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Addressing Culture and Context in the Mass Housing Market

Posted by On Aug 07, 2017 In Ideas, Opinion, Research Tags , , , , ,

Over the next 5 years the NSW State Government targeting the construction of 200 000 new homes. To date, however, less than 5% of housing stock in Sydney is designed by architects. It is likely, therefore, that architects will not be involved in the design of the majority of these new dwellings, albeit due to the requirements of SEPP 65, at a higher proportion than historically. Middle ring suburbs (known as the Missing Middle) are being targeted for densification to accommodate many of these new dwellings. The majority of this new housing, constructed as lower rise medium density typologies and below the SEPP 65 threshold, will not be realised by architects. While architects do not have a mortgage on good design they are certainly the most qualified building designers and housing would be better served if architects were more involved.

This raises questions: How, What, Whys? How can architects be better involved? What does the market want? Why aren’t architects more involved in the delivery of this mass market housing? and, Why is better design not sought? To answer these questions, we need to better understand the context and the culture of mass market housing.

…we need to be able to critically look at building cultures in terms of their effectiveness of making good environments and improving the lives of people who work and dwell in them – and who build them.

Howard Davis

In Sydney there is often a failure to deliver high quality housing to the majority of the market. Housing that addresses all common amenity issues: access to sun, light, landscape or private open space, privacy, environmental credentials and so on. We are at risk of leaving a considerable legacy of poor quality homes that deliver on price point and aspiration, but from all other reasonable perspectives, could be considerably improved upon. This failure to supply a higher quality housing, however, cannot be levelled at one institution or body, instead it is a failure born from the complexity of the culture, as observed by Howard Davis:

...contemporary architecture – like the architecture of the past – is anchored in contexts that are much larger than the architectural profession itself. These contexts affect both the content of buildings and the conduct of practice.

These contexts are our contemporary building cultures… these building cultures include all of the institutions – and people who work for them – that have an impact in one way or another on buildings.

Howard Davis

All those involved in the industry therefore need to develop a better understanding of the culture and context that needs to be accommodated if they are to work within a mass market housing context – with a view to developing better housing. It is research that is important as it would encourage the silos of self-interest and knowledge within the industry to be broken down, allowing for a new culture to be developed.

Elon Musk observed: “If you’re trying to make a difference in the world, you also need to make cars people can afford.”, the same sentiment applies to housing, perhaps more so. At Redshift, as architects, our ambition is to make a difference in the world and with the philosophy that everyone deserves better housing. It is therefore imperative that we create a legacy of high quality housing in these current boom times, through an informed understanding of culture and context. This is the leadership and knowledge that is needed to deliver on the ambition and is central to research we are now undertaking.

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