Architecture - The Art And "Science" Of Design

When it comes to carving a unique niche in the new home marketplace, great design goes a long way in helping a builder stand out from the competition. A new home community starts with a design that reflects the overall vision for the homes and their surroundings. Architects and designers design homes within the context of the local community, which may include open space systems, a golf course or the existing residential fabric and character. There's a real balancing act in making a collection of homes stand out without sticking out.

New home design is a dynamic proces that changes as people's lifestyles evolve. As a result, establishing and maintaining a design philosophy is an invigorating task. Those of us involved in this industry have to continually look forward and recommend designs that will accommodate change.

You'll notice that across the GTA there are new home communities that look vastly different but are created by the same builder. To achieve that kind of uniqueness and variety, it helps when a builder is receptive to new ideas and calls in the designers from the start. One of our leading clients at Hunt Design Associates is Arista Homes, a company that prides itself on building comprehensive communities. The Arista team spends a lot of time with us collaborating on design proposals with innovative elements that help them achieve a distinctive look.

We start by going into the specific hamlet or urban area to consider the overall picture, including the architectural influences of the existing surroundings and the specific styles that prevail. We then develop appropriate designs, taking into consideration modern construction techniques and technology to ensure that the vision expressed on paper gets built properly.

We look for different ways of combining spaces and adding amenities that reflect today's lifestyles. For example, larger family rooms are being included, because the unused living room is being shrunk in size or eliminated altogether. Arista calls the resulting main living space the family/living room, which makes sense, because it's where the family lives. Space taken out of the formal living room can also be allotted to the kitchen and dinette areas. In homes where a smaller living room is included, often called a formal room, this area becomes a flex space that can function as a home office or dining room.

The current trend of open-concept design has both aesthetic and practical benefits. For one thing, open-concept smaller houses live larger than their square footage. Add to that the fact that most new homes today have standard 9-foot main floor ceilings and bigger windows, and the sense of volume is remarkable, even in compact homes. Computer niches or studies are often situated adjacent to and open to family rooms and kitchens, so that parents can supervise children while they work on homework or use the Internet. Adaptable design is where builders like Arista spend a lot of time.

Kitchens and bathrooms are important, and bedroom sizes have become less vacuous. Today's families are more into closets and ensuites that enable two active adults to get ready for work at the same time comfortably.

A few years ago when designers first started including second-floor laundry rooms, there was public resistance to the idea. Now, there are more and more designs with the laundry rooms located upstairs because it's handier. Families are busy, and they're looking for anything that helps them save steps.

The newest trend at the moment is green design, and I believe we'll see a lot more of it in the future. People are concerned with the environment, and builders and designers are coming up with creative ways to make designs more environmentally friendly. Again, in this industry we live in a world of change, and we're often asked to comment on community designs as they are evolving, to determine if there is a more effective way to present homes to the public realm. Sometimes it may be as simple as rotating the lot and the house so the back doesn't face the park.

We also look for influences in architecture, not to copy it, but to reflect it. There's an acceptance today of a greater variety of building materials than we've traditionally seen. Builders still use brick, but you'll notice other materials too, such as stucco and stone, and even clapboard siding in historic areas.

Design is really an art and a science. To design homes, we need a comprehensive understanding of social sciences, physical sciences, art and technology. At Hunt Design Associates, we believe that our true client is our client's homebuyer.

Design is successful when both the designer and the client are willing to listen and explore new ideas. Great design evokes emotion from those who experience it. Every time we design something, the experience makes us even better. Even in the ten years since we founded the company, we've seen the market drive design evolution. There's a real competition for bringing housing products to the marketplace, and as customers become more educated the process becomes more sophisticated. We embrace change, and thrive on the challenge.

Architectural technologist Stephen Hunt is a principal of Hunt Design Associates, an award-winning, 25-person architectural firm specializing in low-rise housing throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Hunt also serves on the Board of Directors for the Building Industry and Land Development Association and makes periodic contributions to trade publications.