In the Netherlands, as in the UK, until the Second World War, inter-generational living was a common phenomenon. With the advent of the Welfare State in the 60’s and 70’s, it became possible, and common, for families to split up geographically. Evolving political and economic pressures, and a move towards multi-generational and sustainable forms of living, are encouraging Western societies to reconsider this situation. The aim is for generations to once more look out for one another, with a family comprising of two households choose to build a house together. In this example while the younger couple already lives in the city, the Grandparents were keen on moving back to be close to grandchildren as well as convenient urban amenities.
The goal of the project, which was constructed in Amsterdam in 2018, was to create a building where both families could enjoy each other’s company without sacrificing the advantages of private family life. To achieve this, two separate apartments are stacked on top of one another with the only connection being a communal entrance. While the project anticipates a greater dependency of the Grandparents, the immediate advantage of the close proximity of the two families is enjoyed through activities such as running errands, shared social gatherings and the occasional day-care for the children. For this mini-apartment building a concept was devised that would allow the building to accommodate changing spatial demands over time.
The bottom apartment has an office and a direct relationship with the garden, making it ideal for a working family with young children. The elderly couple occupies the top apartment with generous views across the city. This apartment has an elevator, level floors and wider door openings in order to accommodate wheelchairs.
While it does not resemble a home designed for the elderly, the “Lifetime Homes” design anticipates reduced physical ability. Instead of reducing vertical circulation to a necessity, the stair and lift occupy the heart of the building. By placing the vertical access system in the middle of the floorplan, the building is divided into a ‘fore’ and ‘aft’. Either side of the floorplan can be connected to one of two staircases to create a different configuration.
The building is designed with flexibility in mind to facilitate, say, the transfer of space on the second floor. Initially used as a space for guests for the Grandparents’ apartment, the space can be easily adapted and added to the lower apartment with minor adjustments. The position of the double-helix staircase makes it possible to stretch the inter-generational living concept even further. Two studio apartments could be created on the North façade to allow the younger family’s children to live in the building past their adolescence.
Also, the house’s elevations contrast and respond to environmental context: for example, the Northern façade is un-fenestrated to reduce thermal loss and reduce sound exposure along the busy street. Towards the South the building opens up completely, with its glazed façade maximizing passive solar gain and the connection with the outdoors.
In between the two contrasting façades, the building’s plan undergoes a gradual transformation, from compartmentalized in the North, to open-plan and structured with free-form elements towards the South. Here the building is concluded with an informal, filter-like balcony layer.
The remaining structural walls are composed of large format concrete masonry and wrapped in high-grade thermal insulation. Between these walls, bare concrete slabs span the full 8 meters to provide for internal flexibility.
The contemporary utilitarian design might not appeal to all comfort-focused British home dwellers, also the lack of available urban sites could make this type of solution hard to achieve here in the UK, though with imagination existing buildings could be adapted and perhaps combined to create a multi-generational arrangement. It is therefore especially important that new developments like Langley SUE carefully consider all viable multi-generational approaches, both in terms of the overall layout / types of houses, and in the physical design of houses themselves.
Architizer Online Magazine for original text, reedited and amended to suit a UK context.