As Mick Jagger noted, you can't always get what you want. Particularly in real estate, where you are usually forced to take what the developers give you when it comes to bathrooms and kitchens and those parts of the home that are wired and plumbed; for convenience and efficiency they are usually placed in corners and connected to walls. But bathrooms and kitchens are very personal; people want different things. Since the late nineties, Toronto developer Urban Capital has been looking at ways to separate them from those walls, to give purchasers more freedom. They recently worked with TreeHugger founder Graham Hill, to develop layouts that flowed around a central cube which included the bed.
Now they have taken it a step further, working with designer Luca Nichetto to develop Cubitat. It's a 10' x 10' x 10' cube that is totally configurable, and is densely packed with all the expensive wet stuff like bathrooms, kitchens and laundry, all the expensive dry stuff like closets and storage and then they toss in a pullout double bed, because beds take up a lot of space and they can put the works in a drawer. It is everything you need in an entire apartment except for your yoga mat.
There is an efficient kitchen, with a fridge, freezer and half-height dishwasher and a lot of storage;
A lovely and not uncomfortably small bathroom with stall shower and a frosted glass wall; a laundry cupboard that didn't photograph too well;
And a pullout bed, set up so that you can comfortably watch TV in bed without moving anything. I like the idea of pullout beds over pull-down murphy beds; you don't have to make it and strap the mattress down, you can just push it closed when you hear mom ring the doorbell.
The back wall has lots of storage.
It's really brilliant. The basic structure of a building lasts a long time and is pretty inflexible. Plumbing and wiring ages at a different rate, but it isn't very flexible either. Cubitat separates it from the shell, making our bathrooms and kitchens plug and play. They create a dense prefabricated house in a box that can be inserted into any form of structure, either new residential, old factories and lofts and schools. It gives the purchaser the choice of what they want in a kitchen or a bathroom. It lets the hard complicated stuff of building get done in controlled conditions in a factory, but unlike conventional modular construction, one is not shipping air, but a dense engineered and precision built product.
There are some serious problems to be resolved, the biggest of which that it doesn't fit through a door; This is really going to limit its application. Bucky Fuller, in designing his prefabricated bathrooms in the forties, cut them into slices so that they could be reassembled inside. I suspect this could be done here.
Then there are money issues. When people buy a condo or a house, they get a mortgage that pays for the bathroom and the kitchen. But this, is it building or is it furniture? On the other hand, if you are a landlord, you want it to be furniture and be able to write it off more quickly. You want to be able to upgrade your units quickly by pulling out the old bathrooms and kitchens and plugging in the new overnight. This concept is terrific for the rental market.
But what I love about it most is the way it separates the services from the space itself. University of Toronto Professor Peter Prangnell used to talk of what he called the three main components of architecture: support, fill and action. I will probably get this wrong, but I interpreted this to mean the basic structure of the building, (support) the stuff we bring into it (the fill) and how we act, interact and generally use it (the action).
Support is designed by architects and builders. Fill is selected by you and me. The more stuff that becomes fill instead of support, the more flexibility and choice we have. And the better that it is designed, the more space we have for action. Urban Capital and Nichetto Studios are really on to something here.