Reimagining of a Habitat For Humanity Houseplan

A habitat for humanity floor plan is, by design, boring.  It is efficient, affordable and simple, and for good reason - it needs to work, over and over again.  Once it has served its initial purpose of providing shelter, and its inhabitants move past the 'survive' stage to their 'thrive' stage, many in our country would sell and move on to larger digs.  The small efficient house would be knocked over and a larger builder home would be plopped on top of the old pad - neither new nor old with anything particularly special to offer anyone.

We were asked to design the next phase of growth for a couple who had outgrown their Habitat for Humanity houseplan on a unique piece of land near the banks of the Mississippi River, just outside New Orleans. Through the years, a greenhouse and pool were added, fruit trees were planted and an orchard established. Finally, the house itself reaches a point where it is ready to grow, beyond merely shelter, to entertain, delight, and add value.

1. Form

  • The Challenge: The interior space wanted to expand toward the east, into an open space between the house and the citrus orchard that filled the narrow half of the triangular shaped property. The irregular lot shape and the structure's proximity to an easement kinked the direction of the extension.
 Conflict between home addition expansion and property easement

Conflict between home addition expansion and property easement

  • The Design Approach: The new addition sought to create more of a connection between the house and its site, which we wanted to achieve by creating new rooms that stepped back to allow each an open view to the orchard with generous corner windows.
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  • Tying in the roof lines suggested breaking the addition massing into two pieces, so that the roof slopes did not get too high to allow for a simpler tie-in to the existing rafters. Concentrating roof runoff toward the small court suggests a good spot for rainwater storage that can serve to provide or supplement irrigation.
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2. Plan

  • The Challenge: The existing home has a compact, efficient layout with a simple gable roof.  We knew we needed to create new functional spaces and reuse existing utility-intensive spaces like bathrooms and kitchens, and avoid intrusive replumbing through the middle of the slab.
 New plumbing was added along new exterior walls for easy install and ventillation. Existing bathrooms remain in same location. 

New plumbing was added along new exterior walls for easy install and ventillation. Existing bathrooms remain in same location. 

  • The Design Approach: Under the roof, we use the expanded space to provide a greatly expanded kitchen, new dining room and generous walk-in pantry, expanded guest room, new office and laundry room with ample low storage for aging-in-place.
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This project is a great example of how simple customization to any structure can add value, and that value is amplified when we avoid using the bulldozer as an 'easy' out to our housing needs. The most sustainable solutions for new buildings are far and away those that involve repurposing and upcycling our existing stock of housing, and even our stock-plan builder home neighborhoods could become more interesting places if housing was allowed to evolve and grow in as unique a way as its inhabitants.

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