The grind of construction can make it easy to lose sight of the drama of the transformation taking place when renovating a historic building. Documenting the progress made at the end of a project is really a special feeling, and reminds us why we do what we do, and validates the potential that everyone saw in a previously neglected piece of New Orleans' history.Read More
The Flexessory House is a personal and professional response to how we think about urban infill development in New Orleans.
What makes New Orleans’ neighborhoods among the richest in character and memory in the world, a tourist attraction in and of itself? Its HOUSING STOCK.
What's so great about it? Two things – its ability to adapt to its surroundings and its ability to adapt to the needs of the people. So, really, one thing: resilience.
Houses here grow, adapt – they FLEX. Sometimes literally with the moisture content in the air. And they are still standing through hurricanes, design fads, and shifting demographics.
So what do we mean by FLEXESSORY?
We took inspiration from the traditional Japanese ‘engawa’ space, a light-footed raised wood structure the building’s perimeter. This zone serves as a linear adaptation of the classic NOLA porch, providing shade, communal space, privacy and debris protection. Wood screens attached to this can flex open or closed to provide varying degrees of protection.
engawa (縁側 or 掾側)
is a typically wooden strip of flooring immediately before windows and storm shutters inside traditional Japanese rooms. Recently this term has also come to mean the veranda outside the room as well, which was traditionally referred to as a nure'en
Shutters & Engawa Spaces
Houses here have long, varied histories because they never ceased to be useful, even if just enough to not demolish. A house may have started as a stately four-bedroom home for a large upper-class family, and may have later been split up into a upstairs and downstairs unit, after which it might have converted a carriage house into a rear apartment. Later, after central air was added and the plumbing easily changed out since the floor is raised, it might find new life as a bed and breakfast, a law firm office, or might again serve as a large home for a well-to-do family. Or maybe it stays a four-plex with a carriage apartment, long after zoning laws have made such an arrangement unrepeatable.
About those zoning laws – across the country, zoning laws have historically attempted to pin down a property to a very specific and isolated use. Often, a single-family house is allowed an ACCESSORY use – often with many caveats and rules in place to keep that other use from becoming another dwelling. But demand for accessory dwellings lives on, often in bending or ‘hacking’ zoning rules and grandfathering, and for good reason. It allows for additional homestead income, while easing housing stock shortages for small families, college students or the elderly, and adding to the overall neighborhood value and tax base - wins all around.
Flex + Accessory (Dwelling) = Flexessory
The FLEXESSORY house is a contemporary approach to the traditional shotgun plan, offering more flexibility to a family living, growing and shrinking in the house; or for different kinds of families to subsequently inhabit the house. Within the footprint of a typical two-family zoned lot, the house offers several easily reconfigured plans to allow for various sized units for an elderly family member, a college student, a small family, a vacation rental.
And though it could be a single-family home, it makes too much sense not to use it in a way that helps put more families back in New Orleans, creating more value, and reinforcing the historic use patterns that can continue the centuries-long reputation of New Orleans neighborhoods as the best in the country.
With our busiest time of year quickly approaching, I've had many friends ask about our services and our design process. I thought that now would be a great time to share our process work for a residential addition we are currently working on in a historic district in South Louisiana.
With a "wish-list" and a budget, we can begin planning your project. We know that budgets are made for a reason but a small upfront investment in thought and planning can pay for itself several times over by increasing final value of a property and finding problems before contractors are mobilized and products are ordered. As architects, we can streamline this process and know the tricks to maximize your return down the road. The following images and paragraphs below describe our planning process for this particular project.
The 2,800 square foot home was built in 1920 as a craftsman bungalow style home. Around 1980, its previous owners renovated the home and changed the character of the home with traditional Creole cottage detailing. The current owners want an addition that is both respectful to the historic neighborhood, and the current Creole cottage architectural style. Their wish list consisted of a master suite and art studio on the first floor and a bedroom and bathroom on the second floor.
Step 1: After spending some time measuring the property inside and out, we began by creating schematic massing studies and developing plan options. We spend time measuring and modeling the existing building to make sure the scale and proportions of our design for the addition are right on.
As you may expect, a home addition can take various forms and shapes. In the examples below, we have narrowed down our studies to three options showing different architectural languages and statements. These were presented to our clients not as final product but just to steer our work in a direction that both of us will ultimately be happy with.
Step 2: The second round of design work requires more refinement. In this study, we wanted to present two strong design alternatives to develop. This first option we developed was the integrated option; we called it the "Cascading Creole" because the roof line cascades from main building down to the secondary buildings, borrowing strong references to traditional creole architecture. The second option developed was called the Farmhouse Wing because of its large form, more equal to the original structure in size, and because of its wrap-around porch and geometry referencing a rural farmhouse.
Step 3: During the Design Development phase, we lock in the plan that translate to the massing model. There are a ton of decisions that get made by the architect during design, for example with this house in particular, we were challenged by a low pitch of the existing roof line that we needed to tie into to increase the living space in the built-out attic. We check in with our clients to help us make decisions because at the end of the day, they need to be 100% happy with the design of the home.
The next phase of our services requires a little less attention from our clients. Once the design is more or less locked in, we can start detailing the home with all the little things that reinforce the design we end up with, and making sure the final product falls in line with any beautiful drawings we've produced!