The notion of sustainable design is becoming convuluted. Many developers and their clients have an idea as to what it means to design sustainably, but that perception is often far removed from the actual processes.
Not to be confused with green building and the renewable energy technologies that fall into this sector such as solar panels and wind turbines, sustainable design is about making clever architectural choices that enable a space to run optimally without a reliance on various technologies or unsustainable natural resources.
This kind of architecture is not defined by an inclusion of water tanks or photovoltaics - those features simply add to a holistically sustainable concept.
We need to think more simply when looking to these kind of design concepts, looking into one of the simplest architectural modes allowing for optimum energy savings as well as social and economic benefits: interiors with a flexible layout.
While it may come as a surprise, buildings – and dwellings especially – that have an interior layout that can be moulded to the users’ needs is proving to be one of the cleverest and most resource-friendly interior design strategies, almost uncannily meeting the needs of modern society. To see how this is so, it is important to break down flexible layouts with respect to the three veins of holistic sustainability; environmental, social and economical aspects.
The environmental aspects that go hand in hand with creating a flexible layout have a lot do with the enabling of natural climate control. There is no greater example of this fact than the UK’s ‘Sliding House’ designed by architectural firm drMM.
Located in Suffolk, the home has an exterior shell, powered by solar energy, that literally slides on or off according to weather conditions. In response to the freezing winters, the outer housing sleeve holds tight over the structure in order to further insulate and protect the home from the elements, removing excess reliance on on-grid heating. In the summer, the second roof stretches back to reveal a steel and glass framed room, which allows natural light to warm the space.
While that may be a radical example, simple interior layout that includes sliding walls enable cooling and heating to be cut when different areas of the home are cut off, plus a mixed-use space that can add or take away rooms without changing the overall footprint of the building.
Socially, the idea of flexible housing allows inhabitants greater control over their built space. It has been said to go so far as to ‘empower’ them. The notion of flexibility fits perfectly into the current zeitgeist, which sees building trends leaning toward smaller living. The flexible layout allows the user options to continue to live and grow in the one space, with the space molding to the lifestyle of said inhabitant.
The economics of flexible layouts are two-pronged. First and foremost, for the cost of one space, several can be recreated and transformed. This allows users to update and refurbish their spaces for zero cost. The second aspect that affects pocketbooks comes in the form of lowered heating and cooling costs. With the ability to transform spaces that reflect and respond to the climate and the needs of the users – inhabitants wont pay excess energy costs.
Flexible interiors come down to user control. By creating a space that is designed for the user and can be molded to their needs and wants, living within one’s own resources can be attained without having to resort to complex means.