Flexible, adaptable apartment building

Edit Hook

Sweeny Sterling Finlayson & Co Architects, or just &Co, and Parallax Investment Corporation are taking an abandoned office tower in downtown Toronto, Canada, and turning it into condominiums. These condominiums use a planning system they call FlexNatür. The apartments are designed to be responsive to people’s changing needs. Floors on one side of each unit are 10 inches higher than the concrete slab, allowing easy access to utilities such as water pipes, drains, telecommunications equipment, and heating ducts. This means that an owner can reconfigure a suite without penetrating the concrete slab or entering the unit below. All the loads are carried on small simple concrete columns at the exterior and only a minimal number within the space; there are no concrete shear walls that need to be moved. The advantage of this flexible system is that residents can buy a small unit, and later add another one or more, reconfiguring them as needed to create a cohesive living space. Or they could buy two units, rent one out, and later add room to meet growing needs, such as a family.

Biomimicry Story

FlexNatür doesn’t directly or consciously mimic any particular organism in nature. However, the system meets many of Life’s Principles: FlexNatür integrates development with growth by combining modular and nested components. Just like the paper wasp, a person or family can live in a small unit and as their needs change, they can add onto their suite. FlexNatür is resource (material and energy) efficient by designing for multi-functional design and fitting form to function (the raised floors, lack of shear walls). Also, instead of completely demolishing the existing building, &Co used some of its original structure in the new building. FlexNatür is locally attuned and responsive by meeting the current and future needs of the downtown community. FlexNatür also adapts to changing conditions by being designed for flexibility. It’s also easy to update the interior because of the design that reduces the amount of work needed to make changes.

Challenges Solved

In many urban areas, downtown apartments are costly. As a result, people either move out into the suburbs, or buy small apartments with the idea of moving when their incomes and need for more living space increase. Living and working in the same area saves on commuting time and costs. Remaining in place, rather than having to move, helps build community. Systems like FlexNatür help solve those problems.

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