Felix Chun Lam & Joe Kenworthy – Emily Carr University
Alcove is a ceiling storage partition intended for seasonal items in small homes. The concept is to utilize the ceiling in such way that the unit becomes a part of the architecture. Soft lighting and minimal form interplays to create a functional aspect to the ceiling without compromising floor space.
Felix Chun Lam - Emily Carr University ID Grad 2011
Joe Kenworthy - Emily Carr University ID Grad 2011
We were attracted to this unusual solution to the common problem of lack of storage. None of us had felt we had seen this product typology before. We felt the execution of the idea was strong but that there were still many variables that would limit the success of the idea: you need a high ceiling with the strength to hold a lot of weight; we felt it would need professionally installing; the lighting element and design detail was slightly irrelevant but could easily be changed and made specifically to client requirements. Overall, we felt it was a strong idea that needs resolving further.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
The origin of the challenge came from Felix’s background. Felix was born in Hong Kong and has first hand experience in the overwhelmingly clustered living conditions. He was deeply inspired by Joe’s take on practicality in design, and eventually decided to tackle the problem together. It is to the joy of both Joe and Felix to be able to design for improving the liveability and quality of homes. We are living in a world where its population is growing faster than ever. However, we are not gaining more liveable land. In such material driven society, many people are inflicted by the act of cluttering, and the situation worsens in tight urban centers like Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York where horizontal surface is scarce. This self-initiated challenge was to reassess the different available spaces in homes and maximize the functionality of such spaces. Together, they have identified a massive opportunity in the use of the ceiling space. Thus the problem, what can we do with the ceiling so that it creates more space for the users, was born.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
At first we only thought that we are merely coming up with another storage solution, but as the design process went it became apparent that we need to pin point what exactly we are storing. Because our challenge is dealing with space and because we often associate storage with space, we began designing process looking at the concept of “levels of storage” by Terence Conran. Conran suggested that there are three different levels of storage (at-hand, nearby and deep storage) that lays the foundation to comfortable and liveable home environment. We eventually figured that organization and categorization is the key to freeing up space in your homes. The result is a new category that we called “seasonal items”. These items are essentials according to the season and are kept in storage until use. They should be relatively easy to access and are exchanged with off season items when the new season rolls around. It was to our surprise that the project eventually steered its own way into the inclusion of lighting components. One of the challenges we had for ourselves was that the storage unit has to be unobtrusive to the eye but at the same time easy to access. By incorporating a lighting component, we had made the unit seem like an architectural element that exist preinstalled in the home.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
Users are definitely one of the first considerations we had. Primary users of this design are people who live in a small space. These are most likely the people are more receptive of change and who have an active lifestyle, as they are more in need of more storage and are willing to go through the procedure of switching out the seasonal storage with the off-season objects. Their interest in this product comes from the fact that they are gaining extra square footage at a much lesser cost without taking up precious floor space; in fact, 14 times less (please review supplementary package for case study and prototyping cost). As we pursued the design further, it became apparent that our design is not something that every one has the expertise or tools to install. The construction of ceilings requires an extensive set of knowledge that is worthy of its own specialization. Therefore, we determined that one of the main stakeholders is mid-size developers who target the high-end market. These developers are the people who would like to use this design as a marketing feature, much like stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, to attract buyers who care about quality more than anything else. Because reducing cost is the primary way to a profitable business, one way is to speed up the installation and assembly process as much as possible. We have designed the product following the RTA 32mm standard. This standard allows contractors to assemble the storage system with ease.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
Like all other design projects, our project began with market research to see what existing products are already out there. We looked extensively into resource furniture and “space-saving” solutions, and analyzed it critically against our own criteria. One particular example that we looked into was Murphy-Beds that claims to free up space when the bed is hidden away into the wall. This naturally means that the space in front of the wall will always need to be clear in order for the system to be effective. And according our brief and criteria, that is not using the available space to its best potential. Another example, elevator bed rides on the similar principles as Murphy beds except the bed elevates into the ceiling. The nature of the stationary time that beds take makes this type of “space-saving” system ineffective because during the time not in use, the area will always need to be free. This market research helped us further identify the problem, the opportunity and challenges. Low res prototyping and iterations helped us pin point concept that fulfill our criteria and weed out the impractical ones. Because one of our goals for the design is to allow it to become apart of the architecture, we moved quickly into full scale iterations to get the feeling in terms of scale and spatial qualities. We are certainly no contractors and engineers; therefore, we relied primarily research on existing mechanism that can cater to our design and make it a reality. During the prototyping process, with a little modification to existing parts we have replicated what we envision the design to achieve. Our design process isn’t complete without a thorough process of user and ergonomics testing. In a six participant focus group, we gathered data points that support the feasibility and acceptability of the concept. After a working prototype was completed we held a user trial to test the practicality and ergonomic factors of the prototype. All in all, the outcome of the design came from rigorous testing, trial and error and endless critical questioning.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
We believe our design is definitely worthy of the title of a paradigm-shifting project. This project invokes us to think critically about the things we purchase and keep. What is the Need versus the Want? However, in the consumer-driven society the want often times overwhelm the need, which results in over accumulation of things. Until the World is at the brink of running completely out of space and resources, the Want will continue to plague us. However, it is also impossible to switch immediately over to the other end of the spectrum and just to live on the bear essentials; because without satisfaction there is no motivation, and with no motivation there is no growth. Therefore, we believe that our design imposes paradigm shifts on a physical and cognitive level. On a physical level, we are introducing the potential of the ceiling space becoming available for extra storage in an unobtrusive way. On the cognitive level, we are asking users to accept the fact it is safe and convenient to store things above their heads. We have gone through the process of challenging our own concept over and over again by asking questions like: why don’t we just purchase the bare essentials or just live a simpler lifestyle? What we really feel is that our design serves as a transition point for such ideology. With the launch of this thinking, it is definitely a great starting point for more ideas and ways to maximize the usability of the available space.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
As designers, we fall in the trap of trying to cater for all the needs and people. We also often overestimate the demand for convenience as we over-complicate the design. We believe the mechanism and access point of the storage can be even simpler than what we’ve proposed. We could have looked at solutions that were more “primitive” as that may bring more nostalgic and emotional quality to the project.