A House That Morphs To Fit Different Family Sizes And Work Patterns

Cook + Fox’s Live Work Home is a flexible residence designed for the “new, urban context” in which living and working can walk hand in hand.

Architects and contractors like to congratulate themselves for designing sustainable housing out of goodies like solar panels and low-flush toilets and the occasional green roof. Noble stuff. But take away the green bling–an all-but inevitability as homes change hands over the years–and your building is probably just as wasteful as any other.


Cook + Fox Architects have tried to correct that with the Live Work Home, a small residence that’s sustainable both in the traditional sense–it earned LEED Platinum certification this month–and in the sense that it’s designed to last… and last and last.

The trick: a flexible floor plan. A sturdy, perforated box stretched along a long, narrow lot of the downtrodden Near West Side neighborhood, in Syracuse, New York, it features sliding doors and mobile partitions that can be arranged and rearranged to accommodate various family sizes, generational needs, and even functions. It can be simplified for an elderly couple or meticulously partitioned for a young family. Hell, the place doesn’t even need to be used exclusively as a home. It could be an artist’s workshop or a live-work loft (hence the name).

It’s also conceived to be cheap and simple to maintain so that anyone, whether a student or an octogenarian, could take care of the place. Passive heating and cooling strategies take center stage. The 1,400-square-foot home has radiant floors and a building envelope constructed out of Structural Insulated Panels that improve insulation and, in turn, reduce heating costs. A heat recovery ventilator circulates filtered air year-round. And a large, garage-type front door can be folded down to create an open-air front porch for cooling off in the summer. (An added benefit: It puts eyeballs on the street, so residents feel safe and engage easily with neighbors).

Cook + Fox’s goal is nothing short of helping to revitalize the neighborhood. They envision the Live Work Home as a seed building–an architectural tabula rasa that can be used any which way (and won’t crumble in 10 years) and in doing so, spurs diverse development that forms the basis for a thriving urban community. As they say:

Affordable housing alone does not respond to the needs of the neighborhood; its vitality as a community is a question of sustaining livelihoods and the social diversity. Just as pockets of extreme blight and vacant lots can weaken a neighborhood, adding density to the small-lot patterns of Near West Side with mixed social and economic activity will re-energize the community. … This 1,400 square foot project reconsiders the understood definition of ‘home’ for a new, urban context.

It’s designed to be, dare we say, a truly sustainable home.

[Images courtesy of Cook + Fox]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.