The Designing of Squirrel Cottage
People are often amazed that two architects have managed to design a home together, not to mention including their two children in the design process, but I always tell them, it was easy. And it was easy for one reason: we had such a strong brief with a driving reason to build, that every design decision was a delightful realisation of a place that our daughter would be able to use without having to ask for exceptions to be made. So much of her life is frustrated by obstacles in her way; the main ones are physical, environmental, spatial ones, something which as architects we feel ashamed of, but also empowered to do something about. We are in the exceptional position of understanding through our family’s experience what hinders, and knowing, as designers, how to put that right. So when you turn this to the problem of designing a (barrier free) family home it suddenly becomes an enabling process rather than a problem.
Having to think differently around how we use spaces, and how we move around them starts to produce unusual places. I was already interested in how children move around in, and perceive spaces through my PhD research (link), and had often noticed that children will choose to run up a ramp (then often jumping down the stairs if they are on the other side). For our daughter this movement through spaces is just as important, and the way for her to be able to access this experience is by designing a ramp that she can negotiate in her many wheeled vehicles (link bike, 4 wheeler, wheelchair). But once you calculate the ramp needed to climb from a ground floor to a first, it quickly becomes apparent that the ramp will need to do more than just that. So we have designed a ramp which unwraps to connect to a number of different spaces, each of which can be used along the way.
By designing the house as spaces arranged around a ramp, we have enabled Greta to join us in a full experience of the spaces of our everyday lives. Whilst many public and private spaces still act as a barrier to her full inclusion, this house provides an environment which she and her friends and family can experience, learn from and enjoy together. Designing all the spaces to work as part of the movement along the ramp, with the ramp as central to the spaces, allows the architecture to develop in a rich spatial unfolding, whilst also enabling us all to use the house together.
Involving the children in the design allows them to explore creatively what they need and what they desire. It also means that their occupation of the spaces once built will become another part of this process.
Upstairs at last
Presentation board squirrel cottage