Unlocking the dream for affordable housing in New Brunswick

May 22, 2013

Designing a fully working home for someone who can’t afford one – within a VERY small footprint.

By Alexander Clermont

 

We at Stantec Architecture in downtown Moncton are pretty excited. We won the Unlock the Dream! design competition organized by Habitat for Humanity and the Architectural Association of New Brunswick! The challenge? To design a fully working home for someone who couldn’t afford one – within a VERY small footprint. 

Our design for a SEED House, or “sustainable environmentally efficient dwelling,” was chosen to be prefabricated by CCNB students in Woodstock, New Brunswick. It will then be shipped and assembled in Fredericton.

 


Although the competition was organized by Habitat for Humanity as a means of providing affordable housing, we also knew that a working design could have multiple applications – from a granny suite, to a fishing camp, to emergency housing for victims of disaster.

To design the SEED House, our team—Raven Spanier (principal practice lead), Michele Mikic, Rob Bateman, and myself—locked ourselves in a conference room to hash out the design details for an affordable, comfortable, efficient-to-build and easy-to-maintain micro-home. One of the challenges we faced was that the house had to fit on a flatbed truck. We essentially had to ensure that we were looking at a fully functioning dwelling that fit within ±275 s.f. of living space.

We envisioned the house by how we thought it could be assembled. The floor would be installed overtop a concrete tube foundation, on top of which we called for a line of angled open v-shaped trusses. The wall where the trusses met the floor became our main service, or ‘wet’ wall, within which we would run all of our services; we would then ‘hang’ off of this wall both our kitchen and bathroom units. We also wanted the circulation spaces to have multiple uses. For example, walking through the kitchen was also walking in the living room, and although divided by moving screens, you could walk alongside the bathroom or the bedroom.

In addition to the folding panels at the bathroom, we also introduced a movable storage unit between the front entrance and the bedroom to effectively close off each from one another if desired. The envelope to our house had to balance letting in as much light as possible with privacy. For this reason we located a few full-height vertical windows in the bedroom and living room, a full size patio door in the living room, and then clerestory glazing on three sides of the house for light.

Alongside the building we also called for another set of concrete tubes and another floor, this one with the help of another row of v-shaped trusses that would form a private outdoor space. When both of these sets of trusses came together to a point, we were then creating the full gable of the traditional house, with one half indoors, the other outdoors.

Another benefit of this small house was the less it would depend on municipal or hydro-electrical services, the easier it would be to install these practically anywhere. For this reason, we envisioned a number of environmental features such as a vegetated roof, a rainwater collection tank, solar/photovoltaic panels, and sun shades for the exterior living room. We’ve also designed the house’s main service wet wall as a continuous heat retention wall, with the intent that this wall could also collect sunlight through the house’s clerestory windows, then release the heat later on in the day to minimize heating costs. The idea is to incrementally make the SEED house fully autonomous, using alternative energy and servicing technologies to be able to take it off the grid and locate it anywhere, at any time.

While we worked through all of these technical details, we constantly reminded ourselves that we were trying to create not just a space, but a nice space for someone who can’t afford one. What’s more, it’s exciting to think that our creative visions for such a unique space could actually become a reality. According to Peter Kendall, the chairman of Habitat Fredericton, discussions have already started with the city to see where this first model can be built.

 

Alexandre Clermont has 15 years of architectural and urban design experience. He thrives in a team environment, especially working with clients. Currently, he is dedicated and passionate about the cancer research building for the Université de Moncton, situated in the heart of his own community.

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