Brendan Geraghty describes how Geraghty Taylor Architects adapted the shell and core concept typical of office buildings to create a new flexible housing model
Geraghty Taylor Architects’ Livinhome concept is an adaptable, flexible architecture that provides occupants with practical means to modify their homes.
In office buildings the independence of the cores is critical to the flexibility of the building. We applied this logic to a house and moved the stairs to the external wall, thus forming a circulation core that would allow each floor to be accessed independently. The remaining floor plate is open plan, enabling a variety of floor arrangements.
To achieve and maintain this flexibility, consideration was given to servicing and structure. Servicing elements are condensed into a serviced spine along party walls and all structural elements are kept within the external walls. This strategy creates a circulation and service core that serves the adjoining open plan footprint.
Livinhome offers change with the stability of staying in one house and one community
Using the London Housing Design Guide, we developed three standard floor layouts – open plan, a floor of bedrooms, and one or two-bedroom flats. Each layout includes a ‘service zone’, where the kitchen, utility and bathrooms are located. These standardised layouts are stacked on top of each other. Woodview Mews comprises 18 modules formed into a terrace of six blocks. A typical house of three modules uses all floor accommodation and the core but, if it were converted to three flats, the core would become a common stair with a separate entrance to each of the units. If the split is a duplex and flat, the stair serves only the duplex. A family might adapt a house to allow the parents to downsize to a ground floor flat and release the upper floors to grown-up children or rent the floors to augment their income, all without moving house.
Most of Livinhome’s design features exist in the framework of the standard module, leaving the design of elevations limited only by context and aspiration. We have secured three planning consents for Livinhome projects each featuring a different elevation design.
Obtaining planning consent for a new and flexible house type is challenging. Croydon Council was unsure whether Woodview Mews was a development of six houses, of 18 flats or something in-between. Eventually we settled on 11 units: two houses, three duplexes and six flats. Under current planning policy, any changes to this profile would require a new application. Croydon deserves credit for its support in bringing Livinhome through the Planning Process.
Part of our design brief for Livinhome was to create a house that could be scalable, and it achieves this by being independent of specific construction methods and by standardising key design components. Flexibility in elevation design will allow it to be delivered in various contexts and respond to specific planning requirements. Design standardisation makes it a good candidate for off-site manufacture and on-site assembly. Woodview Mews was constructed using a combination of closed panel timber frame and SIPS panels. It is designed to achieve (the now scrapped) Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4 as a minimum.
Livinhome provides a house design that anticipates and facilitates the path of powerful and dynamic forces of change. Our research strongly suggests that for many, a lack of choice in the housing market is a barrier to having a home. Distinct ‘products’ are required to suit different stages and economic circumstances of our lives.
The Planning System doesn’t help: use classifications are stubbornly protected and achieving a change of use can be very difficult. The market needs a ‘hybrid use’ classification that will support the principle of change in the life and functions of our buildings.
We are developing this idea into larger-scale buildings that offer a new hybrid typology, one that is designed to be changed, to accept multiple functions and to be recycled and remodelled. This type of ‘cross-platform architecture’ is common in technology and we believe it ought to be the same in physical architecture.
Brendan Geraghty is co-founder of Geraghty Taylor Architects
‘The flexibility this concept offers could be a great asset in social housing’
There are some bright ideas within the Livinhome concept. The consideration given to the changing needs of the users and the way that the construction can be modified more readily than a standard construction is appealing. However, property is an investment that most people will need to unlock equity from later in life in order to fund a retirement – this idea requires a fundamental shift in the way we think about property, rather than architecture, to be a success. The flexibility this concept offers could be a great asset in social housing, where units could be adapted as the tenants need change without having to rehome or have empty space or bedrooms. It offers capacity for change within existing stock, where density can be increased or decreased as demand allows.