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Enoughness, or inner-city living

Small rooms and dwellings set the mind on the right path, large ones cause it to go astray.
Leonardo da Vinci

Economist E.F. Schumacher’s book Small Is Beautiful encouraged ‘enoughness’ and warned, among other things, that living in a space with boundless square metres inspires more frustration than happiness.

But to be honest, living on small inner-city sites can also be frustrating, as neighbours can seem too close and houses too small for all of our stuff. And then your son starts drumming…

Working on residential projects for inner-city sites is fascinating; the constraints are challenging and require creative solutions.

Most residential clients don’t want to only up-date their kitchens and bathrooms, they are usually after additional space as well. After assessing their options – renovate or relocate – they have decided to stay-put. The costs involved in relocating can often be quite significant, including stamp duty, relocation costs as well as potential renovation costs for their new property. They do not want to give up their community or their lifestyle and have decided that it is more feasible to stay.

It isn’t necessarily the case that less land means a cramped house. All architects know that with good planning – and a dose of experience – you can create beautiful rooms that are well organised, so that living feels spacious even when land has to be used efficiently.

People sometimes say they need an additional room when in fact they need additional storage – within the existing footprint or small additions to the ground or first floor – and better connection between the spaces. After considering the clients’ needs and wants and the site constraints we have to explore creative solutions:

  • Can your existing spaces become more flexible?
  • Can a study nook be provided rather than building on a whole new room for a study?
  • If there must be a study can it serve two purposes, as a secondary living space or media room, as well as a spare room for relatives or guests?
  • Is there potential storage space in your roof space, or can it even become a new room?
  • Can some simple alterations create a sense of space rather than increasing your footprint (and reducing your garden)?
  • Can views be ‘borrowed’ from adjoining gardens, so a small courtyard can appear larger?

The most important strategy is to build as little as possible. Build the right size – apart from being cheaper to build because less material is being used, small houses require less energy to heat or cool throughout their life cycle. The smaller the building is, the fewer resources are needed – less maintenance, more garden, lower energy costs and fewer working hours to pay off the mortgage. Build well, build smarter and smaller – the list of advantages are almost endless…

What marketers want you to believe is that you can’t be happy without more consumption of products. Yet the only things that truly make people happy – once they have food, water and a secure place to sleep – are human relationships and community. And those cost effectively nothing.

by Peter Hill