The Expansible Home

Australia has a history of expandable houses, some of it intrinsic. These two plans from the McNess Housing Report of 1941 had all habitable rooms beneath the main roof and non-habitable one such as bathrooms, laundries and the ubiquitous verandah (often enclosed as a sleep-out) as extensions. The wc was still an outhouse halfway down the back yard.

lean-to

The document A Thematic History of Government Housing in Western Australia (p87) reports that “Early in 1947, Northam Council had been outraged to have the Workers’ Homes Board permit the construction of ‘half a house. A couple, pregnant with their first child, were granted a permit to build only the back half of their home, in order to get them out of their existing inadequate accommodation. Despite their indignation, the Council allowed the home to be built, as the situation was viewed as an emergency.” This filled a housing need that had hitherto gone unfilled and led to The Expansible Home that was featured in local newspapers.

“From 1948, ‘expansible’ homes were designed by the SHC, also referred to as ‘detached flats’. Ninety were planned under the Commonwealth- State Housing Scheme in the first year, including thirty to a standard plan by a local architectural firm. This design proposed an initial house of hall, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and external toilet/laundry, with later additions of living room, two further bedrooms, rear verandah and front terrace.

“Expansible homes were promoted as suitable for married couples who could then add rooms as they expanded their families. A 1949 design [below left] included entry hall, living, dining, kitchen and bathrooms, with cupboards and cabinets serving as partitions. Divan beds were planned for the living room. Provision was made for future bedroom additions and a future rear verandah, which would connect the external toilet and laundry with the house. Another 1949 plan [below right] began with bedroom, living room, bathroom and external toilet/laundry, with future kitchen, extra bedroom and rear verandah.” 

This second design had the advantage of presenting a completed street frontage as soon as the core part of the house was built.

The designs received considerable media attention and, although criticised, were recognised as an expedient measure in the housing crisis. These smaller-than-standard homes were designed to put a roof over the heads of as many families as possible, with promises to local authorities that they would be extended to ‘full size’ when the crisis period abated. 

more-expansible

“A 1951 booklet of SHC standard plans included 30 designs, ranging from one to three bedrooms. Most also allowed for a rear sleep-out if required. The larger two-bedroom designs and most of the three- bedroom plans included separate dining and kitchen areas. The smallest homes were ‘expansible’ designs (Types WS302AR, WS304A andT1B). These were designed to be erected with a bare minimum of rooms, with provision made for additional rooms in future. Generally, additional rooms were projected as bedrooms, but the Type T1B residence was planned to have two bedrooms but no kitchen, with temporary sink and stove allowances in the living room. The largest floor plan in the booklet was a three- bedroom home of 1,142 sqft (106m2) and the smallest the Type T1B expansible, at 519 sqft (48m2) (647 sqft/60m2 with kitchen), but most were around 800-900 sqft (74-84m2). These measurements did not include porch, laundry, toilet, sleep-out or verandah, which generally added around 250-400 sqft (23- 37m2) to the overall size. Almost all the designs included a bathroom within the main house rather than in an enclosure on the back verandah, and some also included laundry and toilet within the main house.”

The need for expansible homes lessened towards the end of the 1950s and opportunity for expansion gradually atrophied to space for an additional room at the rear. Whereas a two-storey house was a rarity [in Perth at least] as late as 1970, the smaller plots a few decades on made adding a second storey the only option.

This had always been the case in countries such as Taiwan where the pressure was to go upwards not outwards, and not in the way of architect-homeowners who provide magazines with gushing yet lame insights such as “we couldn’t open up the house horizontally so we opened it up vertically”.

Overall, our houses no longer have the latent ability to be enlarged. Ad-hoc expansion is performed when and where it’s thought needed but this doesn’t necessarily correspond to any functional, structural or servicing logic. This is due to the pressures of construction economy as all walls might not need to be structural ones at some time in the future. any latent ability is a real redundancy until used. One of the conclusions from this next project for a (UAE) house that could be constructed in stages was that functional modules necessarily involve structural redundancy [as they do with shipping containers.] 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another problem was the lack of logic to the water supply and drainage systems. All homes require wet areas from the beginning and enlarging a home shouldn’t have to disturb these. This wasn’t a problem in traditional Yemeni houses as the absence of water supply meant room functions weren’t designed but assigned as and when necessary to whatever rooms were available. The allocation changed according to time of day as well as to short-term changes such as visitors and longer-term changes to family composition and size.

Untitled 4Untitled

This next proposal attempts to recreate these advantages in a vertically-expansible building that allows for different forms of tenure.

Extensible House 2.jpg

LEFT: This first attempt could be called an Extended Family House. There is one main entrance but the interior can be divided into different semi-autonomous living zones. It assumes the occupants are related for, if the building were to have differing tenancies (such as sub-let or co-housing), it would be deemed a building of multiple occupancy and different fire escape and other regulations would apply.

MIDDLE: This is the same building divided for multiple occupancy. There’s hardly any difference. The insertion of partitions isolating the stairs is what’s happened to much of London’s terraced housing stock anyway. The provision of elevators and smoke lobbies is not mandatory.

RIGHT: As would any new-build block of apartments, the rightmost proposal requires an elevator and a smoke lobby to the fire stair and, because of that, is now not suited for use as a single family house or as co-housing by like-minded people. At best, it would be a collection of flat-shares.

Shibam_Wadi_Hadhramaut_Yemen.jpg

In the end, I didn’t succeed in deriving a single building type for different types of tenure and that was expansible vertically in a predetermined manner. Other potential emerges. Tiny though it is, this layout pleases me. It’s contained in approximately 32′ x 32′ (10m x 10m). If built as a freestanding structure, slit windows on adjacent sides provide daylighting variation but preserve view inscrutability. If built as a tube structure to the current maximum slenderness of 24:1 it could be around 70 storeys give or take.

Extensible House 2.jpg

“Hey Graham! How about a spare elevator?”

extensible-house-improved

“We may as well make it worth our while! 40′ (12.3m) a side @24:1 gives approx. 100 apartments in 100 storeys with 2 private elevators.” 

I’m not aware of any need for a housing product such as this but some have a tendency to create their own.

432-park-avenue

432 Park Avenue’s four elevators serve 104 apartments spread over 85 storeys with [as far as I can determine] at least two being private above the 35th floor.

Extensible House comparison.jpg

I’m just putting it out there.

3 thoughts on “The Expansible Home

    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Hello Garry and sorry for the delay getting back. It’s not public knowledge but misfits architecture is now wordpress.org site and no longer a wordpress.com site. Even though it meant I couldn’t do anything for a couple of days, I hope it was a seamless transfer from your side. But yes, the 24:1 is the extreme slenderness ratio of Rafael Viñoly’s 432 Park Avenue building which is an intriguing feat of engineering even if it doesn’t solve anybody’s housing problems but those of the very rich. In the post I realised that it was going to be impossible to derive the useful housing product I was hoping to, so I made one that wasn’t very useful instead. As these things go, someone’s probably thinking of building something like it this very minute. My project didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted, but I like the idea of taking and idea from from history or from vernacular architecture and seeing what it might turn into today. I’ll keep a lookout for what else might be out there. Graham.

      Reply

Leave a Reply