Small Homes, Big Idea: The Czech National Museum in Prague is a splendid, towering monument that stores and displays over 14 million exhibits. Facing the museum is the picturesque Wenceslas Square avenue with a floral garden. Churches, hotels, pubs and offices co-exist with a tram-converted cafeteria. Next to it is a model of a small house. Attracting as many visitors as the huge Museum looming nearby, the home model is the work of architect Marek Jan Stepan and his associate, George Brosch, whose ideas have made people believe that small is beautiful, and sufficient. Their firm, Freedomky, gives visitors an insight on how fully sustained and sufficient a tiny home can be. With different floor plans and finishes, the modular home sizes range from as tiny as 240 sq ft to a larger 465 sq ft. Bigger homes are created joining individual units. The homes are insulated for the winter cold, snow and rain and have roof-mounted solar heaters and solar voltaic cells to tap the sunny days. The 240 sft plan comes with space for living-dining, bed, bath and toilet. In 2010, when Stepan installed the display model, it caught the public and professionals’ impressed eyes with its novel design, pre-fab material quality, as also speed and ease of installation anywhere. Interest poured in not only in Europe, but also from far-away Australia. For vacation homes, the architect designed the deck to fold up as a security shutter over the patio doors when not occupied. Stepan says that his success lies in “the innovative concept of ecological and economical living, with emphasis on design, style purity and practicality”.
Aquatecture On The Thames: In the UK, last December, rain-caused flooding affected 16,000 houses. Over 75,000 dwellings lost electricity. 5.2 million English properties were at risk. In June, trepidation came in Britain, not with the Brexit vote, but with nature’s fury. On Brexit voting day, Londoners waded through the flooded roads and cast their vote, on a day when one month’s rain fell in less than 24 hours.
To live amidst rising water levels, a UK firm, Baca Architects has been offering a solution on working with the water and not against it. Baca, founded by Robert Barker and Richard Coutts, specializes in water-front and flood-resilient design architecture and had earlier released a book, Aquatecture, outlining ways of “designing for water” rolling out means of utilizing water innovatively, efficiently and safely. Last year, Baca completed the UK’s first Amphibious House, a flood-resistant home in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, designed to rise and float with the rising water levels. With zinc cladding, the family home rests on an excavated “wet dock” that is separated from the house to allow the structure to float upwards, just like a ship. To ensure that the home does not float away, the structure is attached to four guideposts that extend upwards and allow for a 2.5 metre-high floodwater clearance.
Baca’s next work, in Henley-on-Thames, is another house that has the first floor lifted above the flood level, directly accessed by a bridge from the mainland during floods. Fitted with flood-proof windows and doors, the ground floor keeps floods away for a long time.
In June, Paris was submerged when rains made the Seine river rise dangerously above the banks and on the roads. It was then that Baca proposed a Paris plan to build residential clusters that maximized the potential of a site and neutralised the risk of flooding. Instead of working on an expensive defence system, Baca proposed a network of water courses that would weave through the highly dense urban project. With flooding parks and water harvesting, the floods are managed and dissipated so well that the project also would protect the heart of the historic city downstream.
Baca’s next project is near Glasgow, Scotland, as the world’s first floating leisure village. Its designs include a new canal with a U-shaped floating street, with a flexible mix of two and three-storey office buildings, studio flats and town houses with their own private moorings.
Freedomky and Baca represent a world of living with nature, and well.
M J Krishna