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Escape Rooms

Jan 31, 2018 02:13PM ● Published by Matthew Schlueb

This past month, one of my clients began construction on a renovation to their house, adding a bedroom for a growing family. With a two-story townhouse and a desire to preserve the backyard, the only place to go was up.

However, rather than raising the roof, they decided to convert the space in the attic.

A bedroom in the attic is not just another bedroom. Ceilings vault, often steeply, as if peaks in the Alps, soaring high up into tree canopies—the vantage point of birds. This time of year, attics also have the crystallized chill of a snowcapped mountain, so care must be taken to insulate well when converting to a habitable space.

Rafters baffled into parallel circuits channeling currents of winter air from eaves to ridges, freezing sheathing and shingles, a substrate for blankets of snow on the roof to quiet the howls on cold windy nights—the attic is a magical realm, made for dreaming. Rooms stacked below, box atop box, become cribbing to elevate an attic into a whole different cerebral world.

This is the allure for kids, escaping the household. Stepping into the pages of their favorite fairytale book, castles sprinkled high in the mountains or a gingerbread dollhouse at the top of the street. Ladders climb even further, to bunk beds or a reading loft tucked into the narrowest of peak. King of the hill.

The mind of a child is never content. They are wired to seek out new heights, explore uncharted waters….and the corners and recesses around dormers in the attic can provide just the place.

When it came time to build my own house, the entire second floor was made an attic; bedroom ceilings were sloped just as the walls, punctuated with skylights to let in moonlight at night. Each room offered refuge, so no one was left out.

But recently, a new room for escape entered our house. A virtual room, coded within computer chips, a gaming headset providing a portal in. When transported inside, our house fades away. Replaced by an endless horizon in all directions, the arc of the Milky Way painted across the sky.

Like the attic, it is a world within a world, so children are naturally drawn in. However, within a virtual room, make-believe is more vivid, three dimensional, no longer just inside their head. Imagination once fueled by stories at bedtime comes to life all around, immersed in sights and sounds, animated in real time.

In the hands of a child, lines are scribbled floating in space, fields of brush strokes to run through. The magic of Harold's purple crayon is no longer a story, every child entering this virtual room can draw for themselves.

Playhouses are created in shapes not possible in the material world, made of twinkling stardust or light beams of pure color. Streams to swim in, trees to climb, a child could get lost if they are not careful.

Playtime in the attic is limited to the imagination; virtual reality has found a way to manifest the mind in the haptic feedback on fingers, surround sounds in ears and overwhelming visualizations for the eyes. Inside a virtual room, a child can truly escape, to dream while they’re awake.

A virtual headset and controllers in the hands of an architect, two-dimensional floor plans and elevations once difficult for a homeowner's mind to get into, become virtual models they can walk through, looking out windows, opening doors. A new house can be experienced and felt before it is built, to see how sunlight will cast across a countertop or how birds will sound in an enclosed court.

Today's house is changing rapidly, even if our idea of home doesn't keep up. Bedrooms in the attic may be replaced by virtual ones; however, our need to escape will always be there regardless of where ‘there’ is.

So, if you find your house shrinking this time of year, if you are feeling the need to renovate for a growing family, take the time to give some thought to the feelings you are looking for in a new space. Those tendencies will guide you through all the choices and decisions involved in any renovation. But more importantly, a little thoughtful consideration of the reasons behind the need to escape is more likely to result in a new room that provides it.

Matthew Schlueb is a registered architect and owner of SCHLUEBarchitecture. For questions or comments, contact Matthew at nhm@finalmove.com. This article is part of an ongoing series addressing architectural issues for homeowners.

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