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Crazy Houses and Constrained Design

I wrote recently about my parents’ well-designed new home. I was especially impressed given the challenges of the site. Then it occurred to me that on reason it was so well designed was because of those challenges. Or put another way, my mother’s design is so good in part because of the constraints she had to deal with.

A normal set of criteria might be: a house that has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2000 sq feet and a deck. Square is fine. That describes my own house in BC. It’s functional. But it’s not inspiring in any way.

Some of my mom’s objectives were to maximize the view, privacy and light throughout the year, in addition to a range of more specific aims like 2 bedrooms but ability to sleep 20, have all core amenities on one level, and so on.

But she was also faced with some unique constraints:
– the lot is steep – I’d guess 6 degrees.
– the lot is an odd combination of a triangle and a square
– the house entrance is on the upper side, almost below the road; this must be welcoming and set the tone
– the view is on the opposite side, 180 degrees of water and mountains
– behind and to the right of the lot is a large hill that blocks late afternoon sunlight.

To satisfy her objectives with all of these constraints, she had to be much more thoughtful, more creative about her decisions. She had to develop new concepts, and eliminate the cookie cutter options of more normal homebuilding. In an easier set of conditions something could have been pretty good, or good enough. With such extreme conditions, that relaxation wasn’t possible. Solutions had to actually work, without half steps. The result is inspiring.


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