Most people today grew up in a highly networked world. This gives us access to an unprecedented wealth of information and options. We can design our homes as we please to craft our desired daily living experience. Alternatively, we can circumvent the design process and its considerations and simply settle into existing homes without further modifications.
But globalization has also led to change, turbulence, and disruption. These challenges are forcing humans to adapt on every level, and due to the cost involved, our homes are a particularly inflexible aspect of living. Here’s why we need to approach home design and improvements with an eye on responding to our changing world.
Shelter is one of the necessities for survival. The earliest humans were able to thrive while dwelling in caves. But as we began to create our settlements, human habitation has become adapted to local conditions.
Many traditional homes in Africa, for instance, often use compressed, sun-dried mud blocks. Sometimes, thatch could be used to replace part or all of the compacted earth. These natural materials were the best-suited out of available resources during those times.
But they were also used in a manner that fit the circumstances. For instance, these homes did not have a second level due to seismic activity. Perhaps some locals might have attempted such construction, but time would have shown them that available materials could not support those structures.
The same principle had governed the construction of vernacular homes throughout the world, long before the fields of interior design or even architecture were formalized for study. Humans took what was available from the locale; they fashioned it into structures to shelter them from existing conditions. Over time, they would learn what worked and what didn’t and pass that on to succeeding generations.
Form must take a backseat
But vernacular architecture has fallen out of favor in modern times. We have access to materials from all over the world. Our knowledge of construction techniques is more advanced. On the whole, people can create more ambitious structures. Individual property owners can afford to put form over function.
Sometimes, this can lead to incongruences in design. A bamboo beach house by a temperate lake can recreate the tropical vibe under warm, humid conditions. But if the weather turns cold, it won’t provide much insulation for the occupants. Likewise, a fireplace tends to be ornamental, not functional, in hot climates; you’ll need a chimney cap to keep out moisture and small critters. That wouldn’t be an issue in cold countries where an actual fire burns continuously.
When form and function aren’t in alignment, the impact can be a minor inconvenience, or even negligible. But as we enter an increasingly chaotic world, it’s more important than ever to restore the priority of function in design.
Global climate change, for instance, is leading to increasingly severe weather disturbances in many countries. The ensuing damages can lead to losses in billions of dollars each year. Insurance coverage has its limits, and even the best companies won’t compensate you for any lost work hours or material price hikes.
Taking the initiative to change
We need to change the way we design our homes and prioritize improvements. Some designers have already begun to implement traditional principles to lower energy consumption and make construction more sustainable.
Passive solar design, with a south-facing orientation to maximize the sunlight during the day and reduce heating costs, is a feature of traditional Mediterranean homes. Local sourcing of materials is a common feature of vernacular architecture throughout the world; today, it helps bring down the fuel emissions from transportation.
Building codes often represent the minimum requirements for house construction. They need to change as weather extremes grow in frequency, duration, and severity. But the legal system can be slow to evolve.
In the meantime, property owners must take the initiative to build more resilient homes. If we all spent equal time studying both new and old aspects of design, we could have Pinterest boards for durable home features as well as inspiring aesthetic looks.
Finally, our future homes need to account for the shortcomings of the modern lifestyle that have been exposed by the pandemic. Home extensions could serve as disinfection zones where people coming from the outside can sanitize before entering.
In terms of location, we might be better off dispersing away from urban population centers. Move closer to green spaces to reconnect with nature; emphasize more space per occupant, to avoid cramped living conditions and the spread of disease.
Our world is changing at an incredible pace. Before we hire contractors, we need to have the right approach and build homes that are suited to future sustainability and resilience.