10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 5

Head bumps at the end of the staircase.

I live in such a house with my very tall boyfriend, so I speak from the heart. When drafting in 2D, some elements seem obvious, but when you build them, surprises occur: the space above the last steps of the staircase is very often the main culprits here. The trick is to simply be aware of this when drafting stairs and, if you can, draft your plans in 3D to be sure you have enough space to get upstairs. (she whispers in your ear: "come, book a session")

10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 6

First-time modern home builders soon realize that, while their spaces look great, they have nowhere to put stuff. From Le Corbusier's first fancy modern buildings until today, the problem of home storage has been avoided by architects in favor of sleek design. Apart from basic usage areas like kitchen, sitting area, office, every house needs those additional spaces specifically purposed for storage. Built-in storage is also a great way to avoid hallways. Any mismatch in the way walls meet up can become the perfect storage room. But watch out, built-in storage becomes a fixed feature of the room: try to keep your layout flexible enough that you can still use the room if its function changes.

10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 7

Surprisingly many houses lack a downstairs bathroom. A friend's mom fell and broke her hip, she had to pee in a bucket for a month before they installed an elevator (yes, an elevator). It is a big problem with contemporary housing, as it is very hard to fix a toilet-lacking plan (elevator). This tip is a reminder to prepare for uncertainty and to not take decisions assured that things will always be as they are right now. We get old, we break legs, we fall ill, pandemics happen. What doesn't change is our need for toilets. Or does it?

The sweet understated beauty of moss on a stone path. The uneven handmade ceramic bowl. The chipped plate. 

The rust, the stain, time passing. 

Wabi sabi. 

The Japanese have many such undefinable concepts. Like ikigai that talks about finding your calling, or the one that says you should eat only until you're 80 percent full. 

The one I like most is, of course, the one that speaks of aesthetics, of objects, of spaces. 

Western civilization has no relationship with the wabi. The gardener shall be called immediately at the first sight of moss on the cobble stone. The weeds shall be pulled and the rust brought back to shine. 

It shows in the way we build today even more than, say, fifty years ago. Houses used to get a certain look with age, they would grow patina. It used to be OK for ivy to attack a brick wall or for wooden doors to swell. Not anymore.

The concept of "House as a system" is inherently adverse to wabi sabi. A passive house does not conceive of leaks, drafts or tiny root systems challenging its authority. The modern building is immune to the outside. It stands still, ready for a photograph, forever new, blind to change.

I wonder how new buildings will look in fifty years time.

We have become so revolted by the idea of getting old, we want to spare our houses of it too. Perpetual youth of the polyurethane-cement block composite wall. 

As much as I understand the arguments of energy efficiency in favor of the air-tightness of …

You've once been told, sometime in your youth, that you were bad at spacial visualization. And ever since that day, you've been convincing yourself of that. You always tell people "Oh I'm bad at spatial visualization", but it's not true. You've made it true.

The simple fact that you've told yourself against it and that you've refused to harness that skill (because it is a skill, not a talent) has made it so that now, you have difficulties in tackling complex spatial geometries.

To get physically fit you have to start running or otherwise moving. You have to do it every day for a while. Then you get better at it and fitter.

The exact same thing happens when playing around with imaginary spaces. You just start where you are and, after a while, you'll get faster and smarter about it. And when you're good at something, you start loving to do it, because it just lost that frustrating quality a bit, that feeling of sucking at something. We all get that, it's what makes us move forward. So be bad at spatial visualization. And strive to get better.

Quick visualization exercise: imagine you have all the money you might ever need. You also have your dream house. 

It's a big Mediterranean villa overlooking the sea, with an enormous pool throwing ripples of sunshine back at you while you sip on a Martini. OK, piña colada if you prefer. 

There's a gardener coming every week to manage the rose garden. Inside, there's a double ceiling over the living area, with a passerelle (fancy word for bridge) for bedroom access. You've always wanted a passerelle. It's a sort of suspended bridge above the loft. Fancy.

The high-tech kitchen has all those gadgets you've drooled over when watching cooking shows, like double ovens and rotisserie devices with many settings. The dinning room overlooks the garden. There's floor-to-ceiling glass panels. The air conditioning is running constantly in the summer heatwave. 

The heating runs all winter as well. The glass panels are sucking all the heat out. All the heat rises in the double ceiling, so the passerelle is the warmest place in all the house. 

The pool is wasting water from the communal reservoir, even though this season has had worse droughts than ever. In the winter the chlorinated water will be flushed and the pool walls cleaned. It's so hot that the gardener is using chemical solutions once a month to get rid of the algae. It smells weird. You don't bathe in it.


It always ends up like this for me when I do this exercise. My ecological anxieties just bubble up …

"In these trying times" we could all benefit from a bit more fun. It's depressing what's going on, I know. And a lot of the people I know have been avoiding these low feelings by waiting the pandemic out, like a tsunami that you can let pass and magically start again where you left it when it passes. They've been watching an endless stream of TV shows and movies, all precisely chosen for their feel good vibe. From the whole HIMYM series to LOTR, there is no end to the amount of stuff we can passively sit in front of. Well, actually there is.

People live in two main states, passive and active, input and output. The state of quiet amassing of information like watching TV or reading a book and the actions we do, when information pours out of us, like talking, singing, moving about with a task, creating.

And I would argue that the balance between these two states is what keeps us sane. You cannot possibly give and give, because you quickly burnout. All working person or single mother knows this. But you can't do the opposite for long either. Passive states bring about lethargy and more passive states in a vicious circle. The result is depression of course, which is the exact thing we were trying to avoid by watching the whole series of Friends.

The culture of mass entertainment we live in is eager to see us loose ourselves in this mental fog. It's easy to offer more and more content for more and more consumption, regardless of the void it brings with it.

The only way to fill …

The fashionable thing to have now in a house is glass. Lots of it. And for good reason. We have always craved for more sunshine in our houses, we just couldn't afford it. The new relationship we can have with nature, immersed in it, yet protected from the elements, is the holy Grail of dwellings.

But there's the flip of the coin: when we're surrounded by glass, our instincts tell us we're exposed, vulnerable. Our ancestors brains had a very different relationship with nature than we do. Thousands of years ago, people saw open nature with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the attack. Any moment they weren't careful, they could end up being dinner. The strategies they have developed in response to that constant threat have stuck with us until today, hardwired into our systems.

The most significant adaptation to the lurking threat of open nature is the dwelling, the cave, the shelter. And this shelter had to have some very specific features. Firstly, it had to protect your back. We only have eyes in front so being sure we're not possibly getting attacked from behind is key. The lookout can be focused on the front of the dwelling. There, you'd need to see as much and as far as possible, so being a bit high up is useful. But not too high up or you'll get your back out in the open again, vulnerable to the elements! Now the geography of this land you look out to is composed of some very specific things. Studies reveal that we are happiest when …

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