Designing for the decades

Buildings, like many objects, are temporary structures. They have a lifespan, which can range from a few years to a few centuries. Whether residential or commercial, buildings undergo significant changes; from renovations and additions to new occupants and different functions, a building can adapt and evolve throughout the years to suit many purposes.

Some changes are inevitable, such as expanding the home to make room for a new family member, while some are influenced by current trends or innovations. While it is impossible to predict the future, prolonging the lifespan of your home or office is easier than you think.

A house built with children in mind will soon be home to adolescents and, eventually, young adults. Different age groups require different levels of privacy, so while it is difficult to predict all the variables, consideration should be given to the access and zoning of bedrooms and play areas.

With some children living at home longer, such spaces can be transformed into self-contained apartments, or even home offices. Houses can be adapted for aging family members with accessibility and safety features such as grab rails in the shower and ramps rather than steps, which will ensure your home is suitable for your long-term use.

Fashion and function
Preferences for certain colours, finishes and other interior elements will inevitably change throughout the years. That sea of white tiles that you got on sale a few years ago may now appear dated. With that in mind, remember that you will have to plan for appliances and fixtures to change. For example, installing gas piping to a kitchen initially fitted with electric appliances is a small outlay that could save on disruptive renovations later.

Redundant outlets can be useful for data, power or audio, adding only a small, initial cost. Sometimes your best attempts at planning well in advanced are eclipsed by advances in technology. While it is always useful to consider data, security and house wiring, wireless technology has decreased the need for pre-planning in Cayman, except when dealing with higher performance networks.

Building for the future
Cayman’s tropical climate is hard on most materials. Salt corrosion, UV degradation, heat, extreme weather and ease of maintenance should all be considered when choosing building materials. Often, compromises are made due to cost, which will only create problems later on, as these materials could require replacement or repair.

Shuttering or impact-rated windows are sound investments that will add only a small amount to the total building cost. However, when incorporated in the initial design, these additions are unobtrusive and provide peace of mind in extreme weather.

If a property is built as a speculative real estate investment, these considerations can change. Many compromises, made in the name of ‘resale’, can be false economies. Resale, for example, is not a good reason to remove all the character from a building or interior; on the contrary, a building’s uniqueness is often its cachet. Even if you trust your instincts, it is wise to consult a realtor about current market trends and what features buyers in your market sector want. Selling real estate is not a science, so it helps to do some research before jumping into a design that could miss the mark.

There are, of course, many other considerations driven by budget and time, but more often than not, you are limited by a lack of knowledge and critical imagination. A design professional can help you to think through a number of scenarios.

Defining your goals
When planning a building, it is important to identify the long- and short-term goals of construction to help guide the design process. In architecture, this is usually referred to as the ‘pre-design’ or ‘programming’ stage of development. In complicated buildings, this is the stage of creating a master plan, which provides a diagrammatic pattern for development during a period of many years.

Often a programme, brief or master plan will be prepared by a specialist consultant, who will itemise a plan with both specific and general requirements. A similar process can be followed when planning a property, which will help focus the development stage before any drawing is done.

Even with a private residence, this step is often forgotten in the rush to jump into style, details and finishes. Asking a few simple questions, before consulting with a design professional, will keep your plans on track. Is the house planned for resale? What is the total construction budget? What happens when the kids move out? What happens if they don’t move out?

Taking the time to ensure your plans are correct will pay dividends in the years to come.

Embrace change
It is impossible to predict what is in store for your family and your home throughout the coming years. However, planning for a variety of different situations and embracing the possibility of change can not only save you money and time in the long run, but also guarantee that your house or office will last for generations.

William Steward, MRAIC, is the managing director of Chalmers Gibbs Architects/CGMJ Ltd. one of Cayman’s leading architectural firms.