Design for change - Family house in Brennnberg
Architects: Partizan Architecture, Team: Gergely Hory, Zoltán Major, Péter Müllner, Location: Brennberg, Photo: Danyi Balázs, Project year: 2020  

Need for flexibility
A couple from Brennberg (Hungary) commissioned us to design a new home for their growing family. When the design process started they had three little children and by the time they finally moved to their new family house the fourth baby arrived too. Adaption to the daily life of the family turned out to be a central issue of the project. By the beginning it was clarified by the family that the only constant feature in their everydays was change itself: as infants enter into different phases of their childhood new spatial needs emerge. Flexibility was a key requirement that needed to be settled from different aspects and at different phases of the project.

Frame system as a set of rules to play with
We introduced flexibility in the design phase, since instead of presenting a complete layout to the family we developed a frame system with a set of rules that enabled our commissioners to freely think about their most suitable arrangement of the rooms without the need of thinking about technical constraints. The base of the system is the following: the house consists of three parallel blocks: the first is the so-called “permanent zone”, where those areas are designated that need fixed position due to their necessary mechanical appliances. These are the kitchen, the bathroom and the staircase. Parallel to this is a “flexible zone” with two-storey height that could be parcelled freely horizontally and vertically as well. The only rule is to fit the separation walls to a grid system with a base module of 1,5mx4m that results in a minimum room size of 3mx4m. Between these two blocks we placed an area labelled as “semi-fixed”. It is a narrow strip in the layout where connection areas to the “flexible zone” are prepared that could be activated as entrances to rooms or simply as storage spaces. Commissioners learned the logic of these rules, so they managed to became active partners during the design process.

Flexible structure
It was not enough to restrict flexibility only to the design phase: we wanted to enable this free thinking of reconfigurations after the construction of the building. To make this possible we needed to design the load bearing structures flexible enough to be able to support unexpected future reconstructions. Thus in the case of the structure we opted for a mixed system: the perimeter walls are made of insulated, prefabricated wooden panels, while the interior consists of a frame system with wooden columns and beams. Columns are placed into the “semi-fixed” area, where space between two columns constitutes storage or possible entrances to the “flexible zone”. Consequently, there are no vertical load-bearing elements here. Separation walls and slabs can be freely built in and removed in this area. The order of openings on the facades, heating and cooling devices, as well as electrical connection points are arranged to fit into the modul system and serve easy reconfigurations. In this way the set of rules developed during the design phase did not remain only a theoretical design tool. Inhabitants said they did not stop thinking about the possible location of further rooms and vertical connections after they moved into the house; they keep on designing their home since they understand its rules. As designers, the most important outcome of this project was not really the materialized building but the framework, which is a mental product: a way of thinking that the future inhabitant has to learn and apply while living in the building.