increasing’ their square footage by eliminating the outdoor living area seems a strategy that many people persue. Inevitably the result is a nice room that renders all the surrounding original spaces dark and less functional. In my experience, there is always a better addition solution – particularly in California where outdoor living areas can be so useful. And if I am consulted before the purchase of a home, I try to steer my clients away from homes with such additions included in their square footage.

    Many of the whole house renodels that we are doing presently start with ‘subtractions’ to get back to the lighter, simpler, ‘skinnier’ original bones of the house.

  • Peg

    Hi, John

    One small change:

    “This maximizes the exposure to the front and back
    yards and minimizes the [amount] NUMBER of rooms that face the side yard.

  • Elizabeth



    I look forward to good examples of how buildings on today’s lots can work better!

    Also, I liked your point in Common Pitfall 4 about how a bungalow uses space and energy. I’d like to see that point explored in a Box, similar to the other sections.

    Some comments on language in red….

    Thanks again!

  • John Brown

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I agree, we also find that many of the add-on ouses in our area to be problematic. As you say the great original proportions of a 40′-50′s bungalow can be destroyed with the addition of an extra room on the front or back. This would be a good common pitfall to consider adding.

  • John Brown

    Your detailed comments and redline markups are much appreciated.

  • John Brown

    It is nice to get your feedback on the segment with Matthew and I. We also thought it worked well to have two people on the screen talking about the project. We are going to work on doing more of this in the future.

  • jim baer


    great to meet matthew on friday.

    no red lines today. sorry…..

    though some random, general comments!

    introduction: … more critical in a multi-family house…. do you mean an apartment building? or something else? like a 2 – 3 family townhouse? will people know what multi-family means?

    pitfall #1: “living room windows face side yard” or “principal room windows face side yards” (assuming bedrooms 2 & 3 are considered principal rooms. this might be more consistent with the introduction, paragraph 1)

    pitfall #2: “facade” is too architectural lingo

    pitfall #4: is “footprint” too architectural lingo? … each square foot of roof and foundation only supports one square foot of living space… is supports the right word? the foundation supports, but the roof covers. am i being too literal?

    maybe the pitfalls should be #1, #3, #2 & #4. narrow house, narrow apartment, square house, sprawling house.

    or maybe, #1, #2, #4 & #3. narrow house, square house, sprawling house, narrow apartment.

    finally. i think you gave brad a good response on how the book and website is currently about education, which will empower consumers to make good choice now. and will hopefully create the demand that will change production housing in the future. there is a clothing store (it may be local) called syms. its motto is “an educated consumer is our best customer”

    unfortunately, education can be a double edged sword. once you know what to look for, it makes the hunt for at least decent housing so much harder.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Jim,

    I’d just stick my oar in to say that the word “footprint” is generally used, particularly when referring to an environmental impact, and therefore not too architectural.

    “Facade” is also a term that I believe is commonly understood.

  • Terri


    Hi John,

    When I said “later today” I lied! I hope my contribution adds something to the discussion. I thought about the long and narrow issue that many people raised here and edited the Introduction with this in mind. It’s not complete, as I think the section itself is not exactly complete either. There’s still a need to address how one can build a Slower home on a long, narrow lot since many infills and new developments provide this kind of building sites.
    (I used a gentler blue ink this time, but it doesn’t scan as well, so it’s back to red from now on.)

  • John Brown

    I was wondering about what the blue ink meant :) I agree that the section still needs more substantial development.

  • Murray


    I am getting to this late in the game. I agree with many of the comments already made, and I know you intend to make changes; however, I would still like to participate.

    Generally, I think I would find this section quite distressing if I was looking for a new place to live.

    When I first read this section I thought “What am I supposed to do with this information?” As a potential purchaser the ideals presented are probably not commonly available and/or affordable. Knowing myself I would then look at every potential house/unit with a very critical eye, think that none of them measured up, and I’d end up living in a tent in the forest.

    The good part of this section is that, while I would feel completely unable to deal with the general shape and size of the house, I would find real opportunity to apply a lot of slow home principles to an interior renovation to make the place more liveable.