These days, houses come in a variety of colors, shapes, utilities, and locations thanks to the explosive growth of taste for design. Heating real estate market helps the entire market focusing on high-end sophisticated offerings (though I believe Taiwan is leaning onto a particular type of house, match boxes in high-rise, too much). But despite the broadening options there remains one thing I do not find easy to change: the layout.
It is not unusual for me to get frustrated by tiny tiny room structures in a Taiwanese apartment. They certainly consider a comfortable size of space for stressful modern people. But what could have been a perfectly roomy one-room apartment suddenly receives cross-shaped walls and turns into a 2LDK apartment (with a jacked-up price tag). You cannot even practice yoga inside your house because there isn’t enough space to stretch your legs. Isn’t that just sad?
The problem is that they want to meet everybody’s needs in one layout and that by necessity leads to cramming as many tiny “partitions” inside a given space, very much like typical Asian merchandising “one-stop-shopping” deal. If you have purchased any of the 10-functions-in-one toolset in the dark alley you get it: everything is there, but nothing works.
Right now, if you want something new in your apartment, the only option is to move to a newer (or bigger) one. Just like a hermit crab, we need to find a larger shell and slip in. Just like a hermit crab, there is a great deal of risk when making the move. Is the new house safe and secure? Does it come with a balcony and a yard? Can I change the wallpaper to my preference?
Those endless questions are justifiable as long as we consider ourselves a hermit crab that can only choose its shell from nearby environment. But don’t we all want to become a snail, a creature that has the power to build its own shell? Not just a shell, but a shell that grows organically in line with its master? We humans usually give up thinking we can’t change into an architect and a builder overnight.
I propose an alternative housing option: Flexible layout. The idea is simple: prepare a large amount of space, but furnish it with movable (and removable) sound-proof layout board that can be easily set up by the residents. The flexible layout house can grow according to the life stages of the resident, serving multiple purposes as time goes by.
Let’s picture a house with a large single room and a kitchen and a bathroom. A guy moves in, keeps all the space in the world and live according to his needs. Soon he starts to live with his girlfriend, who would later marry him. The single room will now be separated into two: a living room and a bedroom. Years later they get married, they welcome a baby. Now the room will be separated into three: a bedroom, a living room, and a baby room.
Or the house does not need to accommodate only a single household. What if a person wants to divide up a space for several months a year only, to accommodate his visiting family members, students, or short-term roommates? The flexible-layout housing works for that matter too. Why can’t we grow our houses?
If you are interested in this flexible housing concept, watch Stewart Brand’s BBC series, How Buildings Learn. His idea is that the buildings should accommodate the people, not the other way around. I whole heartedly agree with him. Let the house live and grow with us.