Crisis of Scale
When Less is More is sometimes true…..
There are a lot of reasons to build smaller these days. We’re all feeling the financial pressures caused by the economic downturn. We want to turn away from the “bigger is better” idea that has permeated construction over the last decade. And we are more conscious of the environmental impact of our way of life. We talk about sustainability and our carbon footprint, and have given up plastic shopping bags and bottled water.
Renovating an older home has good sustainability karma. You start with an existing structure, which with luck is sound and dry and pest-free. As a first decision, it is a more sensible choice than a tear-down or new construction.
Several of my projects in the last few years have involved adding onto and renovating smaller cottage-sized homes. In each case, there were many reasons, economic and romantic, for the choice to keep part or all of the original structure. The challenge and the beauty of the project is to integrate the old with the new in a natural way.
My clients, Sarah and Shandy, lived in their tiny lake cottage with their young daughter. At about 680 square feet, it did not even qualify as a legal dwelling unit in our state, according to the building code. The two-story addition we planned would just about bring the house into scale with the surrounding neighborhood. As I started sketching possible layouts for the addition, the plan of the new construction started to look like it was overwhelming the existing cottage. I started to get the sense that I was designing a behemoth. Time to switch to elevations, which brought me back to reality. The size of the windows in the wall reinforced the modest size of the addition. This was a good thing, because the new construction retained a cottage-like feel in part because of the window/wall ratio.
Sometimes when I’m designing a renovation I have a crisis of scale like this one. All good and talented architects have an innate sense of space and scale. This skill allows us to visualize a space we’re designing, so that we’re able to walk through it in our mind’s eye and get it right. Once in a while, it’s healthy to have this sensibility shaken up and tested. And it’s nice to know that it may also contribute to a greater good.