"Fifty percent of our new buildings have doors with fingerprint locks"
A beautiful garden and a smart home – this is what the Swiss want, says Corrado Palermo, managing director and owner of Unica Architektur AG. In an interview, he talks about trends in house construction and explains the origin of these residential trends.
Are you still building a lot of single-family dwellings, or are you seeing an increase in the number of apartment buildings?
Corrado Palermo*: The need for single-family homes continues unabated. We are seeing two extreme trends in particular here. On one hand, people want smaller houses and are more price conscious. On the other, houses at the upper end of the market are becoming bigger and more luxurious. As there is little land available for building, developers are increasingly converting and extending to create more living space.
What is the trend with respect to house style, regardless of size?
Minimalistic: simple, plain, and with a flat roof.
You have said that those who can build, want to build big. What does this mean in practical terms?
Demand for larger outdoor areas has increased. Clients want a beautiful garden with plants that stay green year round and a large covered seating area. They also want built-in, functional components like outdoor ovens. As a result, indoor spaces are becoming smaller and simpler.
Are pools still in style?
Yes, especially as summers in Switzerland have grown warmer. At the same time, however, there is a great deal of emphasis on the design of natural outdoor areas. For example, people prefer natural stone over concrete slabs. Those who have the budget want to build big, but also sustainably.
I think the smart home will become the standard.
Corrado Palermo, owner of Unica Architektur AG
Sustainability has become a buzzword and there is substantial media coverage of energy-efficient construction. Does the buzz match the demand?
Yes and no. Buildings with photovoltaic technology for producing energy are popular. Although Switzerland still lags behind compared to other countries, demand is picking up. By contrast, we do not build many Minergie buildings. The model regulations for building houses are already so efficient and so similar to those of Minergie that many clients have opted against these standards.
We are also reading and hearing more and more about smart homes. Are you planning to build more buildings with digital control systems?
Smart homes are indeed very much in demand, especially at the upper end of the market. However, we already design each house so that it has everything it needs to use future smart home applications. The most frequently requested feature is the ability to control lights and blinds remotely via an app. For one, it is convenient – I can use it to operate the blinds and turn off the lights from my bed. But it is also a security measure. I can program a vacation mode that makes it appear that someone is home by opening and closing the blinds and turning the lights on and off.
You say that you are already designing every house so it can be upgraded in the future. Do you see smart homes as a luxury trend or will they soon be standard for new buildings?
Because of the increasing pace of digitalization, I think smart homes will become standard; however, the prevailing trend will be smart implementation. By that I mean alternatives that are also affordable in the lower or medium price range.
Which smart home applications would you absolutely recommend, even for those with a lower budget?
Security features such as motion sensors and camera systems which make it possible to monitor your home using your smartphone while you're on vacation. I think fire or water sensors and sensors monitoring energy efficiency are also sensible smart home applications. And biometric doors you unlock using your fingerprint – we install these on half of all new buildings we design.
We've talked a lot about construction trends in residences. What about trends in the way people are living?
Swiss families are increasingly interested in multigenerational houses where not only parents and children live, but grandparents as well. Sometimes adult children continue to live with their parents, in their own studios, for example. This form of cohabitation is common in Southern European countries.
How does this trend affect house construction?
A house with multiple generations living in it usually has several floors. The individual units have separate entrances and therefore function as standalone units. Sometimes, we even build a two-family house so it can be converted into a single-family house later on – or vice versa. Lightweight walls and doors that can be repositioned provide maximum flexibility. We are increasingly seeing granny units instead of granny flats. In such cases, a small house is built in the backyard.
It has become more difficult for the middle class to afford their own home.
Corrado Palermo, owner of Unica Architektur AG
The concept of the multigenerational house comes from Southern Europe – what are some of the other origins of home construction trends?
The new focus on outdoor space is probably due to climate change and the warmer months we are experiencing in Switzerland. Clients are also being influenced by trends in other countries. A shortage of building land and the increase in prices in the real estate market mean that average earners need to build smaller homes. In general, it has become more difficult for the middle class to afford a home of their own.
You yourself are Italian. How is this reflected in your work?
I visit Italy frequently and I attempt to incorporate its influences into my buildings. Personally, I'm a big fan of outdoor kitchens and I encourage our customers to build fully functional kitchens outside. My creativity influences my work as well. I am a passionate musician and I also write music myself. I have a good team and I know I can count on them to shape my ideas into reality.
One last question: What was the craziest idea that you as an architect had to implement?
For me, there are no really crazy ideas. We built a full cinema in the house of one client. And it was relatively large, too, with some 30 seats. Another client with a single-family house wanted a bathroom with a TV system, including surround sound and three screens.