Design: Home for Life

Here’s something I put together with SketchUp about six months ago. It’s a home that can be built and expanded over time as a family grows, prospers, has kids, has parents move in, gets old and ultimately hands it off.


Key design considerations:

  • Modular. In lieu of a starter home, You can build just the bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and closet first. A modern “cabin” for two telecommuters. That expands to include more bedrooms, office space, amenities (pool, garden, garage etc) as necessary for children. More for additional families or parents that come live with you.
  • View centric. Partly given this is a thought exercise/goal, the entire house is designed to maximize view points for a large lake or ocean. Ideally this would be placed on a couple dozen acres of your own.
  • Out(in)doors. Blur the line. Life’s too short for walls alienating you from your land.
  • Multifamily living. This could be multigenerational. Parents as they retire come live. As the economy blows up, kids who can’t find work, or even those who stick around by choice. Shared functions are great, but take privacy not account.

Use case:

  1. Invest $150,000 in what’s basically a vacation home and land. You live, work, build your career elsewhere. Visit when you can. Send a set of keys to everyone you love to do the same.
  2. Invest in $50,000 increments to add bedrooms, offices, extra bathrooms, amenities, productive infrastructure (energy, food, water, protection). Gradually spend more time here until paying rent doesn’t make financial sense.
  3. Do as much of the work yourself as possible. What you can’t, purchase prefabbed. Know how everything works, and how to fix it.
  4. Live. Permaculture your land, hydro/aero-ponics inside, aquaponics your pool. Have friends and family live with you for extended periods. Help them build their own homes in your enclave. Continue to work on a global scale, but embrace you and yours.

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  • Nelson Blaha
    Sep 19, 2011

    My brother and I have kept a Google document for years now with little ideas collected over the years for building a home. Highly recommended. We may not implement all of them, but we sure won’t forget any of them when the time comes to build a home.

  • You got a good eye for this, Shlok. More design and architecture please?

    Have you read Pattern Language/Timeless way of building?

    • Definitely. The ability to design and draw with an undo button has done wonders for my thinking.

      Haven’t read those. Worth it?

      • Absolutely worth it if you are thinking about this stuff. Both books are by Christopher Alexander and his students and colleagues, and describe a way of building that is generative rather than proscriptive, and adaptive to the needs of its inhabitants over time. I would also recommend Alexander’s “The Production of Houses” in which the ideas of Pattern Language and TWOB are put in to practice building homes for a community in Mexico. Along similar lines, Hassan Fathy was an Egyptian architect who did similar community construction work.

        • Gnoll110
          Jan 27, 2012

          For those is Hot Dry areas, another architect to look at is John Gaw Meem. He worked from the 20s to the 50s and was instrumental in the Santa Fe and associated styles.

          He did experimented with solar passive designs between 1943 and 48, there was no demand for it. His residential clients where largely just after a ‘Meems Santa Fe House’. He was a great architect, but is largely forgotten because during the second half of his career, he won’t a Modernist during Modernism ascendency.

          • Shlok Vaidya
            Jan 27, 2012


            Have you written anything on this topic? Seem to be quite knowledgable.

      • Gnoll110
        Jan 27, 2012

        Since the late 70’s, Alexander has numbered is works by volume.

        Volume 1: The Timeless Way Of Building
        Volume 2: A Pattern Language

        Volume 5: The Production Of Houses
        Nathan, thanks for the recommendation. I’ve never actually seen this book before.

        In the early naughties, Alexander published four new works, ‘The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe’, volumes 9 to 12.
        Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life
        Book 2: The Process of Creating Life
        Book 3: A Vision of a Living World
        Book 4: The Luminous Ground

        These books add in the 20+ years experience Alexander has since writing volume 1 & 2. Alexander saw that some buildings that were a collection of patterns didn’t work. He’s since gone on to derive ‘Fifteen Fundamental Properties’ (listed in Chapter Five of The Phenomenon of Life) and associated transforms (listed in Chapter Two, Section 8 of The Process of Creating Life).

        There are also two unpublished works;
        Volume 13: Battle,
        Sustainability and Morphogenesis (working title)

  • Lexington Green
    Sep 19, 2011

    Don’t go with a flat roof. They always leak. Go with some kind of sloped roof.

    • Smart. Was thinking it would be a green roof, with some food production and some frivolous plants.

      • Gnoll110
        Jan 27, 2012

        Green roofs only made sense in high rainfall areas or where green space is more ‘valuable’ than water.

        For non inner city dryland areas, hard roofs and tanks are the only way go. Drylands are 47% of global surface area, last figures I saw.

  • You might want to check out flexhousing, great way to future proof the home and allow long term shifts in use.
    Increases cost by ~10% but for great long term benefit. More urban/suburban focused in general but general principles adaptable.

    If I were ever to build a house, Make Your House Do the Housework by Don Aslett is a fantastic guide to materials and design choices that will reduce maintenance required.

    re: building it yourself, that’s a bit risky, there are many code issues and gotchas that will bite you in the long term. There are prefab elements for the home that can mitigate that: more expensive but requiring less experience and skill. I’m a huge fan of SIP panels:
    You can order panels with finished wall on the inside or finished ceiling.

    Insulated concrete forms are brilliant for a hot/cold climate:
    coolest thing is that the rebar just snaps into the cross-ties. I’ve seen them more commonly used in foundations (very cold winters here), but there’s a 3 story back extension to a house down the street from me that’s built entirely of this stuff. You order the stuff, fit it, pour the concrete. Very little waste.

    Both SIP and insulated forms have fantastic R-values and no thermal bridging, so great for retaining heat or cold.

    Pattern Language/Timeless way of building: is a great book, though I read it more in the context of software development Design Patterns…

  • Edgewise
    Sep 30, 2011

    Hmm–BTW, doesn’t *Some* aspect of this design idea remind anyone of the so-called “Winchester Mystery House”?

    (Just wonderin’….)

  • Hugh Knowles (@hugh_knowles)
    Jan 27, 2012

    and another multigenerational house concept from @shloky http://t.co/wSTkUbyV <-something in the water

  • Gnoll110
    Jan 27, 2012

    I saw stats recently, that in the 1950s, a third of houses built in Australia where owner built.

    There is also a building axiom that ‘the longer a house takes to build, the longer it will last’.

    With these ideas in mind, there is the slow approach. With lots of labour put in by owners, family & friends, using methods the use more labour & less expensive materials to passive solar design. Rammed earth, adobe & straw bale come to mind.

    Mixing good design with the right material can product a home with low energy demand (and carbon footprint).

    Shlok, I see you’re in New Orleans.

    From a similar climate in the other hemisphere.

    • Shlok Vaidya
      Jan 27, 2012

      I like that, “the longer it takes, the longer it will last.” And, in today’s context, pretty much anything you invest in heavily needs to last several generations.

      Probably not going to live down here (the house would need to be built to float given the erosion of the entire state), but interesting to think of architecture as design across climate zones (a la planting of seeds).

  • Lee Cowherd
    Jan 27, 2012

    Nice concept! I would add that incorporating principles of Universal Design would make it even more useful for multi-generational living and aging-in-place.

    • Shlok Vaidya
      Jan 27, 2012

      Definitely. Need to fill in the inside with those considerations (especially in the kitchen).

  • @Berentschot
    Jun 5, 2013

    Van starterswoning, naar gezinswoning, naar gezinswoning+ naar een seniorenwoning op één plek. Innovatie in de bouw? http://t.co/7uiSQDwlz6

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