A Compact Design for an Energy Efficient Home

What can happen when quality is consciously substituted for quantity in an energy efficient home, including quality vs quantity in a compact home design, location and a diagram of the home floor plan.

| July/August 1987

What can happen when quality is consciously substituted for quantity in an energy efficient home? 

A Compact Design for an Energy Efficient Home

The most basic rule of house building is that, no matter how modest the design, there's never enough money. The fundamental question then is, on a finite budget, what's most important to you? Some adopt the warehouse approach, maximizing square footage. For others, baubles please: an Italian marble spa, perhaps, with gold-plated faucets. Even something that seems as eminently practical as energy efficiency can become a single-minded obsession.

In this game of priorities, the trick is to strike a balance without feeling compromised. To do so requires strategy. When Ira Friedlander decided to build an energy efficient home for himself and his son, Nuri, he started from a strategic position. Their home would be as small as possible while being comfortable. Quality of space would substitute for quantity.

By deciding to see how little area they needed, Ira and his collaborator, architect-builder Hadi Clements, started from a focus of strength. They would concentrate Ira's funds, Hadi's skills and their combined intellect on little more than 900 square feet—700 indoors and 200 in outdoor decks. (See the diagram of the home floor plan in the image gallery.)


This was to be a place of tranquility for Ira—a writer and designer/artist who is a MOTHER EARTH NEWS art director—to gather energy for creative work and for Nuri to relax and explore the outdoors. Such a house should fit like a favorite shirt: often unnoticed, easy to stretch in, comfortable at any time of day. Influenced by Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy's ideas about the connection between the inside and the outside, and equipped with a knowledge of ancient Arabic design, Ira formulated his house concept quickly and prepared drawings. At the same time, he and Hadi agreed that the design should be allowed to evolve as the house was built.

Interaction between client, builder and architect, and the ability to revise along the way, are fundamental parts of Hassan Fathy's views of architecture. In Architecture for the Poor, he laments the lack of adaptability in today's construction system. Typically, the architect designs with a small to moderate amount of contact with the customer and then does little but see that the contractor follows the drawings. Ira and Hadi's working arrangement went a long way toward precluding such problems by keeping them both involved throughout.

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