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Torti Gallas and Partners: Behind the PATH Concept Home

This spring, PATH joined with Torti Gallas and Partners, an award-winning architectural firm and a leader in sustainable housing development, to design an architectural model of the first PATH concept home. Debuting in Washington, D.C. on June 23, this vision of the future features new technologies and construction techniques that not only reduce building waste and construction costs, but also increase the flexibility of home design. As architects Tom Gallas and Chris French discovered, the Concept Home holds lessons with the power to change long-held assumptions about housing design.

To Tom Gallas, some of the PATH concepts, such as standardized units of measurement to reduce construction costs, initially looked stultifying. By eliminating variations in size, these standardized components greatly reduce construction costs and building waste, but at first glance, also seem to squelch all opportunity for creativity. "What surprised me most about the process is that a more standardized approach to manufacturing components yielded more flexibility for the homeowner. For example, doors are standard width, but there are many different kinds of doors. You can vary the color, the material, the texture."

The principle of standard measure holds the promise of another unexpected outcome for architect Chris French, who helped design the model. French notes that much affordable housing is made possible by public subsidy, which isn't sustainable over the long term. By reducing the cost of construction, a standardized measurement system can reduce the need for some of those subsidies. Moreover, this technology can be applied to public or private housing at any level of density, from multifamily housing to rowhouses to single-family homes.

Also fascinating for Gallas and French was the concept of "disentanglement" of the utilities from the structure. By locating the utilities in one wall or between the floor and ceiling, walls can be moved as the needs of the family change. Notes Gallas, "If we are thoughtful about where the utilities are placed, this allows more flexibility to move things around without incurring major expense." This approach makes it much easier to add technology, like cable or data lines, and to create or remodel new rooms as the family grows and evolves.

"This project opened up whole new avenues for me," says French. "I'm following up on my ideas from PATH for other projects. The Concept Home is a serious improvement in the way houses are built. It's not crazy out there; it's something I can see putting in place for any family."

PATH looks forward to presenting the Concept Home to architects, builders and others at industry shows around the nation, including the 2005 International Builders' Show in Orlando.

Many thanks to the contributors to the PATH Whole House Roadmap, which sparked the Concept Home, and to the PATH Industry Steering Committee, especially ISC Chair Mike Chapman of Chapman Homes, Roger Glunt of Glunt Development Co., and Ron Wakefield of Virginia Polytechnic and State University. Special thanks also to Tedd Benson of Bensonwood Homes, whose interpretation of Open Building principles helped shape the project.

Content updated on 10/5/2004

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