What could be nicer than a bespoke home? It can be precisely shaped to suit your mood, an architect is ready to transform visions into tailor-made shapes. It can also be incredibly expensive.
OpenHome, a new joint venture between the architecture offices KieranTimberlake and Lake | Flato and the prefabricated house builder Bensonwood, wants to create barrier-free living that is made to measure. By combining prefabricated elements with architect-led, customer-specific design treatments, the system brings the dream home design into the hands (and budgets) of the less than rich.
“Not everyone has the time or the resources to build a bespoke home that spends a year or two designing and a year or two building,” says Matt Krissel of KieranTimberlake, OpenHome project leader. The design system can cut the time it takes to build a fully bespoke home in half and cut costs significantly.
“To speed up this process and make it more accessible to more people, it was really important to strike a balance between how much is custom and how much is part of the system,” says Krissel.
KieranTimberlake, Lake | Flato and Bensonwood came together in 2018 to develop the concept and started design projects in spring 2020.
OpenHome is based on a series of building blocks or clusters that form sections of space in a typical home. These clusters are built from pre-fabricated panels that Bensonwood makes in its factory and can be combined into rooms of varying sizes, all of which can be linked together to form a complete house, each fully electric and meeting the low-carbon passive house energy standard.
In cooperation with an architect, home buyers can define the spatial distribution of their house and the type of rooms by combining clusters from the OpenHome library. From narrow to wide, one or two storeys, straight, rectangular or with inner courtyards, the pieces can be combined in different shapes.
“This way we can replace an extra bedroom or add a larger bedroom, take something apart and put in a missing piece, or rearrange the relationship between living room and kitchen,” says Krissel. “We know how Bensonwood can build [each component]”We have a design for them and they can grow or contract for different needs or even mix for different configurations.”
Krissel says using pre-made basic components allows architects on his team to spend less time designing simple walls and cabinets and more time looking at the home’s location, orientation, and types of views and experiences understand what the owner is hoping for. This sometimes includes a personal visit to the website, but OpenHome also relies on a detailed 3D model of the design concept that the customer can view in virtual reality.
The modeling of the sun and the seasons gives a feeling of how the light changes in every room over the course of the year and also helps to fine-tune the structural requirements in order to meet the high insulation requirements of the passive house standard. Depending on customer requirements, windows can be moved or enlarged, walls extended and roof lines adjusted. A design can be finalized within three months.
“It’s a really effective tool to be able to work at this rate,” says Krissel. “And when we acknowledge that a lot of people don’t really understand floor plans or sections of buildings, the ability to virtually model and guide people through them from the early stages of construction really improves our ability to get feedback.”
As the design gets closer, the virtual reality tool is also used to help select the finishes for each room, from bathroom tiles to roofing materials.
Once the design is finalized, it will take Bensonwood about two months to make the panels in their factory. It also coordinates the building permit and works with a local contractor to begin the foundation work and preparations for the on-site installation. The first Kieran Timberlake house designed using the OpenHome method is currently under construction in New Hampshire. Krissel says that each of the partners in the joint venture has at least one open home project in the works. KieranTimberlake is now starting work on a second draft and is aiming to take on three to five a year for the start.
“The goal is to achieve this in less than a year, if [clients] can actually make all decisions so quickly, ”says Krissel. “It’s a bit idealized, but the goal is to make it a lot faster from start to finish.”
The system brings architect-designed homes within reach of customers without the budget for a fully bespoke home. It also offers architects new opportunities. “Now,” says Krissel, “we can say yes to projects that do not have this luxury of time frame or budget.”