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Handshake Hotel

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A couple of weeks back I ended The Handshake House post with this layout proposal for a narrow Australian suburban block. It assumes a temperate to hot climate and Perth, the city I was thinking of, has just that.

It’s what’s known as a Mediterranean climate characterized by hot dry summers and rain falling mostly in cooler winters. It’s very close to the climate of Los Angeles, except Perth’s rainfall is slightly more evenly distributed, and it’s warmer on average – at least for now.

People always have their climate they grew up in imprinted on them forever so I really can’t tell if The Mediterranean Climate really is the best one in which to live but people could live in my modest suburban handshake house as if they were in a garden cottage or bungalow at LA’s Chateau Marmont.

Every picture tells a story . This one’s rich with detail such as the opened yet undrunk beer, the sunglasses and keys on the table, the swimming pool, the open door, the bathrobe, the almost finished cigarette, the ashtray, velvet (?) velour (!?)) sofa, the unwatched television …. We’re more used to architectural photographs telling us a story they want us to believe, rather than asking us to create our own. I can’t help wondering who took this photograph and why. It could just be somebody’s holiday snap that found its way to the internet? It’s not a Julius Schulman. He’d have made sure that cigarette smoke was backlit.

Anyway, let’s leave that and monetize our new and versatile typology then and go for three-star! Or maybe not. The dream of having a family home for generations is long gone and our architects, developers and houses are not adapting. I don’t know why but, while we’re waiting, I’m envisaging a suburban dwelling that can be a bed & breakfast, a refuge, a refugee home, foster home, hospice or, in general, a home to some grouping of people having either shared interests or shared circumstances. We need places for all these people to live. Families are a subset of this definition and this proposal could be lived in by an household whose members are comfortable with not having architecture over-codify their bonds, relationships or aspirations.

Apart from the various functional spaces for the activities of living, any type of shared dwelling other than a 100% communal one – a commune – will still have a separation of managers and managed. This corresponds to the parent-children relationship in a family home but more so for a bed ‘n’ breakfast, hospice or refuge. Managers must manage and their spatial location in the dwelling spatially facilitates the monitoring and operation of the dwelling and the safety of its occupants. Nothing changes.

Another constant is the delivery of food and other goods. While bringing the groceries into the house through the house may be acceptable in a family house, it is less desirable in a more managed facility. The back door as an alternative way of entering the Australian house disappeared when blocks became narrower and the “side” driveway and covered parking vanished. A managed facility needs a service entrance and the Australian house has evolved to provide one via the garage. It makes sense to link the garage with the laundry and kitchen, as in these next two layouts. Food comes in and garbage goes out through the living room and front door of all but the most expensive apartments, but not having to do this in a house is part of what makes a house a house.

Here’s my first thought.

  • The bedrooms at the rear are now more like hotel rooms. There are four.
  • Entry and exit is secure and monitored.
  • The managers’ bedroom is centrally positioned. A storage room acts as ante-chamber to the managers’ bedroom and bathroom. Occupants use their own and any guest is an occupant guest.
  • The laundry is a service entry direct to the kitchen. It is also outside so it won’t disturb the living space
  • Living room furniture can be reconfigured for large or small groups.

For all this, the house can still be lived in by any family of 6 to 8 persons. The front courtyard that cannot be built on seems underexploited as it’s only accessible from the master bedroom.

Here, I’m calling parents managers and the home a facility as if it a house some kind of factory or machine for living. This may seem odd but only because we’re not used it. This is faux-naïve on our part because we’re accustomed to using the language of an aggressive and ruthless economic system to describe and justify architectural decisions. Space is “exploited”, views are “taken advantage of”, etc. We think this is normal.

Here’s Handshake Hotel v2.0.

  • The position of the managers’ bedroom still facilitates operation although its position is less strategic. It has private and independent access to the street via the garage, as well as to all shared areas.
  • The laundry has become an ante-room and, because of that, the entrance to the managers’ space is now separated from the circulation route used by the managed. The building feels more like a hotel and less like a house.
  • The greatest advantage is that the living area now has large windows on opposite sides (and high windows on a third). The front courtyard can be used by all residents, and is now an additional place for everyone to be or appreciate. It’s better all round.

As well as limiting light and ventilation, the secure parking is beginning to seem like not a very good use of area but then, Australia is not Germany and Perth is not Munich where I took this next photo.

An expensive car not in a lock-up garage, just parked outside where anyone could steal its wheels. This is difficult for an Australian to imagine and why I felt I’d better take a photo in case I ever had cause to mention it..

There might be a way to give the garage the potential for additional functionality. If one of the cars is parked in the driveway then it can be used as a laundry drying area. This is something that never used to happen.

Traditionally, Australian clothes were dried on rotary clothes hoists towards the rear of Australian backyards. A company called Hills usually made them. They didn’t fold away and that part of the backyard wasn’t used for anything else. And nor were they hidden behind bushes for that would block “the breeze”,

This is Hills Heritage Hoist #7. The backyard seems familiar.

Alternatively, if land is that scarce, it might be time to enhance access to the lock-up garage so it can be used as another room or as a kind of covered outdoor space connected not just to the street but also a part of the house at the same time. Here’s an example from Japan where someone has already had that thought and for the same reasons. In Australia, many people use their garage as informal access to their houses. The two examples I showed above take this a step further and made that access into a service entrance. I propose taking it further and upgrading its status. It won’t replace the front door or gate (where deliveries are received and strangers are met but it will indicate that the garage space can be used and regarded differently. We don’t yet know how, but I can imagine a rainy day barbecue.

The plan I began this post with could be altered like below, with an added sliding door to the living room making the garage into something meant to be looked at and used during the day, and used to secure cars only at night. Bringing the car parking space online for covered daytime activity means there’s now a greater chance that outdoor space at the very front will be used. The living room can now be thought of as a “pavilion” surrounded by the central open space of the garden, the 50 cm wide open space of the construction gap, and the virtual amenity space now formed by the car parking area., Case Study House #22 Stahl House it will never be, but there’s no reason why the living room can’t be glazed on three sides, perhaps with a clerestory window lighting either the living room or the garage. (This is a generic proposal so I haven’t paid too much attention to orientation.)

The second plan could be enhanced in the same way. Making everyone pass through the outdoor space to enter the building is a good thing – it shows it’s theirs to use even though only managers have direct access.

Finally, the dual-aspect living room version is given the same treatment. The front door has atrophied but still remains the formal entry for persons admitted to the front garden. I wanted to fine-tune the respective setbacks for the front garden fence, the garage, and the house proper and consulted the relevant R-Codes (below) but I’m unfamiliar with their application.

I’ve set the garage door back five metres and, although the codes prefer it be set back one meter behind the house setback, I’ve put it one meter in front because doing so better connects the two open spaces. The driveway was longer than the 4.5m minimum so I used the excess to bring the front half of the house forward and enlarge the central space.

This is probably as good as it gets. I imagine a flat roof over the garage and the rooms behind it, with (orientation permitting) a skillion roof and clerestory along the length of the living room. It’s all a bit Eichler not only on the surface but on the inside and in construction as well.

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  • Chateau Marmont is one of the great places of LA, whether you like it or not. And especially if you don’t like it.

    I think your blog is amazing, but I sometimes wonder if you don’t allow enough for accretive history as a force in architecture. Viewed as a building, the Chateau is a handsome piece of early 20th century hotel and bungalow development. Viewed as a cultural icon, it is immortal.

    • says:

      Thanks David! Sometimes I do feel as if I’m playing around in the shallows but it’s a big coastline. But you’re right. I’ve known for a while now that I look at buildings as buildings first and as cultural artifacts second, or possibly third. The more time passes, the less I trust those cultural artifacts – at least those canonized in the canon. Chateau Marmont is definitely up there with the Chelsea Hotel. I wonder where this synergy comes from? Do you think it’s from buildings exquisitely attuned to their cultural contexts? Perhaps (I say, answering my own question). I suspect it happens more by accident than design, or else we’d have more of them. Interesting thought. Thanks.

      • I think places like the Chelsea and the Marmont became what they were through a confluence of factors.

        One was location.

        One was a certain level of aesthetics – particularly a look based on fantasy.

        Most importantly was the willingness of management to Look The Other Way.

        So these buildings became blank slates for private behavior – whether creative sexual, illicit – or some mix of all three.

        As reputation spread, like gathered like.

        I’d add the Dakota (NYC) and the incredible Sierra Towers (LA) to that list, but most American cities have at least one example.

        I’m not sure about Australian cities, for various reasons to do mostly with historic population breadth and density but also with cultural expectations. The idea of (say) a luxury apartment dwelling that was also an unofficial cultural center seems not to have caught on. Perhaps I’m wrong.

  • A Google Image search on the image will lead you to the photographer responsible for the Chateau Marmont picture. It appears to be a gonzo take on the celebrity Polaroid snaps of the 1970s associated with Warhol and his ilk.

    • says:

      Thanks for that David! There was definitely something off-the-wall and more than a little creepy about that photograph. Somehow it didn’t seem real but I didn’t follow through.

      • Oh, it’s real enough. Or maybe, “real” “enough”. “Creepy” is a good word, followed by sexily self-reflective, dream-like, a balance between the narcissist and the voyeur and maybe just a little bit glamorously, fabulously and luxuriously off-putting.

        Which, in case you’ve never been, sums up the Chateau Marmont.

      • says:

        I’ve never stayed, but some friends did and I visited them. I dove into the pool and lost a diamond stud. Serves me right. I did find it, only to notice I was sharing the pool with some glamorous lady with large hoop earrings. Yes, it was clearly Sadé and 1990. My friends later said Iggy Pop was also there but I never saw him.

  • says:

    My folks house in Perth is the typical 1/4 acre block divided in two narrow north facing blocks, bucking the trend of rear subdivision typical in the area. Both new houses, my parents and the neighbour, the family dentist, were designed along coincidently similar lines. Garage and entry at the front with self contained accommodation over. Kitchen/ living facing a courtyard in the centre. Main bedroom at the back away from the street. Low level matched with high level windows along the sides helps to avoid views into fences whilst taking advantage of the Fremantle doctor. North facing celestory windows in all those rooms without direct northern aspect windows to avoid reliance on artificial light.
    Given a sample size of two it is unlikely this represents a trend but as a building typology it does work particularly well given the narrowness and orientation of the block.

  • Compared to the house typology you designed, which also I liked, This hotel-type have a more efficient circulation and space usage. It even works for a traditional family residence in a tropical humid climate of Kerala, where I live, given that:
    1. The rear setback is increased to 1.5m and side setbacks to 1m as per the rule here.
    2. Providing a additional louver type windows on the wardrobe for cross ventilation.
    3. Increasing the height of the two middle bed rooms for accommodating an additional clearstory on either sides for better lighting and ventilation.
    4. Making the laundry a little bigger to accommodate a fire kitchen (which is mandatory here for cooking of the spicy dishes and boiling the rice) on one side and the washing machine on other (left and right)

    • says:

      Hello HCS, Now that it’s summer here in Wenzhou, I’ve been thinking a lot about housing for hot humid climates where airflow really is important. They are all good suggestions, especially the additional window above the wardrobe. My boss told me that in the south of Provence there is a type of terraced dwelling that has a very similar arrangement. I can imagine them being very pleasant to live in. My next post will concentrate on airflow and apartments. Until next time, Graham.