By Phyllis Richardson
It uses sliding partitions and storage walls, extension modules and a puzzle of garden components. Danish architects Henning Larsen's new Adaptable House is designed to accommodate the most common lifestyle changes, from having children to settling into retirement. The energy-efficient home can even be fairly separated in case of divorce.
Realized with developers Realdania Byg and contractors GXN, the Adaptable House not only offers flexible room arrangements, but has a built-in strategy for extending and separating volumes. The house has also been designed to consume 37 percent less energy than a standard home, with a significant reduction in overall carbon emissions.
Pre-figuring life changes
The Adaptable House was conceived to help meet a range of lifestyle changes. For a growing family, bedrooms can be easily added or enlarged; when children leave home, spare rooms might be converted for other uses. There are also planned schemes for working from home, taking in boarders (in which some bedrooms would be separated from other private spaces), and aging inhabitants (for whom the garden decks and planters could be made step-free).
Perhaps the most innovative and coolly pragmatic gesture is in adapting for divorce. In this scenario, the house can be divided horizontally, separating the upper floor from the lower floor, adding a kitchen upstairs and creating separate entrances. This is, of course, the most extreme scenario (and assumes a rather amicable split). The lower floor could also be separated for use by an elderly couple who need to live on a single floor. In all cases, the idea is to adapt to changing circumstances without having to move house or tear down and start again.
Not just a room under the stairs
The architects were determined that any new configurations meet their criteria for natural light, ventilation, plus noise and temperature control. This is perhaps what distinguishes this project from the kind of flexible open-plan living that has been around for decades. The new spaces are not just clever cut-outs, like making a bedroom out of a dark closet under the stairs. Future configurations have been thought through, so that creating the home-office space, for example, utilizes a glazed partition that allows ample light but blocks out noise.
The extension program works by starting with a house of 146 square meters (1,571 sq ft) consisting of two stories, with an optional garage/extension. The ground floor has fixed walls, which carry the load of the upper floor and leave the internal walls upstairs free to move. On the ground floor, the house can be extended beneath the first-floor overhangs. The upper floor can also be extended by enclosing the terraces. Decking around the house creates accessible garden spaces, which can be maximized for older or retired residents.
Though the ground floor has some fixed walls, the services have been tucked into an aluminum bar in the ceiling structure, making it easier to change the floor plan as needed. Partition walls include their own doors and storage, and can be moved around to reconfigure the interior without worrying about electrical fittings. Sliding partitions can be used on an impromptu or daily basis, if say, you need to have a business meeting in your living room and want to close off the kitchen and kids’ play area from view.
Upstairs, the partition walls are designed as moveable cupboards, which can transform the layout from a single space covering the entire floor to four separate rooms, and other configurations in between.
The architects cite statistics which show that even when people decide to move house, most of them will choose to live in the same area. The Adaptable House will mean never having to leave the neighborhood. So you might say their motto is something like "plus ça change" ("the more things change, [the more they stay the same]") for the housing industry.
An experimental street
The Adaptable House was developed as one of six experimental houses on the Danish island of Fyn. These were built in collaboration with real estate developer Realdania Byg, that has an expressed interest in experimental construction, and builder GXN, which is developing strategies for reuse of building materials and components. Other housing in this group include an "Upcycle House" and "Maintenance Free House."