Big feel to the house on small plot
Small is beautiful, when it comes to building houses on tiny plots. Here are some tips on how to get it right.
High utility value: This is how a split-level house will look.
The sharp escalation in the price of land, especially in urban areas, has meant that large plots are increasingly becoming a luxury which not many can afford. Which means the key to building a good house lies in making the best use of the available space, however small it is.
Owners of small plots think of building “independent houses.” Real estate agents are trying to specialise in small houses, and more people are thinking of how to live on a small plot of land. Houses are being designed to fit tiny-sized plots, offering an average customer an affordable way to live in bustling, crowded and hugely expensive areas.
Independent houses, however, have their own charm and value. Whether it is located next to a block of high-rise apartments or nestled between other detached houses, an independent house always maintains its identity.
But then, designing a house to fit such small plots is a challenge. Here are some tips and ideas to help an average small-plot owner meet that challenge.
On the plot level, leaving setbacks is mandatory. In most cases, setbacks on the front, back and the sides of plot take away a good chunk of the plot area, lessening the plinth area. This aspect is overlooked by many owners, which lands them in problems later.
Always bear in mind that the mandatory open space recommended by the bylaws will help in the long run. This open space can be suitably blended into the house with the help of a sensitive designer in creating interactive spaces around the house. This open space becomes the lung space of the house too.
Parking, vegetable gardens, planting trees, washing and drying are some of the common uses to which these open spaces can be put to.
The main constraint in such “small-plot” houses is space — the existing available space has to be well utilised to give optimum comfort.
Comfort levels are reflected in three ways:
•Physically: parameters such as sizes of rooms, storage and circulation.
•Psychologically: parameters such privacy, proximity and security.
•Climatically: parameters such as light and ventilation
So, when you want to build a comfortable house, thinking on these lines is the first step. Such factors have to be decided upon before finalising the design. In doing so, an architect will be the right person to guide and help you.
First, one has to identify the requirements of the occupants of the house. A thorough run-through of the activities will help one list down the number of spaces to be planned in the house. Then, certain activities can be grouped into a single room and an appropriate arrangement can be thought of. For example, viewing television, entertaining guests, listening to music and library can be grouped in and around living areas.
Do not think of too many separate “rooms,” such as those for living and dining, and three or four bedrooms with attached toilets, kitchen with pantry, store, work area and so on. Instead, a flexible design with spaces for these activities can be incorporated. This aspect becomes a major factor in the layout.
The suitable ways of tackling this problem are:
A split-level house is one in which the floor level of one part of the house is about halfway between the floor and ceiling of the other part of the house. The one-storey section typically contains a family room (also known as living room), dining room and kitchen. There is typically one small set of stairs that attach one level of the house to the next level. See to it that there are no dead spaces in the staircase design. Every inch of space is most essential in small houses.
One level can lead to bedrooms and bathroom. It can lead down to a large family room or basement area. Often, the basement level also includes the garage and is on level with the driveway. The first floor is built halfway between the basement and second floor, with the second floor being above the basement. Alternatively, both halves of the house may be two-storey tall, with a basement beneath the “first-storey” section described above. Additions to the house are possible by adding a third floor above the first. There are other variations too: A side-split is where the split level is visible from the front elevation of the house. A back-split is where the split level is only visible from the side elevation.
The front elevations shows only a single storey and the two storeys are in the back.
Walls are minimal in this type of design and most of the spaces can be open or semi-open except for private rooms such as bedrooms and bathrooms. This openness brings in more light and a feeling of volume to the rooms.
Depending on its size, it can be called a “duct” or a “courtyard.” This feature basically brings in light, air and ventilation. It can be covered or open. Windows can be opened into it at different levels. Sometimes, these small courtyards when landscaped or filled with greenery become an interactive space, in addition to drawing in light. These courtyards should be sensibly located on the sides because placing them in the centre is not possible because most such plots are narrow.
Dwarf walls of about 45 cm to 50 cm or medium sized walls up to 120 cm to 135 cm from the finished floor level can be used around these open courtyards to demarcate the activity zones for dining, studying and so on, rather than having full height walls.
Windows: These small structures can be given big windows on the front of the home to maximise sunlight exposure. Make no mistake. These homes are incredibly narrow and will seem claustrophobic to some. But taking care of privacy is another critical feature. The height, width and placement of windows, activity of that room, covering them with blinds or louvres are some means of getting privacy too. These features should also be considered while doing the layout.
Staircases: An open staircase can let in more light and air, benefiting the spaces around. Visually it balances the built-up and un-built spaces. No dead spaces are created in such a design.
Walls: Minimising the number walls and having slits in them will also help to lend a “big feeling” to the small house. The visual access, proximity, circulation and so on are to be well considered before finalising the walls, the height and width of the openings and their placement.
Roof: Sometimes, a sloping roof is provided where an extension for the house is not preferred. A flat roof is ideal for such small houses, as terraces can be used for outdoor activities, such as terrace parties, gardens or further extension. A combination of both these types of roofs can create an interesting aesthetic appeal to viewers in addition to making for a play of light and shade in the interior.
Such types of houses are popular in metros such as Pune and Bangalore.
The author is an architect based in Kochi.
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