Faid House

“In no way were the family’s aesthetics compromised by the accessible features.”

–Ron Wickman


AGING IN PLACE

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The above image shows the front of the three-story FAID home facing west toward the street. 

Empty-nesters Peter and Alison Faid commissioned me to design their home in 2006, when they purchased a 33 ft. by 140 ft. lot in the same neighborhood they had lived in for 25 years. They wanted their new home to allow them to age in place. Experience had taught them the importance of an accessible home, making the principles of visitability important. Besides, Peter had a heart condition, which could make stairs a problem in the future. Not only did they want their home to be accessible but they wanted its beauty to reflect their style and taste. The three-level home sits on a narrow lot, and comes with an attached car garage in front and a walkout basement.

In keeping with the principles of visitability, they have no stairs at the front entrance of their home and minimal thresholds for all exterior doors, with level entry to the garage. The home is located in an inner-city community affording them better access to a greater host of neighborhood amenities. Inner-city development promotes a safer and a more positive and efficiently run city. One of the biggest myths about accessible design is that such structures will be ugly and costly utilitarian. This simply is not true.

The three key accessible design strategies in the Faid home was to incorporate a no-step entrance at the front door, an elevator to make vertical access accessible, and wet room designs for the bathroom areas. 

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This photograph represents the back perspective of the house, including a level deck and a walkout basement. 

“We planned this house as an empty nester / retirement home – the trend these days is called aging in place. That’s why we have wide halls, an entrance at grade, lever handles, better lighting – and an elevator! We feel really lucky to be living in such a great place.”

–Alison & Peter Faid

 

 
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The image beside shows the elevator, which provides easy access to all three levels of the house, with its door open, stopped on the main floor.

At least five feet of space in front of the elevator enables maneuverability for users in wheelchairs. The home’s stairway wraps around the elevator. Designed as short runs of five to six steps each, with sturdy handrails and step lights, the stairway provides for safe vertical travel by foot. The elevator as part of all of the accessible design features integrated into the house design made moving into the home simpler. To satisfy users with varying disabilities in the best way possible, the house features wider doorways (at least 36 inches wide) and decorative rocker-style light switches which can be operated with a wrist or elbow. Extra insulation in all walls provides better acoustics; color and textural contrast is provided to assist in wayfinding for persons with visual and cognitive difficulties. 

Although neither of us need the elevator to date, the elevator is great for moving things like groceries up to the second level or the basement. It was also extremely helpful when moving into the home because the movers were able to put all the appliances in the elevator, rather than carrying them up the stairs.”

–Peter Faid

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The above floor plan illustrates the main living area, found on the top level and accessible to people of varying disabilities via the elevator.

In keeping with the principles of visitability, the hallway is at least 42 inches wide with a high brick red curved ceiling connecting the living / dining room and the kitchen. Red accents including pillows gathered in the Faids travels to Cambodia and Turkey integrate the space and provide punch. A bank of bright windows faces east and frames the gas fireplace. The living / dining room and kitchen are painted a soft sage green. 

The above floor plan lays out the grade-level first floor of the house into which all guests enter through the front door. The broad entranceway incorporates a vestibule containing a bench on which visitors can sit while donning or doffing shoes. This level also contains Alison’s office (painted a pale mauve) and the master bedroom. Off the master bedroom is a bathroom (one of two full baths and one half bath) that serves as a symbol of the home’s combination of form and function. The clear box shower of glass and ceramic tiles the color of mottled concrete is large. On one wall of the shower is a stylish grab bar. A low stool, made out of Asian teak, sits outside the shower. Because its wood can be exposed to water without damage, it can be pulled inside if anybody wants or needs to sit down while bathing. 

The above floor plan illustrates the lower level of the home containing Peter’s office, a suite with a bathroom and bedroom and the laundry room. As part of their strategy to age in place, the Faids wanted a lower-level suite, which could accommodate a live-in caregiver, with a separate entrance that opens out to the backyard. A counter with a sink, microwave, and small fridge, with space to accommodate a cooktop, provides independence for guests, visiting family or live-in caregivers. Triple glazed windows and high R-value insulation incorporate energy efficiency. An on-demand hot water system saves money and energy, as does the high efficiency furnace. 

This image shows the third floor living room looking out onto Edmonton’s beautiful river valley facing east. 

many people as possible. As architects, we are trained to find creative solutions to design problems. Making universal design beautiful is our challenge. Architects and designers have no reason to fear their design options will be limited by accessibility. Instead, inclusive design contributes value and meaning to any design methodology.

We have been talking about accessible housing for almost fifty years, but I think our aging population will be what finally pushes us to get it done. Baby Boomers, like the Faids, actually have the money and the influence to make things happen. They will not just accept that nursing homes are part of their future. They will demand something different.

Accessible design need not compromise a designer’s approach to design but rather becomes an element in every designer’s approach. The Faids home was guided by principles of site, light, and views. Equally important was visitability, adaptability, and accessibility. Nor is sustainability and energy efficiency left out of consideration. With flexible spaces and accessible designed details, the Faids home is a good fit over the family’s lifecycle, which can later appeal to a wider range of potential buyers, when the time is right to sell. Even the second floor deck, overlooking the leafy Mill Creek Ravine has proven accessible by users in wheelchairs. 

My House

“The home bridges affordability and ecological design and construction, while highlighting green-building materials and methods that are easy to obtain and simple to use.”

–Ron Wickman


MY REWARD!

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The above image is a scale model of our new family home viewed from the south. Like most architects, the design and re-design of our family home was de rigueur. In 2000, we completed a second-story addition to our 1960s bungalow. The home modifications were designed primarily to accommodate the growing needs of our family of five. Accessibility and sustainability were also important architectural concerns. The sustainable features include passive solar design; a well insulated building envelope, low-flow toilets, and a green roof. To make the home more accessible, all public spaces are clustered on the ground floor; we poured a sloping sidewalk at the front entrance. 

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The above image shows the front view of our new two-story home, facing east.

The home is located in a quiet late sixties south-side suburb along a beautiful street lined with elm trees. The existing 1400 SF bungalow doubled in size, with the renovated home providing more room for the family and for my home office. The addition to the home goes up rather than out. Located at the intersection of two back lanes, the home is sited on an east-west axis. Its south side faces one of the two lanes with better access to the sun. The home location is ideal with the added advantage of being located in a mature neighborhood close to a variety of amenities and public transportation. 

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The above floor plan drawing illustrates the main floor of the home, wherein all the public spaces of the house are clustered, including my home office.

The office has a separate entrance at the front of the house, which can easily be blocked off from, or opened up to the rest of the living space, depending on the family’s needs. In the future, the space could be used as an in-law suite, or for an adult child still living at home. The crisp lines of this design are clearly inspired by the work of the early modernists with the house acting as a backdrop to human activities. A variety of box forms, devoid of any unnecessary embellishments, articulate the various functions of the building. Like later modernists, such as Alvar Aalto, the house utilizes a more human scale and warmer local building materials. Indeed, this house renovation looks to the past for inspiration, although it is more focused on today’s social and political conditions, and on our need to respect our fragile environment. 

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The above floor plan illustrates the second floor of the home.

The design is straightforward with the house functions clearly divided into their constituent parts and the building’s form derived from the order of the interior and exterior spaces. A northern, two-story block contains the private spaces with four bedrooms on the second floor, and a home office, a sitting room, and a garage on the main floor. A south facing one-story block contains the public spaces on the main floor, topped off by a roof deck. A distinct third block, built at a height between the two other blocks, weaves the private and public realms together. This in-between space contains two levels of circulation complete with sitting areas, and serves to provide a positive connection between the public and private functions. Architects should spend more design time on these in-between spaces, since they are critical in imbuing meaning to the various functions in a single-family dwelling and in an entire city. Carefully constructed outdoor spaces also link the home to the rest of the community. The design of these outdoor rooms—the roof deck, front courtyard, and back play area—are every bit as important as the indoor spaces providing variety and personalization to this design. 

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The image of the stairs leading to the second floor utilizes color and textural contrast to help persons with low vision in their wayfinding. The stairs are finished in dark slate tile with light colored maple nosings. The high contrast makes it very easy for users to identify each individual stair. My design decisions—to be as accessible as possible— are based on maximizing the experiences of end users. There are no steps at the front door, allowing persons in wheelchairs to access the main floor independently. A residential elevator would be required to make the second floor wheelchair accessible. The home also bridges affordability and ecological design and construction, while highlighting green-building materials and methods that are easy to obtain and simple to use. 

 
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The image beside is a rendering by Jared Schmidts of my father moving up the sloping sidewalk to the front door of my house, from my adult children’s book Accessible Architecture: A Visit from Pops. “Buildings should never be designed simply as sculpted objects to be viewed; the design aims to be usable by as many people as possible. When architects design buildings that cannot accommodate people with disabilities and others, the strength of their design is compromised. Accessible architecture is not about limiting design options. It is about bringing value and meaning to design.” 

Affordable Housing Demonstration Project

“This concept is a winner. It has a simple yet livable design and makes innovative use of the site... Overall, this design sets a good precedent.”

–The Jury


OFFERING GREATER CHOICE IN HOUSING

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The above color-rendered site plan drawing highlights the landscaping and color contrast around and between buildings. The project houses an inner south-facing outdoor courtyard space measuring approximately 24’-0” by 24’-0” onto which each dwelling looks. Everyone is free to utilize this space, a move designed to promote social interaction, bringing people together rather than keeping them apart. Local architects and homebuilders were invited to design affordable, innovative housing for a city-owned lot at Baldwin at 12673 – 72 Street, allowing more flexible land use. At least one unit had to be suitable for families with children.

Eight local teams of architects, designers, and builders submitted proposals that included two or three units of housing on the site. The five-person jury considered each entry’s affordability, effective design, livability, neighbourhood fit, and innovation.

Winner of The Affordable Housing Demonstration Project in 1994, the tri-plex was the result of an open competition, initiated by the City of Edmonton Planning and Development and the Innovative Housing Committee. Its goal was to provide affordable and innovative duplex and triplex solutions for an inner city lot 35’-0” wide by 120’-0” long. Completed in the fall of 1995, it is still fully occupied.

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The above drawing identifies the main floor plan complete with the ground floor of the two-story home and the ground floor accessible dwelling. The resident of the accessible dwelling can visit the other home from the back door facing the courtyard where there is a no-step entrance.

A simple flow-through circulation pattern is enabled with the absence of hall in the plan. Efficient use of space is notable in this design, as an outcome of lived experience. Designing to accommodate wheelchairs, which need more turnaround space, challenges architects to produce innovative solutions, which may be just outside the realm of what is considered the norm.

The project was designed to accomplish several important goals not usually addressed in Edmonton’s housing market. It had to accommodate low-income families, single parents, shared accommodations, seniors, and individuals with disabilities. Its flexibility allows one family to occupy both buildings, encouraging multi-generational housing: extended households, which include grandparents, young families with children or young adults living independently with disabilities. Alternatively, two families can each occupy a building, or three separate families can inhabit each unit.

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The above drawing identifies the second floor plan of the two buildings. With limited circulation space within the units – the smaller unit is 24’-0”by 24’-0” or 576 sq. ft. and the two-story unit is 24’-0” by 32’-0” or 768 sq. ft. – allows for critical larger closet and storage space.

The integration of a courtyard into the design promotes social interaction rather than isolation. With an aging population and reduced institutional care for the elderly, the idea of an accessible granny suite like this project offers is timely.

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The above image shows the integration of this housing project into its existing neighborhood.

It can be seen as an illustration of successful community infill, encouraging inner - city communities, which are often deserted as urban development continues in the suburbs. In my housing models, I try to provide for both privacy and socialization. The future of accessible design in the community is accessible community design: creating communities that are more accessible for everyone. This design fits into the existing streetscape, yet at the same time sets the tone for what future development could look like.

Features like on-grade access, open floor plans, a lower kitchen counter, lever door handles, grab bars, accordion closet doors, and adjustable rod and shelf heights all help a variety of individuals. The strategic uses of color and contrast plus changes in texture of ground and wall surfaces serve as visual and tactile cues for those persons with visual and cognitive limitations.

As architect Bjarke Ingels (Yes is More) wrote in a recent interview, “The task of a city is a practical one: to accommodate many people from all kinds of different backgrounds, age groups, social groups, economic capacities, genders, religions, and so on. It has to enable them to co-habit a limited amount of space successfully, in a way that maximizes the possibilities for each individual, without limiting the possibilities for all the others.”

This project designed with sustainability, adaptability, and flexibility makes it suitable housing for seniors and for people with disabilities. Their maximization of space, incorporation of light and proximity to the amenities typical of inner-city housing enables the residents to age in place, a growing concern among the number of seniors among us. Community, rather than isolation, is an essential ingredient of their continued vigor and mental health, despite their abilities.

The image above shows the street facing home complete with the address sign of high contrast white and black lettering.

The image above shows the street facing home complete with the address sign of high contrast white and black lettering.

The image above shows the kitchen area of the ground level accessible dwelling. Most of the counter height is the standard 3’-0” from the floor. A lower counter, which is open underneath extends into the living space. The counter can serve as a workspace and eating area for someone sitting in a wheelchair. The sink is open underneath for easy wheelchair access.

The image above shows the kitchen area of the ground level accessible dwelling. Most of the counter height is the standard 3’-0” from the floor. A lower counter, which is open underneath extends into the living space. The counter can serve as a workspace and eating area for someone sitting in a wheelchair. The sink is open underneath for easy wheelchair access.