Page D2.2 . 09 August 2000                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
  • A Master Architect of the Pacific Northwest
  • Big Ideas Behind Not So Big Houses
  • New Approaches to Laboratory Design

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    Big Ideas Behind Not So Big Houses


    Since I'd had some success promoting this idea to potential homebuyers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I knew there was a market for smaller, better-designed houses. But I hadn't appreciated its magnitude or realized the number of professionals in our business who'd be so supportive. Architects, builders, developers, realtors, and designers from all over the country have expressed their concern about the ever-expanding scale of the American house.

    Architects report that clients who come into their offices looking for a bigger "move-up" house change their vision after reading The Not So Big House. Builders tell me that their customers are realizing that the lowest dollar-per-square-foot only guarantees the absence of the very thing they're seeking—a house with character.

    This confirms my belief that we are all searching for a sense of home, but we haven't developed a language to help define the qualities that we seek, and so we keep building bigger in the vague hope that somehow more will be better. We seek with square footage and ever-taller ceilings our notion of home, when in fact the feel we're looking for has almost nothing to do with size. Instead, it resides in a sense of comfort, which comes from tailoring our houses to the way we really live and filling them with personal details that add meaning for us.

    Making Not So Big Work

    Our profession has an enormous ability to affect what the future will look like. As an architect who questions the advisability of building bigger rather than better, I decided it was time to suggest an alternative. Since my book was published, "Not So Big" has been dubbed a movement by several sources. This response makes it clear there are many people who are longing for some alternatives to the "starter castle" and "trophy home" mentality.

    To help make these dreams a reality, I've written a second book. Using 25 houses from around the United States, it illustrates the spatial characteristics that tailor each house to the lives of its inhabitants. In the process it develops a three-dimensional language that gives names and explanations to spatial concepts that architects use everyday—such as layering, visual weight, and ceiling height variety—that are not commonly known to the public.

    It's time to get out of the lowest dollar-per-square-foot rat race, and design houses with personality, spatial variety, and durability with every space in use every day. There is a substantial segment of the American public that's hungry for a new type of house, and architects have the tools to help them find it.

    Sarah Susanka is an architect and author of The Not So Big House, from which the photographs were reproduced, published by Taunton Press. She writes a regular column, "Drawing Board," for Fine Homebuilding. Her next book, Creating the Not So Big House, also from Taunton Press, will be in bookstores in October 2000.



    ArchWeek Photo

    Architect: Katherine Cartrette of SALA Architects.
    Photo: Christian Korab

    ArchWeek Photo

    Architects: Sarah Susanka and James R. Larson.
    Photo: Christian Korab

    ArchWeek Photo

    Architects: Michaela Mahady and Wayne Branum of SALA Architects.
    Photo: George Heinrich

    ArchWeek Photo

    The book that's becoming a movement.


    Click on thumbnail images
    to view full-size pictures.

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