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Flexible Housing for Changing Households

The post-World War II suburbanization of America was driven by the housing needs of nuclear families, the nation’s leading demographic. In the 1950’s when much of housing was constructed post World War II, nuclear families represented around 43% of our households. Today, nuclear families only account for 20% of America’s households, while nearly 30% of homes are made up of single adults living alone. Some other growing household-trends include single parents, young adults living at home, and a growing elderly population.


In 2010, nearly 40% of Santa Cruz households were considered “non-family homes”. Of all households in the County, 26.4% were composed of people living alone and 23.1% were inhabited by the elderly (source).


Are we building our homes to accommodate these trends? New York City National Building Museum explores this question with a new exhibit named Making Room: Housing for a Changing America. It features “The Open House”—a flexible, 1,000-square-foot home with a hyper-efficient layout, movable walls, and multifunctional furniture.


This adaptable home prototype inspires a reconsideration of how our homes are built and renovated. In Santa Cruz, the ability to add an extra bedroom could translate into student rental income during the year, a guest room in the summer months, and a place for elder parents or grown children to stay in times of need. When things change, you can open up the space and put it to good use.


The theory has been put into practice in Denmark, where the same architects who designed the Microsoft Headquarters in Denmark created the “Adaptable House” which can be reshaped to fit changing household needs. 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.


Interested in how it’s done? You can find more details on the layouts of and material used in the Open House here. You can also find additional examples of how retractable walls have transformed living spaces here.

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