Americans spend around $300 billion each year on home renovations, adding to the construction industry’s giant carbon footprint. But what if houses could reshape themselves as needed, so people could add a room or change the size of a kitchen without bringing in bulldozers or building new walls?
The Adaptable House, part of a new development in Denmark, is designed to change over time. If a family has kids and wants to add a room or make a living room bigger, the house can expand. If a grandparent moves in, the family can slide walls around to add another room. The house is even designed to split in two in the case of divorce.
The house is one of six experimental single-family homes called the MiniCO2 houses. “Each house zooms in at specific aspects of the potential for reducing CO2 emissions, and we were given the task to demonstrate the importance of ‘flexibility and changeability,'” explains Signe Kongebro, architect, partner, and manager of the sustainability department at the firm Henning Larsen Architects.
Inside the two-story house, flexible walls allow rooms to be reconfigured, and standard components can be moved from room to room without throwing anything out or requiring new materials. Downstairs, the kitchen and two living areas can be divided into three separate rooms or stretched into one large space. Upstairs, movable cabinet walls can create another large space, or bedrooms, a playroom, an office, and a walk-in closet. Stick-on outlets can be placed anywhere along the wall.
The designers considered every likely scenario for a modern family, including single-parent homes and blended families. “The house can adapt to these different family constellations very easily and quickly and at a low cost,” Kongebro says. The garage, for example, can be turned into a separate apartment for a struggling single parent to rent out, so they don’t have to move to a new home.
Compared to a standard house of the same size, the Adaptable House saves 26 tons of CO2 a year for electricity, and another 22 tons of CO2 annually for heating. The energy efficiency comes from the geometry of the house and the modular design. And, of course, anytime the owners want to make changes, the house avoids even more environmental impact.
“In many cases, large conversions or extensions can be completely avoided and replaced by a changed spatial and functional layout,” Kongebro says. “But flexibility is not just about CO2 emissions. It is also about quality of life and economy. If people want to move, they move. But if you live in a great neighborhood and have been for a long time, this comfort and continuity could be very important to your quality of life.”
“The potential of this type of house is great,” she adds. “The bigger the need for flexibility in society, the bigger the need for the Adaptable House.”