Could broken-plan living spaces be the new open plan?
First there was open-plan living, now there's broken plan. It's a phrase coined recently in the UK, but it appears architects down under are already designing houses that reflect the concept.
The Guardian says UK architect Mary Duggan came up with the term while judging entries in the RIBA House of the Year awards, announced this week. Duggan says that while examining the shortlist of entries she noticed many of her preferred designs featured a change of level.
Duggan says the split-level designs have come about because of lifestyle changes. "Greater iPad use is causing a demand for more private spaces around the home, and 'grand lounges' are becoming snugs," she says. "Home workers want studies, and older children want greater independence within the family home."
Architect Chris Holmes of CAAHT Studio in Auckland says that while he hasn't heard of the term "broken-plan" before, he believes the ideas behind it are quite serious.
"These are certainly ideas we are grappling with constantly," he says. "While you can go totally open plan with a loft-style studio apartment where the spaces are defined by the furniture, that's not necessarily what people want.
"Many clients want a slight degree of privacy – this in-between realm, which you could well describe as broken-plan living."
Holmes says a recent renovation he designed typifies this solution. The traditional villa in Herne Bay was extended at the rear with a new family living space that is a couple of steps lower than the adjoining home office area.
"The clients wanted to have an aural and visual connection between the two spaces, but also wanted to have the ability to close off the office."
Holmes specified concealed cavity sliders that are completely out of sight when not in use. "This gives you that casual openness between the two spaces, but they can be closed off from each other if required.
"I suspect we will see a lot more of this approach in the future – adaptable living spaces where you can control the degree of openness."
Architect Dave Strachan of Strachan Group Architects (SGA) says the broken-plan living idea is a reincarnation of an idea prevalent in the '70s, often referred to as compartmentalisation, when many houses had snugs, zones and window seats.
"Then in the 2000s we had the long extruded boxes that were all given the same glazing treatment, with little definition or modulation between room types."
A new house designed by SGA in association with Rachael Rush, which recently won an NZIA national award in the housing category, features a split-level living area. Strachan says the design of Boatsheds was driven by both the nature of the land and the need to fit specific spaces into the overall footprint. The different floor levels of each of the three volumes that make up the house were partly determined by the need to include a garage beneath, and to maximise views from the upper level.
"At the same time, there was a definite need to create different zones for the family, which has two young boys," the architect says.
In this house, the family living area is several steps above the central kitchen and dining space, and there is an elevated home office area on the other side. The spaces are interconnected, which provides a transparency through the house, yet the spaces are also contained.
"Modern architecture is often about layering and creating a sense of compression and then release," says Strachan. "A lowered ceiling height pulls a space down, making it cosy and intimate, and then we might release it up to a huge void. In this house that happens in the dining area, where the ceiling rises to a massive two-and-a-half-storeys. This change in ceiling height creates different sensations and helps to define the different functions of each space."
Strachan also says there is a demand for flexible living spaces. "We are currently working on two holiday homes with flexi rooms – these spaces can function as a bedroom, a television room or a sitting room."
And as for the future? It's clear intelligent thinking will continue to drive the design of our living spaces, ensuring what we get is a perfect fit for the modern lifestyle.