We're Designing a House: Step 2

Armed with a to-scale plan and Artis’ building blocks, our design begins to take shape.

We're Designing a House: Step 2

Armed with a to-scale plan and Artis’ building blocks, our design begins to take shape.

It won’t really be built, but there is a real piece of land with real-world conditions and we’ve been working with Amelia Wilson and Laura McLeod of Artis on the plans. The point: to show what a budget of $500,000 might get you.

A reminder: Artis is a system of modular designs using hard-wearing materials and, ideally, lots of colour. It’s owned by the design-build company Box™, and it’s intended to create a system of standardised details and materials that make house-building easier and cheaper, and create great spaces with everything you need and nothing you don’t. 

In this case, we’ve invented some hypothetical clients, aged in their 30s. They’ve bought a classic bungalow on a flat suburban section with friends who will live in the original house while our clients will build a smaller home on the spare land. 

So one day in May, we went to sit down and design a house – you can see the results on these pages. We had a to-scale plan of the site, including boundaries and obstacles, and some coloured wooden blocks representing different functions – red for living, yellow for bedrooms, blue for bathrooms and green for laundry, storage or entry spaces.

The modules are designed around common building-material sheet sizes: the largest block is 4.2 metres by 8.4 metres. “That’s the biggest it can be within NZS 3604,” says McLeod, referring to standard timber-framed construction in the building code. (This avoids the need for expensive, specifically engineered designs.) The spaces aren’t huge – the smaller bedroom block is three metres by 3.6 metres, for instance. But, Wilson says, “It’s efficient and it works – as long as it’s laid out properly.” Equally, we’re aiming for a design with a minimum of hallway and circulation spaces.

We started with the open-plan living area. Artis has a larger and a smaller option. We chose the larger, which includes room for a table, rather than an island you eat at. At first, we laid it along an east-west axis, with a big long north-facing elevation, and then we put some bedrooms and a bathroom behind. It wasn’t very inspiring, and it would mean the bedrooms all faced south, which didn’t seem that fun, really.

Then we split it apart – a wing for bedrooms, and a wing for the living space, facing north to capture all-day sun. At one point, we played with one very long, skinny house. We poked and pulled a bit, and eventually McLeod deftly slid the two blocks lengthwise beside each other, offset and overlapping at the entry.

It’s clever. In effect, it’s a standard gable house, split and pulled apart into two equally sized monopitch blocks. It makes for straightforward, repeatable details, and it gives great separation between the bedroom and living wings, with a solid block of services sitting in the middle. Each of the bedrooms has a different aspect to the west or east, and the living area will track the sun from sunrise to sunset. It also provides an opportunity to create covered spaces by extending the roofline – a sheltered deck to the north-east, say, and another to the south-west. 

As to that possibility of future expansion? There are places to extend the main house, but we felt they mucked about with its elegant simplicity. Eventually, McLeod suggested we allow for a separate module on the southern boundary, a few steps from the house.

From here? The Artis team will draw it properly, taking our blocky little plan into three dimensions, finesse the placement of functions and doors – and start playing with colours and materials. (Hint: there’s discussion of Colorsteel cladding in a Here favourite, Pioneer Red.) Stay tuned.




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