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Infill: New Houses for Urban Sites

By Adam Mornement and Annabel Biles. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2009, 240 pages, $40.

Reviewed by David Sokol

The paperback release of Infill, like the publication of Micro: Very Small Buildings as well as the recently reviewed Tiny Houses, suggests a trend, at least among the relatively small number of consumers who commission architect-designed homes. That is, consumers are nurturing sustainable principles without necessarily transforming their shelters into demonstrations of every active green-building technology. Building or renovating a dwelling at a tiny scale is inherently more sustainable than McMansion living; building in the leftover, neglected, and idiosyncratic gaps in the urban fabric also is green without crusading for the cause.

Infill: New Houses for Urban Sites
Image courtesy Laurence King Publishing
Infill: New Houses for Urban Sites
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The latter is the niche that Mornement and Biles explore with Infill. Perhaps not surprisingly, they do not rank sustainability as the only impetus for the 40 examples they have featured, also citing government policies, demographic shifts, and the increasing appeal of center-city residency. The authors do not ignore it, either. In their generous descriptions of each building’s parti and distinguishing traits, the writing partners call out passive-design elements as well as remarkable green features. Thermodynamic heating controls the interior temperature of the Remi Laporte–designed family house in Vichy, France, foam glass applied over timber allows bere:architects’ Focus House in London to achieve a high level of insulation, while architect David Hertz adapted walk-in refrigerator panels to the side elevations of a narrow Venice Beach, California, home to provide insulation four times greater than the residential standard. 

Infill celebrates the geometries and other ingenious solutions of these shoehorned buildings, as well as greenness both inherent and applied. Equally notable, Mornement and Biles refuse to romanticize their subject. They consistently acknowledge what existed prior to each home’s appearance; appropriately, one chapter covers Melbourne’s Old House, in which Jackson Clements Burrows Architects superimposed a photograph of a predecessor cottage onto a modern structure. Moreover, the authors acknowledge the preservation, building-code, and other barriers that postpone and complicate the replacement of old with new.

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