You still have to fix the fence or, Dear Architects: Let’s Drag Houses Into the 21st Century

Technology can't fix a broken fence

Technology can’t fix a broken fence

As I was having breakfast one morning, I heard someone next door hammering nails into the fence. This was a good thing, I thought, since our fence was about to fall down and the landlord was not interested in fixing it. Unfortunately, they weren’t working on the fence between us and them, but between them and the next dwelling. Oh well.

It got me thinking, though, about the fact that fences still need to be fixed and painted, in the same way they’ve always needed to be.

This, despite the amazing technological advances of the 20th and 21st centuries; despite the fact that I can write an email and send it to someone in Iceland and have an answer from them in a few moments; despite smart phones with apps for everything from spirit levels to measuring your heartbeat to doing your shopping; despite reports of 3D printers being touted as the next great thing that will be able to grow body parts and print cars; despite all this, you still have to fix the fence. And when you do it, you still usually need a hammer and nails, pretty much the same gadgets our forebears were using thousands of years ago. There’s not an app to do that, now, is there!

There must be a better way.

All around me, I see in our house and in the houses of everyone else I know, design from a bygone era of servitude. This was the era when rich households all had servants to work full-time on cleaning and maintaining a property, while not-so-rich households had women to work in this role, even when they took paying work as well.

Out with grouting, tiny tiles and difficult shower doors

Out with grouting, tiny tiles and difficult shower doors

Today, few people have servants; few women accept that their entire role in life is to clean up after others, acknowledging that, even if they work at home full-time, they should still be able to have some time off, the same as any other worker. In such a time, we should be making houses that need a minimum of maintenance. Architects, engineers, designers, and builders, please take note!

*I don’t want shower cubicles with nooks and crannies that collect soap and mould. I don’t want tiles with grouting that collects dirt, then discolours and cracks.

*I don’t want fancy “period style” doors that collect dust. For example, each of the doors inside my rented townhouse has 91 separate surfaces to clean. The front door is the same, and there is also a decorative screen door (see picture). Ditto cornices and skirting boards. I blame the penchant for Victorian style in all its fussiness. Although mine is a late 20th-century house, it was built in Victorian style, which has been very fashionable for a few decades.

Our Victorian-style front-of-house security door: a dust collector.

Our Victorian-style front-of-house security door: a dust collector

*I don’t want wooden fences that warp and spring out of their nails. I don’t want to have to paint a fence every few years.

I have seen pictures of amazing houses designed by top architects that have all smooth surfaces that need little maintenance—but they have multi-million-dollar price tags. That’s well and good, but I’m talking about houses for the ordinary person.

My idea of the perfect house would be the lowest maintenance place possible: no fancy edges round the walls or light fittings, no tiles with grouting. The decorative touches could then be added via soft furnishings, beautiful artwork and sculptures…which would all need cleaning, I know.

8 thoughts on “You still have to fix the fence or, Dear Architects: Let’s Drag Houses Into the 21st Century

  1. Caron – I like the way you think. There are so many things that people take for granted about houses that just makes for more work. But they’re still built that way because ‘that’s how it’s done.’ Doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it helps to look at what people really want, need and use. Interesting points!

  2. I think that it is happening but with regard to fences these are still dominated by wood in our part of the world becaseu it is so cheap and easy to get. My daughter’s deck looks like painted/stained wood but is actually planks of recycled waste plastic (apparently the type with a half life of two zillion years and that will never break down in a land fill): it looks really good, is guaranteed to not warp and is colourfast for decades. The deck clips together without nails.
    I suspect that part of the problem incorporating new designs and materials is the rather fuddy-duddy nature of local building code and resource concent managers who prefer ‘how things were always done’ rather than apply themselves to reviewing new and merging technologies…when I was very young (first job after school) my company laid down resin and sand based floors that conformed to the shape of a room, were very non-skid/slip, and smoothly blended floor into wall. Because the surface was somewhat flexible it was good for buildings that might suffer some movement over time as it would not crack the same way a tile floor might…Designing a new bathroom this month, I was amazed that there was not even a mention of such an approach for a domestic bathroom…

    • Thanks for such an interesting comment. Your daughter’s deck is exactly the type of thing I’m talking about. And the floor you describe is, too. Years ago, I heard about material being used in NZ for bathrooms, which was like a single molded shower cubicle with no joins. I once lived in a flat in which the shower had been designed without a door—except it had been wrongly angled, so instead of going down the plug hole, the water would flood the room each time you used the shower. A friend in NZ though has a granite-floored bathroom in which the shower is at one end, with no cubicle at all, and brilliantly the water just goes down the plug hole without spreading all over the room. No shower at all for him to clean!

      • Plan A here was for a similar ‘wet room’ approach but I couldn’t get the geography to work (in an existing house) so that the water would flow away from the door into the drain channel – not without major surgery anyway. Plan B is now for just a bath inside, with sliding doors out to an external shower (you can guess that we don’t have nearby neighbours!!). This will be great for rinsing down after sanding/painting/spraying and seems like a good idea now that summer is finally here…

  3. So very true and something I had not thought of! As I try to manage a house on my own, the to-dos become endless. To architect a house that is green, low maintenance and beautiful–well, why wouldn’t we, right?

    • I know—it’s strange to me that we are still designing, buying, renting and living in these ridiculously high-maintenance houses. I feel for you: managing a house on your own is a very big job. I am lucky to have a husband who shares the housework with me. We had a cleaner for most of last year, which was great, but it was only for two hours every fortnight, so there was still a lot to do. It’s too expensive now for us to continue with a cleaner!

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