An Architect’s Movable Architectural Feast
I have been complaining for years that our fixtures and cabinets should be adjustable. They should be able to move up, down and around to fit our uses, not the other way around. Now, as limited space within our homes becomes more critical and as we age and need personalized fixtures, it is time for us to think seriously about how to make our homes more flexible.
Adjustable cabinets that move up and down for accessibility of disabled or disadvantaged have been around for years. As their cost goes down, these simple additions can make every kitchen workable. Adjustable countertops have also been available but very utilitarian and not interesting in design. Freestanding kitchen islands are all the current rage and allowing all or a part of the countertop to adjust to the individual for use and enjoyment is a win/win for all.
We don’t think of the bathroom or it’s fixtures as needing adjustability, but they certainly do. Especially as you get older or perhaps in a wheelchair, even for a short period of time. I don’t advocate making bathrooms huge like commercial and multifamily ADA requirements, but I do recommend the toilets be adjustable and sinks should rise or lower to permit wheelchair access or simply be more accessible by all ages and heights. Showers can be level with the adjacent floor and the fixtures can manually be adjusted with minimum strength.
We don’t need more space in our bathrooms; we need more creative collaboration.
You might think all of these appliance and fixture suggestions require powerful electric engines but the future will allow minimum human strength to make simple adjustments, or small electric engines with battery power, not our old friend PG&E, to make them function year round and blackout usable.
A firm out of Boston, Ori Living has an interesting movable wall system. Made especially for tight urban apartments. A movable wall unit that includes cabinets and work counters can be used during the day and moved on wheels at night to make room for the bed that can drop, safely of course, from the ceiling, converting the studio living room into a bedroom in minutes. A solution not only for our urban apartments but our college dorms could use.
And we mustn’t forget how important elevators and lifts will be for all of us. As densities climb and our lots become smaller, two and three story homes are becoming more common. Architects and contractors should consider including in their designs an elevator space and shaft layout to make future life easier when the occupants get older, or simply want access to upper or lower home levels.
Of interest, we shouldn’t forget the simple dumb waiter. First invented by the Egyptians, Roman architects installed them in palaces to move goods, up and down from cellars. Thomas Jefferson, our third president and part-time architect, installed two in Monticello, his Virginia home, to transport wine and fancy banquets from his basement. He could be considered our first infrastructure designer. Unfortunately, it required slave laborers to operate the pulleys. Jefferson believed these inventions made slavery more palatable, but they only kept the South trapped in a loosing economic culture.
We can use our brains for inspirations making our lives better through exploration of what we can, not what we think we can’t. We just have to think-outside-the-box.
Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB has been designing Sustainable Green buildings for over 40 years and likes to push the envelope.