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Thinking outside the box in designing affordable housing

6 October 2016

Housing affordability is a big problem in Australia. A new exhibition looks at housing projects that could offer ways to reduce housing costs.

A micro-unit apartment in New York – a modular, mixed-used building with 55 units measuring 24-34 square metres, featuring in Designing Affordability at the University of Sydney.

A micro-unit apartment in New York – a modular, mixed-used building with 55 units measuring 24-34 square metres, featuring in Designing Affordability.

Designing Affordability: Quicker, Smarter, More Efficient Housing Now presents more than 20 case studies of houses and apartments internationally, alongside exemplary housing projects in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The exhibition showing at Tin Sheds Gallery in the University’s Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning is curated by New York-based Marc Norman, an urban planner who has been a strong advocate for affordable housing for more than 20 years.

“It has been interesting to learn that Sydneysiders are experiencing many of the same issues as New Yorkers where, simply put, development costs are exceeding what most people’s budgets can afford,” said Marc Norman.

“A goal of the exhibition is to look at innovative designs for affordable housing, but also look at the broader issue of housing affordability for housing types and populations.

“The best solutions are those projects where design, finance and housing policy are working in unison and creating replicable models for tackling the housing crisis,” he added.

Through case studies, the exhibition shows how architects, engineers, planners, policy makers, tenants and homeowners are crafting new ways to reduce project costs by rethinking how to build and maintain houses, in addition to rethinking the way people live.

From reimagining public housing models, leveraging land and building incrementally, to reconsidering the home and deploying technology, the exhibition looks at different approaches to reducing housing costs.

Associate Professor Mathew Aitchison, Director of the Innovation in Applied Design Lab at the University of Sydney said: “The most striking aspect of the projects in the exhibition is the breaking of conventional boundaries of architecture, planning, property development, finance and construction. It shows a brave, optimistic, inclusive and wide-ranging attitude to innovate, experiment and improve housing solutions.”

The case studies feature varied solutions for a range of housing types from large, publicly-owned housing projects typical during the 1920s through to the 1970s, to privately-owned multifamily buildings, micro units and row homes.

While the make-up of families is now varied, housing choices have been slow to reflect new trends in the way families now live. Innovative models that integrate sharing, communal facilities and economic development opportunities to create cost savings and build wealth for individuals and communities, are illustrated.

Universally, the competition for land has intensified and acquiring land can be a significant cost in housing construction. Yet the case studies show how major portions of government land are under used, valued and developed, and presents examples where affordability has been developed or preserved in the heart of cities.

New breakthroughs in technology are highlighted that produce hyper-efficient, ‘smart’ apartments that can make city living more affordable, productive and adaptable to lifestyles. By reconfiguring spaces that are multi-purpose and energy efficient, housing and other public costs can be significantly reduced in the longer term.

A one-day symposium on affordable housing will be held in the University’s Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning on Saturday, 8 October. Guest speakers include Marc Norman, along with architects, local policy makers and architecture and planning experts from the University of Sydney and other universities in Sydney. They will examine building innovations, living situations and progressive partnerships unique to Australia that could address housing costs and the affordability issue.