A New House That Shifts Its Shape
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
It’s a house that changes with the seasons, using math and science to create livable art.
By Tracy Moran
Englishman William Morris, father of the aesthetic Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the last century, often advised that everything owned — from vases to sofas to homes — should be both beautiful and useful. Today two of his countrymen, more smitten with modern Spanish architects and Bauhaus than Morris, are turning that axiom on its head in a bid to change prefabricated architecture.
David Ben Grünberg and Daniel Woolfson run D*Haus, a London-based architectural firm, and they have designs on a house for all seasons that is beautiful, practical — they hope — and, most interestingly, movable. They plan to break ground on the first-ever dynamic house, the eponymously named D*Haus, in the Cambridgeshire countryside next winter.
Their dynamic house transforms from a perfect square into a triangle and even a wide-open flower.
Grünberg and Woolfson met at university in Manchester, where they teamed up for their first design competition and won with an octopus-shaped sandcastle. Their dynamic house design involves a different kind of grit; it transforms from a perfect square into a triangle and even a wide-open flower, opening to eight different positions throughout the year. “These forms are timeless,” Grünberg tells OZY, noting how satisfying it is to work with pure geometries.
The puzzle of how to morph a square into a triangle was actually solved back in 1903 by mathematician Henry Ernest Dudeney, who broke the square into four distinct shapes and rotated them. Grünberg’s dad, Maty, an artist, rediscovered the formula in 1987, spinning it into a shape-shifting table, the granddaddy to the one above.
“That made a big impression on me,” the younger Grünberg says. When tasked to come up with a prefabricated house that could withstand the climate in Lapland, his dad’s table came to mind, fueling the D*Haus design. “I looked into houses that could adapt to extreme temperatures, but there’s nothing out there that can do what I wanted,” he explains. The result: a house that remains shut tight and cozy in winter, opening gradually as the year warms up. The elements move on circular tracks below the structure, unfolding like petals to embrace the warmer, sunnier months and providing ever-changing views through many windows.
Tel Aviv-based engineer Michael Berman says that such a build is possible as a “big-ticket item” but not necessarily as a mainstream option. “Most houses use the cheapest materials that can be assembled by the simplest builder,” he says. Whereas this project “would require a team of trained personnel.”
The first build will cost roughly $3.5 million. But to answer the question Berman raises about mass production, the plan is to create a prefab production system, akin to Huf Haus, for less-costly, quicker and static builds. These would be more practical as they use the 1903 formula to allow for eight house types from one identical kit of parts, and from a mass-production point of view this allows cost savings in the manufacturing process. Different variations and sizes are planned, ranging from immobile, less-expensive versions to the four-bedroom featured here:
Those interested in D*Haus will have to settle for a table for now. After drawing up the house plans, the team redesigned Maty Grünberg’s table with a more architectural spin that could be easily commercialized. A Kickstarter campaign raised $46,000 in a month to fund the production costs for the first batch of tables last year. The next batch is destined to go on sale next month for $2,600 in Covent Garden’s modern furniture shop, Aram.
Building has yet to get underway on the bigger-scale version, but the team is working with suppliers. They intend to use sustainable cross-laminated timbers to create a self-sufficient house. And if all goes to plan, the project will kick off in February. There’s been lots of interest in the U.K. and internationally, and plans are firming up for a second dynamic house in Sussex. But conversations are short when people ask: Have you built one yet? “So we really need to build one to prove the concept,” David Ben Grünberg says.
Berman warns the first few builds may be difficult, but Grünberg and Woolfson are looking forward to the challenge.