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.
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.
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.]
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.
This next proposal attempts to recreate these advantages in a vertically-expansible building that allows for different forms of tenure.
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.
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.
I’m not aware of any need for a housing product such as this but some have a tendency to create their own.
I’m just putting it out there.