Week of December 2, 2009

  • Jane

    John, I have a topic suggestions…..I have been looking at is higher density homes – duplex, in-fills or other types homes that are typically considered inner city, but are big in ‘retirement communittees’, and have some questions.

    I would appreciate any thoughts from you and the slow home group, regarding the pros and cons and typical pitfalls of these homes as well as communittees? Can rows of these homes be built with ANY individuality, be designed ‘slow’ and still meet expectations? I am dreading the day that I have to move into one of these places (a house that is the same as my neighbours!!), but see some benefits to a communittee.


  • Doug Roberts

    Hi John — You mentioned in your Slow Home Report that on the 0 – 10 ranking system 0 will represent the Slowest possible score and 10 will represent the Fastest possible score. As a result, a home with a low overall score will be good (slow) and a home with a high overall score will be bad (fast). This seems backwards, as our society has generally been conditioned to expect a higher score to be better than a lower score. Accordingly, I would recommend that you switch things around by having 10 represent the Slowest (best) possible score and 0 represent the Fastest (worst) possible score.

    PS — Have fun in Barcelona!

  • John Brown

    I think that higher density row houses are an excellent suggestion for a What’s Wrong With This House series. I think that it is certainly possible for these kinds of developments to be slow. Many architects have designed great higher density projects. I don’t think you should be too worried about repetitive exteriors. Some of the greatest neighborhoods in the greatest cities in the world have highly repetitive housing forms. I think we should all be concerned, however, about bad repetitive housing. In the meantime you may find the three home set that we are going to start tomorrow informative(low rise condominium apartment units).

  • John Brown

    Nice to hear from you.

    This has been an ongoing debate in the office. Our first sense was to do as you suggest and we had been working along with the ascending scale of value in the book for a long time. Then someone brought to our attention that this is inconsistent with the conventional understanding of fast and slow from a velocity point of view. Also, when thinking about environmental concerns, the trend has been towards lower or smaller values (of energy use, emissions, impact, footprint, etc.) being better. Think net-zero house.

    We thought we would try it out this way for this exercise and see how people feel about it “in action”. I am also not sure, at this point, whether the ten point scale is necessary or sufficient either. Another trial balloon for all of us to poke at.

    I look forward to your comments tomorrow.

  • JimG

    Garages, entrys, and storage might be a nice grouping for a chapter. A garage is the entry and storage space for a car so to me they go together. Bathrooms and laundrys might be a nice pairing, along with living and dining rooms.

  • Doug Roberts

    Jane — I just saw your post. After spending the 13 years in the “burbs” while our kids were young we recently moved into a semi-detached (duplex) infill in an older inner-city neighbourhood. As the neighbourhood is turning over slowly and the new infills are being built at different times by different builders, we don’t have the problem you describe of all of the new infills looking the same. In fact, it is my understanding that even when a builder is building several houses at the same time on a string of adjacent lots, the city planning department requires that each house look at least somewhat different than the others.

    These requirements for “uniqueness” do not appear to apply to the new “retirement community” developments that you are referring to, where often the only differences seem to be whether the garage is on the left or on the right. I have wondered whether people living in these communities periodically find themselves parking in the wrong driveway or standing on the wrong front doorstep when they come home late at night. I have also personally experienced feeling like a very small cog on a very large wheel when visiting relatives who lived in the middle of a large community of very similar-looking houses — I found it depressing to drive by so many similar-looking houses to get to or from their house, and was extremely glad that I was only visiting and did not have to experience that feeling day after day.

    In terms of the homes themselves, I see no reason why they cannot be slow, even if they are part of a series of attached or semi-detached homes built at the same time by the same builder. Arguably they start off at least somewhat slow by having a smaller environmental footprint than a typical detached single-family home. However, it does require a special kind of builder who takes pride in their work and avoids cutting corners on the location, design or materials. Key challenges for these houses include:
    1) providing visual differentiation and separation from neighbouring homes;
    2) providing secure parking for vehicles without ending up with a streetscape dominated by garage doors;
    3) bringing in enough natural light and fresh air;
    4) providing for outdoor living areas and green space.

  • Terri

    I like the idea of turning the value scale on its head. It’s just the right kind of counter-intuitive idea that grabs attention and might possibly make people think differently in general. Then again, I should reserve my prognosis until I try it out.;)

    JimG’s grouping sound logical to me too. The bathrooms and laundries might become a little longer than some other sections, but keeping the plumbing together makes sense. I think Michael and James might have already said something to this effect earlier…

    Good to see you’ve arrived safely, John.

  • MichaelG

    Jane, dwell featured a great one in Toronto the other day:

    Click the ‘slideshow’ here for more before/after pics and the floor plans
    http://web.mac.com/phippschong/iWeb/DCS/Galley House.html

    Not sure about the entrance straight into the living room, but thats a tricky challenge in these narrow houses. The way the architect worked the plan to maximise light is impressive, especially as its his first project!

    There are a ton of features on impressive Japanese high density houses floating around the internet, if I have the time to dig out a few of my favorites.

    Enjoy Barcelona John! Such an amazing city…

  • James Scott

    Interesting discussion about the scale, ascending or descending. I guess it’s hard to wrap one’s head around achieving success but with a big fat zero at the same time.

    As a few have also mentioned here I agree as mentioned before that maybe some of the covenants of home such as a separate laundry room are things of the past. It would be interesting to have a list of spaces overlap a list of activities. I still think dining and eating should be one big happy family, as an example.

    John – Another thought recurred as well, a page for miscellaneous or random inspirations. Quite often we come across something of interest we would like to share with the rest of the team. Unfortunately as we move onto new topics and discussions these links get lost a few days after the item is posted. Maybe that’s a good thing too?