By Rick Reynolds
At Bensonwood and Unity Homes, we are dedicated to maximizing the Open-Built® features on every project. Open-Built is about “disentanglement” and reorganization, which leads to mechanical systems being separated from the structure and organized for easy accessibility. But why does this matter? Why should anyone want access to dark recesses of the house to reach mechanicals like wires, pipes, and ducts? Shouldn’t these perfunctory elements of the home remain buried, out of sight and out of mind? After all, “It’s always been that way,” as old-timers in New Hampshire are known to say, satisfied they’ve put the topic to rest.
Well, as it turns out, the Open-Built protocol can play a key role in giving what new home buyers, born after 1970 and before 2000—the so-called “millennial” generation—are looking for in their new homes.
More on Open-Built in a moment, but first, according to an online “Responsive Home” survey conducted by builderonline.com, millennials aged 25-34 who plan to purchase a home within the next six months, say they are facing more diverse living situations than the generations directly preceding them. For instance, both two-adult and increasingly, single-adult households, are looking for primary residences with the flexibility to incorporate separate living suites, offices, kid zones, and finished basements, as the need arises.
Also, as their baby boomer parents approach retirement, millennials may need to incorporate them into their living plan. Similarly, in this age of the Airbnb, over a third of millennials queried are looking to rent out space at some point in the future—whether single rooms or apartments—to generate additional income. Lastly, many millennials, moving from the convenience, yet constraints of urban living to the suburbs, are seeking more storage and outdoor living space.
While all these living plans need not come into play simultaneously, flexible, adaptable, Open-Built design/build systems not only accommodate these changing needs over time, but have anticipated them. Whether simply moving a light switch, or changing a child’s room—to a teenager’s room—to a home office once they’ve flown the coop, or converting a walkout basement into an in-law apartment, the renovation can often be accomplished without the demolition and reconstruction expense of multiple trades and dumpster loads of waste. This is because, in Open-Built houses, the wiring, plumbing, and ducts have been organized into vertical and horizontal chases, or channels, that can be easily accessed and rerouted without calling in an army of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, sheet rockers, tapers, and painters. Aside from the obvious cost to the environment that this waste implies, the cost to personal finances can make necessary changes unaffordable.
So what is Open-Built, and where did it originate?
In 1994, Tedd Benson developed his Open-Built® system by merging the thinking of John Habraken (Open-Building sage and advocate) and Stewart Brand (author, How Buildings Learn) with his own concepts, to develop a practical, digitally-based 3D design, fabrication and construction system for Open Building. Once developed, the Open-Built platform would allow simple modification of structures, as occupant needs change.
The central idea behind Open-Built is to “disentangle” the building’s interior and exterior systems into separate, functional layers based on how they live over time. So while the exterior of an Open-Built building is intended to last hundreds of years, the interior systems, with shorter life spans, are designed for easy installation, access, and retrofit.
Some may ask why Open-Built versatility is important. After all, there are commercial plans available with layouts that provide options for the anticipated life phases many will face: places that transition from growing family to empty nest, flex rooms that can transfer from bedroom to office, and master on main floor for single-floor living. The problem is we don’t have a crystal ball when it comes to future needs, so pre-planning (and pre-paying) for every eventuality can lead to unneeded features and undersized or oversized spaces. Rather than trying to pre-determine future needs in rigid terms, Open-Built permits the building to learn and evolve along with its occupants.
It is this adaptive nature of Open-Built that is especially suited to what millennials are asking for. For them, the home must be responsive to the unique and fluid needs they will be facing.
Indeed, according to the buideronline.com “Responsive Home” survey, millennials are saying they need to live smarter in order to accommodate the realities of their world and, for over 70% of them, living smarter implies customization and flexibility. They don’t need to live bigger; just better.
Millennials also don’t want cookie-cutter homes that deny the fierce individuality that marks their generation. For them, the inability to personalize the home in a meaningful way is a non-starter. The “custom” home, both in personal style and dynamic performance over time, is not just a throwaway marketing term in their eyes, but essential to navigating their world.
Beyond the flexibility attained through their Open-Built systems, Bensonwood homes can be configured to virtually any design concept, while optimized Unity homes come pre-designed and pre-engineered to maximize performance and minimize cost per square foot, while still allowing for a significant number of space plan options and finishes. Both companies accommodate a wide range of architectural styles and outcomes that go far beyond the superficial.
So for millennials, Open-Built homes are exquisitely suited to adapting to the changing needs their world presents: those needs that are anticipated, and perhaps more importantly, those that are not.