Adding on is hard to do
We live in a developed region, with many buildings and homes already available for most enterprises. It’s no surprise, then, that the most common architectural project is the addition. People struggle with the scope, the cost, and the style when expanding the original structure. What follows are some tips to keep in mind when approaching an add-on:
- Don’t Do It. Before committing to an expansion, take a look at how your current space might be reconfigured. In older buildings and especially houses with previous additions, I can often find “lost” space to reclaim. While reconfigured space isn’t necessarily cheaper than an addition, it is certainly easier to maintain, and to heat in perpetuity. The real reward, though, is better space rather than simply More.
- Design For Future You. Don’t just think about today’s emergency space needs. Imagine you… in five years with another kid… in ten years with Grampa moving in… in twenty years with an empty nest and a need for some rental income… in thirty years when you can’t climb stairs.
- Be A Good Neighbor. Additions often impact adjacent properties, affecting storm water runoff, access to sunshine, or viewsheds. If for no other reason, think about your neighbors so they’ll think about you when it’s their turn to add on.
- Price It. Establish a budget early on, and share it with your architect. You may not know construction costs but you probably know how much you can afford (or at least how much you’re willing to sink into upstate New York real estate). Working backwards from a budget allows you to weigh options, prioritize and be realistic. It may nudge you to favor renovation and less construction, or to eliminate fantasies before you become too emotionally attached.
- Phase It. So you can’t build it all now? A good designer can plan a project to be built over time so that each phase “works” and redundant costs are minimized. After all, imagine how much easier it would be now, if the folks who originally designed your building had provided for the possibility of change you now confront!
- Visualize It. Spend the money to have an architect prepare perspective renderings or a physical model of the proposed addition. It’s a pittance compared to the construction cost itself and could save you from an irreversibly bad decision.
- Respect It.
• Respect Through Blending In. I’ve heard Sarah Susanka, author of the popular Not So Big House series, say that the best addition is the one nobody knows is an addition. In her books, she’s more subtle, warning against copying the original, but only borrowing proportions and details. Still, she states that the goal is to “help the new addition blend in.” A respectable approach, no?
• Respect Through Differentiation. But wait! There’s another way to add on that sees the “new” as the next chapter in an ongoing story. We can respect an older structure’s authenticity by not trying to mimic it. Creating an undifferentiated addition can degrade the integrity and muddy the history of the original. Instead we clearly delineate – through design – between old and new, recognizing that buildings must evolve and that the story has not been completely told. Interestingly enough, this is the official preservationist’s view. The so-called “Ten Commandments” for building rehabilitation – the U.S. Secretary for the Interior Standards for Historic Rehabilitation – advise that “new work shall be differentiated from the old” while remaining compatible with the massing, size, and scale.
I find our firm working in this latter tradition more often than not. Our clients tend to see themselves as active participants, knowing that what they add today to yesterday’s edifice, becomes part of tomorrow’s historic legacy.
As for me, I’m interested in today’s architecture being a new interpretation of regional building techniques, an honest representation of global technology and a careful application of local sustainable practices. A building addition can have dual citizenship – it needs to “belong” to the original structure in the sense that the Secretary for the Interior describes. Yet it also belongs to the 21st century and to a progressive, innovative, sustainable tradition-in-the-making