Rise of the New Minimalism

Christopher L. Colby, Associate AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Co-Founder Spire Architecture & Design
Posted on Tuesday 8th December 2009

Oh, how the McMansion builders must be shaking in their “Master Bedroom Den Sitting Areas!” Exactly what is that anyway?

Recent surveys of prospective homeowners across the country show that big homes are out, and comfortably sized homes that are energy efficient are in. In fact, the U.S. Census found that the average square footage of an American home dropped from 2,541 in 2007 to 2,343 at the end of 2008 — the first time in almost 50 years that there was a decline during an era that saw the average home size double.

So, what was it that killed the McMansion’s that we all had to have? The answer is their size! The biggest complaint that homeowners had about their McMansion’s was that they were too big — too big to maintain, too big to heat and cool and too big to live in. The biggest concern of most McMansion dwellers, next to the cost to operate one of these monster homes, was that they lost touch with their family members. The size of their home actually drove them apart from each other!

What is it, then, that we have discovered that we now want in our smaller homes? — Less, much less. A 2009 survey from the National Association of Home Builders shows that 88 percent of its members plan on building smaller homes over the next year. The most desired features by homeowners in their smaller homes:

  • Low maintenance so that more time can be spent with family members.
  • Highly energy efficient homes that cost little to operate.
  • Less square footage, this translates into less cleaning, lower construction cost and lower taxes.
  • Well thought out floor plans, which incorporate family gathering areas and built-ins for storage.
  • Green elements and useful outdoor spaces.
  • 90% of those surveyed are planning on having energy efficient heating/cooling systems in their next home.
  • 31% said that they wanted geo-thermal systems.

This translates into a new way to approach how we design new homes in America. Simply put, Americans need more intelligently designed space. In order to do this we need a philosophy that understands what is too much and what is too little.

Enter the philosophy of “The New Minimalism.” I discovered early on that as the McMansion (as well as the McSchool, McTown Hall, McOffice Building, etc.) was dying, and that I would need a philosophy that would govern the next era of design, not just for homes, but for every building that we designed. This is a brief check list of what The New Minimalism Philosophy is:

  • Create a healthy and stress free living environment.
  • Produce more energy then it consumes using all renewable energy sources.
  • Cost less or close to the same as a similar “traditionally built” building.
  • Create non-traditional ways to produce energy.
  • Use creative and non-traditional methods to construct the building efficiently.
  • Have the ability to be built on or off site in a short period of time.
  • Instantly be worth more than the construction cost once complete.
  • Pay for itself over time through energy savings and energy production.
  • Lessen heath issues and problems through healthy design.
  • Bring families, businesses and communities closer and evoke a sense of sprit.
  • Have a net positive impact on the environment once complete.
  • Lessen or eliminate financial and social burdens on our families, government and taxpayers.
  • Create a positive living environment that would positively impact mental and physical health.
  • Give the American Dream back to our Country.

As the Mc Mansion era fades in America we enter into a new philosophy — one of a non-opulent, eco-friendly era. My hope is that this philosophy, “The New Minimalism” will bring the American Dream back to America.

Christopher Colby has over 10 years of diverse experience in design, planning and project management. His expertise lies in educational facilities, healthcare, community facilities and residential design. Colby has worked on numerous projects throughout his career of all sizes and budgets and has managed and provided documentation of multi-phased and multi-building projects. Responsibilities include quality control of materials and documents, compliance with and management of the schedule and knowledge of many building systems and current construction techniques. Colby is a LEED Accredited Professional and a member of the American Institute of Architects and the U.S. Green Building Council. At Spire Architecture, we view design as more than simply an exercise in aesthetics. Conceived and executed with a broader vision one that encompasses the intersection of lifestyle, social responsibility and economics.

Anyone interested in purchasing plans can contact LEED Certified Architect Chris Colby at www.spirearchitecture.com.

test image for this block