Interview with INDEX-DESIGN
Updated: Aug 4
‘As architects and developers, we should not miss this opportunity in design for spatial democracy, in a period when our cities are in desperate need of such a transformation.’
Eda Ascioglu Selcuk, Founder of Sinaps Architects,
FlowHome© and FlowWork© patent pending
ID/ Where did you get the idea? How did it start?
It all started with homes. After I finished my Master’s degree in Minimum Cost Housing, I worked at housing design studios at different universities for eight years. When I had kids, my household became more crowded and I began to see challenges in existing residential designs when it came to small functional changes within the home; this approach later expanded to include workspaces. Essentially, wherever a human inhabits a space, my goal is to optimize this space for their needs. In the past year, many of us have had to restructure our residences as both living spaces and working spaces. In this context, the home becomes the epicenter of production and the main setting for one’s life, where living, working, socializing, etc. overlap.
ID/ Please explain your concept: what is FlowHome and FlowWork?
What is your purpose in general?
My purpose, more broadly, is to support and sustain life, and the system is for anyone whose life has the potential to change. There are generally two ‘owners’ of a residential space: the legal owner and the end-user (or tenant). In order to ensure sustainability, a residence must benefit both the owner and the user, who may have different needs for the space. My system offers financial benefits for the owner (whose maintenance and repair costs will be low) and practical solutions for the user (whose needs and lifestyles are always changing). Whether the owner and tenant are two separate entities or one and the same, all are concerned with sustainability. The key to sustainability is flexibility; we use reliable materials to offer endless practical solutions to the tenant’s changing needs. Our goal is to design buildings with as long a functional lifetime as possible; the needs of building residents often change quicker than the structural lifetime of the building can keep up, but FlowHome’s and FlowWork’s flexible structural design accommodates this constant change.
To accomplish this, I have secured a provisional patent for FLOWHOME© and FLOWWORK© (originally named RECONFIGURABLE BUILDING STRUCTURE). The patent recognizes my innovative housing and workspace design solutions, created to meet the changing needs of home and office users, with sustainability front-of-mind.
The system is a logical planning solution that brings flexibility and adaptability to a residential space and facilitates changes in the floorplan. By foreseeing potential events during users’ lifetime (for instance, occupancy increases due to a new child, a friend comes to live with you, or a family member needs to quarantine), the system allows the user to expand and contract the physical space. From the beginning, the system resembles a living organism: the cells form the tissues, the tissues form organs, and together, they all form the body. This holistic approach to planning has the potential for algorithmic change depending on the users’ needs at that moment, using its flexible, multi-part design. By providing optional data about their space usage, users can also contribute to FlowHome’s and FlowWork’s potential for change by demonstrating new, needs-based ways of using the same space.
This design approach applies to individual units in the building, buildings in the community, and communities in the broader sociocultural life of the region. This past year has shown us how quickly one’s work or home situation can change; the spaces we occupy must be flexible in both the short and long term.
These changes can be visualized as a sine curve that fluctuates very rapidly. We need to keep track of this volatile curve and be ready to accommodate any sudden change in it by providing options to the end-user. In other words, the system offers the possibility of choice. This is only possible with probabilistic pre-planning; in other words, the system should address those ‘what-if’ scenarios.
ID/ How and in what ways has this project contributed to the urban fabric and social life of its community?
With FlowHome and FlowWork, each individual has their own private bubble. However, they are also exposed to ‘controlled’ social bubbles (buildings). These social bubbles form what we call ‘walkable communities’; these are the 15-minute walkable routes that provide access to green and open-air spaces, facilitating the benefits of being in nature. Additionally, these pedestrian spaces eliminate the need for public transport, the least efficient way to get to the office. This zone provides people with a 'controllable individual social zone' where they can meet their daily needs for comfort, exercise, and socialization. Open access to the buildings at alternate hours also allows freedom in planning one’s work schedule and recreation.
ID/ What does your system offer to the end-users? What do you take into consideration when prioritizing choice, flexibility, and adaptability?
From the beginning of last year, many of us worked from home for a number of reasons. As we soon realized, there were many characteristics of the office that were absent in the home. Now, after a year, we’ve begun to see characteristics that were missing in the office as well. FlowHome© and FlowWork© seek to complement the values and conditions of both home and work life, meeting the psychological and wellness needs of its users in addition to their need for shelter and material security.
For hygienic reasons, public transportation is now avoided by many. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, transit options were limited, and commuting in poor weather was especially difficult. However, commuting has been recognized as having a therapeutic effect on passengers over time. This experience, and other moments in the day where we are moving or in contact with others, is now largely missing from our lives. When we work remotely, we miss both the ‘random transitions’ (at the coffee machine, printer, or in the elevators) and ‘planned transitions’ (in between meetings, commuting, etc.) that add value to each day.
Remote work-from-home has degraded the line between work and home life. Because we are now at home, we become, theoretically, more available than ever. Research has shown that most Zoom (or other online meeting services) meetings take place between 12:00am and 3:00am, negatively affecting one’s rest schedule. Also, one’s lunchtime can be neglected by non-stop midday calls. And, since we don’t lose any time commuting, we are available to start working earlier and finish later.
Thankfully, remote work offers greater access to open air and green spaces. Traditional offices don’t provide for the chance to integrate with nature; working from home, however, allows you more freedom to connect with natural resources like wood, water, and vegetation.
When the work-life boundaries begin to loosen, we also start to lose our feeling of belonging in the community. We, as humans, need to feel like we belong to a community; without this, even neighbours can begin to feel isolated from one another. Stephen Porges stresses the role of the vagus nerve in emotion regulation, social connectivity, and fear response. Porges' polyvagal theory argues that, as social creatures, we become more self-regulated the more we engage in social interaction.
Traditional offices offer an uncontrolled social zone where, due to health concerns, workers may feel uncomfortable or insecure. Although one’s health and security can be better assured at home, socialization is at a bare minimum. We need to offer a ‘controlled individual social’ zone that provides these same conditions of security and sociability.
The decision to return to a traditional office will not be based simply on the fact that our desk and chair are there. All of the material conditions of an office (e.g., coffee, computer, office plant) can be replicated at home. FlowHome© and FlowWork© seek to offer people the things – values, even – that are missing from both spaces. This out-of-the-box design system provides the freedom to structure one’s life whenever and however works best for them. As architects and developers, we should not miss this opportunity in design for spatial democracy, in a period when our cities are in desperate need of such a transformation.
ID/ When could this project be applied?
Naturally, the method can be used for new buildings, but it can also be adapted easily to existing buildings, which would absorb the renovations within the inner structure. In fact, repurposing existing structures would reduce construction costs and prevent the creation of unnecessary additional buildings. This would benefit both the government and the private sector, who can repurpose existing spaces rather than invest in construction or pay for demolition. It’s widely recognized that there are huge numbers of empty office buildings and apartments across Canada that could be repurposed as living or working spaces, and FlowHome© and FlowWork© meet this demand. As the system is being fitted to existing buildings, user data can be collected to accommodate future development needs.
As for any radical changes, there will be a transitional period. Existing buildings can be repurposed quickly and offered during these periods of change. Feedback collected from users can be used to improve new structural designs and ensure compatibility with residents’ needs.
ID/ What are the time and economic frame of your project?
For the developer, FlowHome© and FlowWork© offer more structural design options than traditional residential housing and workspace. Long-term, the system is less expensive to maintain and its functionality is designed to outlast that of traditional buildings. Although the costs and timeline of FlowHome© and FlowWork© will vary depending on each project size and needs, they offer more value to both developers, owners, and tenants than other housing and workspace options.
ID/ Who is it for?
FlowHome© and FlowWork© are for any human whose life has the potential to change, including those in unstable or vulnerable positions (e.g., the elderly, students, immigrants, single families, etc.)
Many lifestyle changes, although sudden, can be accommodated through proactive planning. Consider a young person living alone for the first time; he starts his adult life as a student, then graduates and becomes a working professional. He gets married and his family begins to grow in the same space he once occupied as a single college student. Since they have children at home, the parents work from home on a rotating basis. Then, when their children grow up and leave home, the ‘nest’ is empty again. FlowHome© and FlowWork© systems can respond to the spatial needs of lifestyle changes in both the short and long term.
In the short term, many parents in 2020 struggled to find childcare in the midst of health and safety concerns. These parents, often working from home, realized the importance of residential design when their homes had to – at least temporarily – serve as spaces for life, work, and childcare. The system also meets the needs of parents who want to spend more quality time with their kids. It provides options for those who don’t want to work at the office all the time. It provides the freedom to structure one’s life whenever and however works best for them. It meets the need of people who want to work effectively and dedicate their remaining time to their personal life, fostering a work-life balance. In accommodating children in the system, FlowHome© and FlowWork© also offer opportunities for socialization and community-building, fostering a greater sense of belonging among residential families.
ID/ Who will benefit from it and how? How can FlowHome© and FlowWork© help them?
Working with a holistic approach, FlowHome© and FlowWork© help decision-makers (who may represent a government authority or the interests of non-government organizations), architects, contractors, legal owners, and end-users by considering the urban fabric of the residences’ communities.
We have all witnessed the 'produce more, consume more' phenomenon coming to an end; 2020 has shifted our perspective on life in general, emphasizing the importance of sustainability. We can predict that future houses and work spaces will be smaller, more sustainable, and more efficient; the need for open-ended design will be more important than ever before.
The needs of building occupants often outpace a building’s physical ability to keep up. As architects, we will no longer design according to immediate functional needs, but rather with a range of possible scenarios in mind. FlowHome© and FlowWork© allow freedom for variations of design, offering choice, flexibility, and adaptability for every stage of occupancy.
Policymakers and lobby groups, among other representatives of the government or third sector, can see the needs of Canada’s families and create policy and legislation to accommodate a growing need for flexible space design. As there are already huge numbers of unused buildings across the country, there is a need for a practical design system to repurpose these spaces for modern living.
Engineers will benefit from improved communication with other stakeholders on the project. We are planning an application that would allow engineers, contractors, and other parties to communicate quickly and effectively, mitigating any technical conflicts.
As discussed earlier, the owner of the space would save money on renovations and remodeling during the unit’s lifetime. FlowHome© and FlowWork© also provides opportunities to change the layout for new tenants or new family dynamics, making it a good investment for buyers. The proposed application would also improve communication between owner and tenant, allowing them to quickly resolve issues with the space.
Similarly, the tenant, or end-user, of the space will enjoy FlowHome’s and FlowWork’s sustainable design, which adapts to lifestyle changes while also allowing for socialization in the community.
As mentioned, we are currently working on mobile and web applications that all stakeholders could benefit from. This software would allow owners and tenants to share data on their needs for the space, which architects, engineers, and contractors can then use to develop the system.
ID/ What are your recent milestones concerning this project?
In 2018 I published a book with Professor Avi Friedman (McGill School of Architecture), entitled Adaptability and Flexibility in Low Rise Apartment Building Design, on ensuring flexibility in a dwelling. The volume’s case studies explore dynamic solutions to typical housing options. After working on these alternatives to traditional residential design, I fine-tuned the FlowHome and FlowWork designs and obtained a US Provisional Patent for both. Last year I applied to the “Housing Supply Challenge Program” run by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Government of Canada; although my project was not one of the finalists, the jury recognized many strengths in my proposal and the opportunity allowed me to further develop the FlowHome system. Earlier this year, I was invited to have a one-on-one meeting with the Honorable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development, about my patented housing system. I was also recruited for a workshop series organized by the City of Montreal to rejuvenate the downtown area after the COVID-19 pandemic. I am currently preparing to teach FlowHome© and FlowWork© methods at universities in Canada and Turkey.
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