Flexibility in housing design is a theme that has seen a resurgence in recent years, with projects such as the Future Homes scheme in Newcastle relying heavily on this concept of buildings, which can develop and adapt to meet their users changing needs. However, that is not to say that this is a modern phenomenon.
As early as the 19th Century, Japanese families were settling in dwellings, which embodied many of the hallmarks of flexible design such as indeterminate spaces and sliding walls. Nevertheless, it was in Europe following the First World War that the concept was substantiated as a response to the ‘increasing need for individual freedom’ (Eldonk, 1990: 15) which came with the dissolving of many traditional conventions.
Since then, flexibility has maintained an undercurrent in alternative housing design. With its recent prominence, this marks a suitable point to examine historical studies and highlight the techniques, which have potential for modern interpretation.
Flexible Space, William Wilson Wurster – 1942
This competition project challenged the inherent issues of American housing of the time; permanent wall layout, fixed areas and a lack of ability for expansion. Wurster proposed an undivided unit raised one storey from ground level, which could then be subdivided to meet user needs. This concept provides a low initial cost and is particularly relevant for modern times due to varied and changing family dynamics, complete adaptability of internal spaces allows for users to prioritize space according to their own demands.
Prefabrication, Walter F. Bogner, 1942
In the same year, Bogner experimented with the ability to pre build components, which can be quickly assembled on site. He broke houses down into four components: groundwork, shell, installation units and interchangeable parts, which could all be prefabricated.
This is a method which has seen high uptake in housing alternatives, the simplicity which it brings to the build process has the added benefit of allowing the user themselves to assemble, and easily swap out these prefabricated components in ways that most suit them.
The Adaptable House – MHLG, 1962
This UK study built on the findings of the Parker Morris Report released the year prior, which drove to improve space standards. The design considered the changing stages of a family life cycle and provided an additional room accessible from both the hall and living space, which could be appropriated by the user. This prevents families having to move to accommodate changes in family size.
These three features are key to the success of flexible design, it is imperative that current design makes use of modern interpretations of these to ensure more seamless implementation however, as increasing usability could push flexible housing into mainstream practise.
Bogner, W. (1942). “The new house 194x: Prefabrication”, The Architectural Forum, 77
Eldonk, J. (1990). Flexible Fixation. Amsterdam: Assen
Till, J. (2007). Flexible Housing. London: Elsevier.
Wurster, W. (1942). “The new house 194x: Flexible Space”, The Architectural Forum, 77