Hanai House

The Hanai House is a concept of shared living for adults of mild to moderate need, and potentially at-risk when living alone, that our office, William Brummett Architects and Concerto Consulting, has been researching and creating for some time. The word Hanai (pronounced hay-nay-eye) is Hawaiian, and the concept means “chosen family.” The house is designed for 4 typically unrelated adults.

Hanai House is intended to serve adults of varying ages, who have in common a need for reliable wellness confirming, sharing tasks as abilities determine, and most importantly, companionship.

Over almost 23 years of focused study on specialized, supportive settings, we have completed well over a hundred responsive buildings, and in the course of doing so, conducted scores of research efforts trying to clearly and comprehensively identify the needs and wants of those who our buildings serve.  The exact services vary, and are clothed in many forms and responses dependent on the level of need, but really the underlying larger needs are the same: Community or companionship, and purpose or meaning, despite lessened or diminishing abilities.

I have seen far too many elders or others in need, living alone, highly at-risk, and lonely, with no one to share life’s simple pleasures with, no one to vet worries and fears with, and no compadre to venture out and explore with.

Hanai House mates would be thoughtfully matched to blend well, and infill needs and abilities.  The concept relies on house mates being the “first line of defense” in wellness and changing conditions, much like live-in family members used to be in a simpler world.

The number of housemates at four is key also. Two is too intimate.  Two housemates either get along very well, or live as ships that pass in the night.  Three is fraught with trouble. Typically with three, two bond well and the third becomes an outsider.

Each person would have their own private space, well-suited for private reading, working on a computer, watching TV, talking on the phone, or relaxing, but also share common space, allowing Hanai House mates to see each other often each day, and provide companionship, comfort, and safety. Most meals would be made and eaten together, and much social time would be shared on the house’s common space.

The key design elements of Hanai House, shown and numbered in the floor plan, include:

  1. A private, ample bedroom with space for a comfortable reclining side chair (another place to be other than the bed), built in closets with private TV/computer/workspace, a window seat and generous natural light.
  2. Two shared fully accessible bathrooms, each with two sinks, a large roll-in shower, and grab bars.
  3. A large, shared living space with built-in entertainment center.
  4. A roomy, accessible, fully equipped kitchen with low-height bar seating
  5. A shared dining room for group meals.
  6. Computer/work area in the open shared space that doubles as a visiting caregiver workspace.
  7. A double-sided fireplace that opens to dining and living/kitchen and centers the shared space.
  8. A large covered front porch on the main circulation path or street of the community of which it is a part, serving as a semi-public space to casually engage with neighbors and visitors.
  9. A back porch for household gatherings outdoors in pleasant weather.

The concept builds upon and expands design ideas of close-knit communities for elders and others needing some level of support, often with private homes collected in tight communities, but adds the option of living in a shared household. Indeed, the Hanai House questions the long-held American conviction that living in a private home is always best.

More importantly, by living in a household where housemates serve and assist each other, protect and comfort one another, the identity of being a person “served” changes to being a person “in service.” Each housemate has a role, value, and purpose in working together for the welfare and happiness of the whole.

Hanai Houses can be gathered and combined in many forms to suite a wide variety of need settings, campuses, sites, or purposes.  They can be gathered about a courtyard to serve more people, with a commons house as a collective.  They can be linked by interior single-loaded corridors or loggias, with service support spaces to form a new model of assisted living that empowers the resident as a member of the support system.  Collections of houses can be gathered to form a campus with varying needs and services.

Our next blog will explore such gatherings and campus plans.

As a design exploration, the Hanai House idea is an iterative one, hopefully improving through a natural evolution.  Please share comments, suggestions, and ideas.

“I must be willing to give up what I am,

In order to become what I can be.”

Albert Einstein

Bill Brummett


WBA-Concerto Consulting

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