Housing – The View from Land Release Areas.
Architects are an insatiable lot, we want to design everything (& think we can). Yet less than 10% of housing in Australia has architectural involvement and the majority of new housing in NSW is delivered by developers and project home companies. Only multi-residential projects, as mandated by SEPP 65, require an architect’s involvement in NSW. The Department of Planning and Environment recently released a draft Medium Density Housing Code, a policy aiming to “increase the supply and quality of low rise medium density housing across NSW”. It is nevertheless conceivable that the majority of developments delivered, will be by developers, of poor quality and certainly not designed by architects. This got us to pondering…
How can architects contribute to the design of a larger proportion of dwellings and realise these dwellings in areas that are not normally the domain of architect designs?
We started with a little research, speaking to the CEO of a mid-sized project home builder whose work sits within the mid-range price bracket and builds in land release areas across NSW. He made a couple of observations that interested us greatly:
“My strategy would be not to try and integrate [Architect designed project homes] into the McMansion estates but to team up with a developer on a smallish subdivision and build it out. Like they did in the 60’s and 70’s” – this was in reference to The Sociable Weaver, an architect designed project home company
“I think there’s a future in modern terraces particularly on corner lots and villas of some kind on regular lots.”
He described the project home market using a car analogy, observing that the buyers of project homes are generally only interested in “Corollas and Commodores, not European cars”. In his opinion and in plain terms, the project home market is incredibly conservative and that within land release areas any departure from the basic status quo would need to be particularly strategic. It may take an approach with only incremental change, on high value sites sites, where the worth of change may be more readily recognised and realisable. Any change in the land release backlots, by way of contrast, is less likely to be appealing.
The common wisdom, upon hearing about the conservative ambitions in project homes, seems to be that people can’t desire what they don’t know. Can architects, simply supply (better house designs), create demand and improve housing quality? If the CEO we spoke to is to be believed, then it sounds unlikely. Nonetheless, as he alluded to, there may be some opportunity to get more traction in these markets by utilising the costs savings of medium density housing. This is through added efficiencies of multiple housing and the cheaper establishment costs that may be more easily achieved under the Medium Density Housing Code. Such an approach, as envisaged by the Department of Planning & Environment in the code’s creation, could supply well designed and affordable medium density housing. Desirable Paddington Terraces are after all the project homes of the mid to late nineteenth century.
The Office of the NSW Government Architect ran a design competition to test the draft Medium Density Housing Code. We did two entries, have a look and let us know your thoughts: