In the Netherlands, first time buyers can buy an architect-designed flatpack home for under US$150,000, on lots sold by the Municipality. According to the Guardian,
Choosing your dream home has become as simple as picking furniture from the Ikea catalogue for residents of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, where a neighbourhood of affordable architect-designed kit houses has just been launched. Aimed at first-time buyers, the city's "I build affordable in Nijmegen" initiative (IbbN) has paired 20 architects with building companies to produce about 30 designs – from detached timber cabins to redbrick terraced houses.
People always think working with an architect will be more expensive and take longer, but this way they feel more secure. We've always wanted to make a really cheap, sustainable house and this gives us a great way into the market.
Reading the Guardian and looking at the site, I couldn't help but think that I had seen this before. In fact, it is pretty much the same idea as the Grow Home, developed in Montreal in the early 1990s by Avi Friedman and Witold Rybczynski at McGill University. It was described in The Tyee as:
... a two-storey townhome designed for affordability. The basic, open-concept home is designed for its residents to "grow" the home -- build more rooms by installing partitions, for example -- as their own resources grow over time. The unfussy construction and no-frills design kept prices accessible for single-parent families and single-income households, groups that would have otherwise been shut out of the ownership market.
Friedman wrote in the Grow Home book:
It was rather a process of reflection on current phenomena, an examination of coming trends, an assessment of case histories and a composition of construction strategies: strategies that would make homes affordable to people she were unable to purchase them as a result of those same societal changes we had been noticing. Cost, however was not the only consideration. We focused on the design of a home that would fit the everyday needs of its occupants when they moved i and that would let them modify the home as their needs and means evolved.
Rybczynski picks up the story in the Atlantic in a 1991 article.
The Grow Home was small (1,000 square feet); it included unpartitioned space; it was adaptable to different households; it used good-quality finishes and materials. And it was a row house, only fourteen feet wide...
The entire house was designed to be adaptable; the second floor was not even completely finished.
The staircase led to a second floor, which was an unexpectedly large space without interior walls, extending from the front of the house to the rear. Part of this loft was furnished as a baby's room; the other end was the parents' bedroom, with large doors leading to a balcony overlooking the front garden. Movable cupboards replaced built-in closets. It would be possible in the future to create a separate children's bedroom, and there was also enough space for a second bathroom, if one was wanted.
The Grow Homes were built conventionally, in a townhouse form to reduce land and construction costs. Rybczynski notes that this kind of design makes more pleasant, walkable communities:
What produced the narrow row house in America was not a concern for security, as in the medieval European town, nor was it merely urban crowding. The row house kept walking distances short, true, but more important, it defined city life in a congenial and satisfying way. One has the impression that just as people enjoyed the bustle of the city streets and squares, they also liked the gregariousness of living in relatively close proximity, in compact, well-defined neighborhoods.
The Dutch program is really an update of the Grow Home using newer technologies. The fact that they are detached gives the purchaser a little more flexibility, but at the cost of urbanity and walkability.
Perhaps planners and builders should be looking more closely at the work of Avi Friedman and Witold Rybczynski back in 1990. As Friedman says in the Tyee:
We've complicated homes so much. We're building them in such a complicated fashion. That doesn't mean aesthetics and quality materials must be sacrificed in the name of housing. Building smaller and more efficiently using space and materials will be key for the sustainable, financially accessible future of home construction.