Cutting for the last notebook with the last remaining plastic wrapper is often times a challenge, the same when you’re trying to fit a large book into a slender plastic bag at the bookstore, narrow provisions often are not enough for the job at hand. A narrow lot or site is no different, but creative solutions together with supportive clients and builders can make all the difference.
A narrow lot may provide the necessary area in terms of quantity, but because of the shape, problems arise when setbacks and required spaces are put together. When you consider large provisions for stairs, garage and utility areas, you can paint yourself into a corner. Spaces cut from a narrow lot sometimes have a tendency to feel cramped and ill proportioned, further depressing the delight and satisfaction of the users and owners. Rooms which feel comfortable due to the proper relationship in length and width or established norms tend to become too long and too short because of perception and placement. On the exterior, the elongated form, without treatment, doesn’t fit into the fabric of the neighborhood and may not embody the visual cues for a house or home.
Techniques for a narrow lot are varied, easy to use, and can be arrived at through experimentation and creative logic, or in the inverse as the case may be. Sometimes the placement of the largest space requirement in the widest corner may not be as effective as putting the same large space into the narrowest corner. Wasted spaces such as the spaces under stairs can be nudged to form part of the garage to help reduce the run of the staircase without jeopardizing either room. Forming a “barbell” with large rooms or conglomeration of smaller rooms at ends and locating the rest in a linear form with a single loaded corridor can form the basis of an excellent floor plan. Lastly the exterior façade can be arranged in varying textures and forms to break apart the mass if that is the requirement of the scale and composition.
The house designed for a successful married couple with grown children was built on such a site. Aside from the challenges from the narrow lot, as it was only 10 meters at its narrowest and 11 meters at its widest. Rooms were required to have their own private bathrooms and must have light and air. All the utility areas of a fully functional house must be present, but discrete at the ground floor to allow for coexistence with the ground floor public areas. There should be ample walls for a growing collection of local art, and memorabilia of grandchildren.
Aside from what was mentioned earlier for designing on a narrow lot, a linear design was used to maximize the space available given that the 3 meter setback in front was compounded by another 3 meter setback on the side street, as it was a corner lot. A firewall was allowed and used to allot space for utility areas and rooms. The largest rooms were located along the ends, with rooms combined on the opposite to form the opposite “barbell”, and a corridor linking them with the other rooms arranged along its length. Ceiling heights were maximized for both the ground and second floor as much as the height restrictions allowed and all spaces had windows to alleviate the feeling of being cramped into a corner. Light colors were employed on the walls and floors to give a homey feeling as well as to make the spaces feel larger. Large windows were placed in the public areas and along the corridor to take advantage of the large tree lined public area in front of the site, greatly expanding the vistas of the occupants. Clerestory and corner windows were employed to break up space and bring more light into the rooms. On the exterior, grooves grouped into vertical and horizontal bands helped break the linear quality of the house’s mass so that it blended with the fabric of the neighborhood. A stone accent wall for the main door was used to bring focus to the front elevation and bring the visitor’s eye to the entrance. Ledges and canopies of varying length, though linear, helped create “play” with form and shadow while providing shade and protection from rain.
A house on a narrow lot may be challenging to design and to build, but ways to alleviate the cramp quality of space, and to maximize what’s available is always an option, what’s needed is research to know what limits there are, a proper program gained from meetings with the client, and established procedure to select a good builder to bring such a project to completion.
General Contractor: Design Integra Construction Inc.
Structural: Engr Ronald Ramirez
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing: Engr Rolando Nicdao
Interiors: Arch Pinky Javier