Sky’s the limit for future housing

Builders poised to move in new direction — upward

Over the past 100 years, home building has evolved and matured, yet the basic exterior appearance has not changed much.

But as we face land and labour shortages, high construction costs, innovative new technologies and a growing demand for sustainable materials, we are poised to witness some monumental changes in housing.

One program that may prove to have a major impact on housing is the provincial government’s Places to Grow Act of 2005, which requires at least 40 per cent of residential land development to occur within built-up land areas.

Thanks to this act, “housing stock in 2051 will probably be dominated by highrises,” speculates Hugh Heron, president of The Heron Group of Companies.

And this is what’s coming to pass in north Oakville , where a major mixed-use corridor is being designed to accommodate the anticipated growth within the town’s boundaries.

At the corner of Trafalgar Rd. and Dundas St. E. , there will be “a fairly dense development in the next 20 to 50 years with 20- to 30-storey-high buildings and a major transit corridor,” says Peter Cheatley, director of planning services for the Town of Oakville . The scene will be similar to developments now found at Yonge and Sheppard or Yonge and Finch in Toronto , he says.

Mazyar Mortazavi, principal of TAS DesignBuild, echoes Cheatley and Heron: “We will create vertical neighbourhoods in the future.”

As an example, Mortazavi points to the University of Toronto pharmacy building (which was not built by TAS DesignBuild). Completed in 2006, this 16-storey structure is an excellent reflection of vertical design, he says, with three below-grade floors and 13 above grade.

Mortazavi says that with land at a premium, this type of construction is what we’ll start to see from now on.

“Our God-given right might not be a backyard, it may be a deck,” says Patrick O’Hanlon, president of Kylemore Communities, which builds high-end communities in the GTA.

“In New York City , lavish laundry rooms don’t exist. In the U.K. , the laundry room is in the kitchen and appliances are way smaller than ours. And kitchens in New York City are very small because you can walk to so many restaurants.”

To get an idea of what future communities should look like, O’Hanlon says we need to steal a page from the past.

“We need to look at cities like Rome , Venice and Dublin , where they are hundreds of years ahead of us in dealing with larger numbers of people in one area. In Europe you can see all types of housing over retail lofts, in addition to four-plexes, walk-ups and apartments.”

Mortazavi agrees, saying that in the “Far East there are more complex building types. Toronto ‘s response has been the hotel/condo,” such as the Ritz Carlton and Shangri-La projects. The city is already experiencing increased multiplicity and this will continue over the next 50 years, he believes.

Since land and labour costs are rising rapidly, the way homes are constructed will also change. Heron expects to see more prefabricated or factory-made homes in 2050 and beyond, as we don’t have a lot of skilled labour now and the situation will likely get worse.

As far as cost is concerned, Heron has no idea what the price for prefab will be and says the choice will not be based on economics but on labour.

“We have labour shortages now that will be intensified down the road,” he says. “So we’re going to see home building gravitating toward fast, flexible, modular construction, which will create another problem – the high cost of transportation from the factories to the sites.”

With high-priced land and a larger population, O’Hanlon says the next generation will have to embrace the change to smaller quarters because of affordability, which is why we’re already seeing buildings like stacked townhomes and condos geared toward families.

“Land has gone up in price 100 per cent since 1997 when townhouse lots were around $65,000. Now in some areas these lots are $120,000 to $130,000 and this, in itself, will force people to buy smaller homes,” says O’Hanlon.

“It all becomes a matter of affordability … And as light rapid transit improves, people won’t need garages. Right now, 20 per cent of a home’s space is for the garage and the driveway runs 20 feet from the street. In the future we will be able to shrink the floor plate…we’ve become greedy with family rooms, recreation rooms and living rooms; bedrooms all with ensuites.”

In Europe , architects have already anticipated the need for smaller, energy-efficient housing by designing and building the Micro Compact Home in 2006, which won Best Innovative Technology in the National Homebuilder Design Awards for the same year. The cost is 32,000 euros (about $49,000 Canadian) for a 2.6-metre cube, which can adapt to a variety of sites and circumstances.

Two people can live in this timber-frame structure with aluminum cladding. Inside are two compact beds, storage, a sliding table that seats five, a flat-screen TV in the living/dining/kitchen area, and a washroom.

It was designed by Horden Cherry Lee Architects in London , England and the architectural firm of Haack, Hoepfner in Munich . The home is now in use and available for purchase throughout Europe . The Micro Compact Home was designed for short-stay living; buyers tend to be students, business people and those looking for a weekend home.

And several units can be mounted on an aluminum frame system in a vertical formation to form a Tree Village . This variation was a student housing proposal at the Technical University in Munich , in 2006. The 12-metre footprint would fit into a mature landscape with tall trees.

The intriguing structure, which seems almost a part of the trees, is a cluster of small steel vertical columns or reeds that echo the surrounding natural vertical architecture. An open- core space contains the central light shaft and stairway, which would be surrounded by 30 micro-compact homes.

The cost would be 34,000 euros (about $52,000 Canadian) for each home – plus the cost of the vertical structure, delivery, installation and connection to services. It can be erected on any terrain without a foundation.

Luckily, as technology has advanced, products have become smaller, which will be a necessity in tomorrow’s homes. While we can’t predict what’s in store, we can get an idea of the potential from Korea , where 100 homes with advanced technology have been built in Seoul , and another 30,000 are planned each year from 2008.

In a BBC News report from last November, some of the features found in one of these flats included a control panel to track energy consumption, pay bills, and hold video messages; a TV that tells you when the washing machine has finished; a fridge that provides recipes using the ingredients inside; and a wardrobe mirror that keeps track of your schedule, selects clothes, and keeps you up to date with weather and traffic.

Heron envisions today’s spaghetti wiring replaced by a single line to a computer in the basement controlling all the home’s functions; window technology for protection from the negative side effects of natural light entering homes; and plasma-panel walls “so we could have dinner with a background of the Alps .”

A look into future home construction would not be complete without looking at sustainable features, and by all accounts, “green” will be a dominant colour.

Says Mortazavi: “In development we are driven by socioeconomic, political and socio-cultural demands. That’s why every big developer is now green. Policy will drive this. Things that are sustainable will be mandated in the future. In Europe they’re far more driven by energy costs because they are more limited in resources.”

In the U.K. , for instance, the Energy Efficiency Commitment imposes a statutory obligation upon electricity and gas suppliers to meet a target for the promotion of improvements in energy efficiency through cavity wall and loft insulation and energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances.

There is also a new Code for Sustainable Homes, which requires all government-funded housing to reach at least a Level 3, which is significantly more energy-efficient than past building regulations

Pierre Boucher, president of the Cement Association of Canada, believes insulated concrete forms will play a large role in future construction, because of the forms’ green qualities. This product is sustainable, energy- efficient, dust- and pollen-free, and sound-resistant.

“Cement lasts longer than wood construction and it’s better for the environment,” Boucher says.

O’Hanlon sees communities becoming more self-sustaining starting now, with neighbourhoods such as the ones he’s building having shared facilities to conserve land. “There will be a pool for the neighbourhood rather than pool-sized lots,” he says.

“The bottom line is we have to make sure we keep our minds open to conserving energy,” adds Heron. “The awareness of energy conservation will affect resale values.”

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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