Housing is a complex topic as there are so many factors that come into play – from sustainability to affordability, from aesthetics to technology, from regulations to demographics. Seeking new perspectives to these old questions, we asked six architects about some of the themes driving suburban house design in New Zealand today.
Smaller But Grander
If the old suburbia was defined by the quarter-acre section, the new suburbia could be defined by the quarter-life crisis. We have a nostalgia for our own suburban childhoods, and yet replicating that lifestyle is becoming both increasingly unaffordable and, simply, out of sync with contemporary life. It feels like there’s a mental tug of war in how we think of suburban living: we want privacy and space, but we also want low maintenance and a small footprint; we want to be close to the city but to still feel we’re a world away; we want modern conveniences but old-fashioned cosiness. With traditional housing, these things are at odds with each other. So rather than try to shoehorn housing styles designed for quarter-acre sections onto subdivided lots cheek by jowl, design can offer an evolution of suburban living. Architecture is as much evidence of an idea of how one could best live as it is a piece of construction. We can live smaller but grander; it doesn’t have to be a compromise. Project: Truss House, Onehunga, Auckland. Photo Patrick Reynolds.
When designing a new house in the suburbs we try to accentuate what has always been the draw card of suburban living – the dream of generous gardens and lawn for kids to roam. For the S House, the 75-metre- deep section gave us plenty of scope to experiment with a new typology that, as the name suggests, snakes over the land allowing copious light and connection to the outdoors. The overarching principle was to divide a long thin lot into two gardens and to thread the house through them. This move challenged the conventional front-and- back-yard diagram of a typical suburban neighbourhood, but with its compact form and central circulation, the S House provided a number of lifestyle benefits. The elongated plan, for instance, allows greater connection to the landscape and solar penetration into the south-facing section. The house, essentially, is an active space between gardens, affording and rewarding occupants with multiple views and sectional level changes as they move throughout the site. [S House Mt Eden Auckland. Designed by Aaron Paterson and Dominic Glamuzina.]
Houses that make and trap energy
The future of housing needs to address the high energy drain of space and hot water heating and the increasing pressure this places on home-owners’ finances and well-being. In Central Otago, people are spending a small fortune each winter to heat their homes, and the bigger the house, the more it costs. This can lead to a situation of ‘fuel poverty’, where people can’t afford to keep a house warm, healthy and comfortable. As energy costs increase, this already undesirable situation will get worse. When designing a new home, we can easily avoid this. A passive house is designed to retain more heat over time, meaning less energy is needed to maintain temperature. Careful design and detailing to passive house principles means it is possible to construct a house which uses almost no heating and has a fantastic indoor climate. It is then very easy to create a net zero energy house, as the energy requirements are so low. The extra cost of construction is recouped by energy savings over the building’s lifetime. [Frankton SIPS Panel House Queenstown. Photo Sam Hartnett.]
Architects: Team Green
Paired and Shared
Shared housing is a model that is underutilised in New Zealand, partly due to the difficulties in finding and forming partnerships of like-minded people wanting the same thing at the same time. If one can cross that particular bridge, however, some tangible financial benefits can come from the process. These range from sharing the site cost, professional fees and council costs to economies of scale and the utilisation of such elements as shared services and party walls. So in a time of increasing building costs, splitting a site and building two houses at once can be a good way to get improved value for money out of a building project. In the case of the Grafton Houses in Auckland, the first part of the equation was already in place. The clients were two sisters who were starting families at about the same time and who also run a small business together. The studios are located on the street and a courtyard separates these semi-public buildings from the houses behind. [Grafton Houses Auckland. Photo Mark Smith.]
Architect: Matt Brew
Side by Side
The term ‘duplex house’ commonly refers to a single building containing two dwellings with separate entrances to each. This description often conjures up less than desirable images of old terrace-styled housing and adjoining state flats. It has been our mission over recent years to challenge these preconceptions and adapt the concept for modern living. The benefits of this format over the typical front–rear townhouse development are that vehicle circulation takes a minimum of site area, and both houses can have elegant road frontages. When designing a duplex, we try to visually separate the two dwellings, as well as their associated pedestrian and vehicle entries, to give a greater sense of individuality. The long, linear nature of a duplex floor plan has a positive effect in the way the internal and external spaces interact, optimising natural sunlight. In the Conference Street townhouses, the party wall is exposed and supports a central circulation spine, with skylights drawing sunlight into the stair void. [Conference Street Townhouses. Photo Stephen Goodenough.]
This article was originally published in The Design Guide issue 6, 2016.