Housing the Future: Six Points


Six Points for Architects and Urbanists to Consider.
Article published at the Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter's CPD Event "How to House the Future", 11 April 2016.
Text & illustrations by Amelyn Ng.


Six Points for Architects & Urbanists to Consider


Beyond Affordability

While financial viability is a major, if not primary

driver of multiresidential housing affordability,

good housing is not solely about square-metre rates

and property value. Beyond the quantitative ($ and

sqm) dimensions of affordability, let us concurrently

consider the more qualitative civic and social

dimensions of dwelling in the city. As the high-rise

typology becomes the future norm, it is more

important than ever to integrate collective civic and

urban value into our long-term densification strategies.

How might architects rethink socially sustainable

models of housing for tomorrow’s burgeoning

population? This broadsheet sets out some points of

concern for architects and urban planners to consider,

critique and evaluate for themselves in practice. By

reflecting on the civic and social effects of housing

density, existing precedents and potential future

scenarios, this article hopes to provoke critical thought

on future development and cohesive city-making.

‘Affordability + Liveability = Stability’

Future developments should balance both quantitative and qualitative solutions, considering

not only short-term market viability but also long-term, community-positive urbanism.

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1. Common Ground

Every apartment block is not an island.

When designing towers for living in, the ground-plane

condition should be addressed with utmost

consideration for the wider urban fabric (beyond the

site’s boundaries).

A typical residential tower has its back to the

street, often featuring a locked private lobby and

underutilised lounge area. For security reasons it is

made impermeable to the public. In this ubiquitous,

default model of high-rise living, the resident is

increasingly isolated from their broader environment.

What if high-rise residential typologies were more

aligned toward urban integration? The notion

of public thoroughfare exists predominantly in

commercial building such as office towers such as

the examples below; why not extend this thinking to

residential towers? What if, like mandatory setbacks,

we speculated the establishment of a mandatory

‘common-ground’ plane? By respecting the existing

grain and civic adjacencies of inner-city plots, cities

may be able to better uphold urban continuity in the

face of an increasing demand for housing stock.

Conventional multi- residential ground plane:

Impermeability denies public & breeds isolation

Potential to democratise access: Establishing a ‘common

ground’ plane across private developments

HSBC Tower in Hong Kong by Foster + Partners.

Photo by Eldan Goldenberg.

Example of an ‘unlocked’ lobby. A corporate foyer and

public thoroughfare on weekdays, the covered open

space is appropriated by Filipina domestic workers every

Sunday for social gatherings and micro-trading.

Urban Workshop in Melbourne CBD

by John Wardle Architects.

Photo by Irwinconsult.

Example of a permeable lobby that ensures the

continuity of laneway networks in the city. It has a cafe

and gallery archiving the site’s historical artefacts; and

operates like a through public laneway.

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2. Flexible Programming

What if the choice to live in a high-rise city apartment

did not necessarily mean having to give up

neighbourliness, community and civic interaction?

One concern with the locked-lobby approach (a

feature of the prevailing high-rise residential model) is

the perpetuation of gated vertical communities. While

not immediately perceptible, the anti-social condition

is already manifest in areas such as Southbank where

chronic impermeability has resulted in insular living

and street inactivity. This has a long-term impact on

liveability and suburb desirability.

and exchange will only grow more scarce. By

encouraging space-sharing, space-adapting and

space-letting we effectively multiply these urban

spaces. Ground-level vacancy may in turn be

reduced, over time restoring street life and mitigating

the ‘ghost-streetscape’ effect that currently haunts

tower-suburbs such as Southbank and the Docklands.

The progressive reevaluation of our living norms will

undoubtedly come with challenges, particularly in

operational planning, security and body-corporate

maintenance and overall financial viability. However

these recalibrations should be seen as “growing pains”

Future apartment towers should provide a robust and

adaptable interface between public and private realms,

embracing moments of overlap instead of wholly

segregating private from public zones.

The potential to transform static resident-only spaces

(e.g. foyers, receptions, privatised landscaping) into

dynamic, active platforms exists across the various

stages of a building’s life: from pre-construction

temporary site activations to post-occupancy

operations and management. Time-sensitive

programming might be seen as a parallel to the

‘open-plan’ model of the last century: radical in its

programmatic flexibility at the time of proposal, but

upon refinement large-scale adoption, it has become

the modus operandi for architects globally.

Assemble, an emerging residential developer focused

on small-footprint living, has based their current office

on Roseneath Street, Clifton Hill- the site of their first

multi-residential project in partnership with Wulff

Projects and Icon Co. Other parts of the private site are

leased out to creative enterprises such as local clothing

label Kloke, while its vast ground-level warehouse

space is regularly activated by design presentations,

exhibitions and public events such as the up-coming

Brutalist Block Party in collaboration with Open

House Melbourne. Even before any construction has

begun, community is already being created upfront

and on-site, where future occupants of the new project

get to meet potential neighbours and familiarise

themselves with the location. This is one such example

of flexible cross-programming being used to establish

resilience and social capital.

In light of our city’s projected residential growth,

public greenspace as well as areas for civic gathering

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3. Demographic- &

Income-Mixed Housing

Developed cities across the globe should be pressed to

reassess their priorities: on one hand to accommodate

the displaced and marginalised, or on the other

continue to advance market-driven economic

interests. In many cases the latter has been prioritised,

amplifiying disparities in its population’s wealth, race,

class and religion, and heightening political and social


While there are no easy answers to these questions,

we should be cognizant of these urban dilemmas and

think laterally about more amenable, intelligent pieces

inserted into the urban tapestry- adjusting with the

city rather than divorcing itself- where inhabitants may

productively engage with and contribute to trade and

social capital of society as a whole.

Large-scale single-stage developments that aim to

provide social housing en-masse pose the danger of

fragmentation. One is reminded of our commission

flats, Brutalist social-housing blocks of the sixties, and

in more extreme cases, the ‘ghetttoisation’ of uniformly

developed residential zones that pepper remote

areas around the world; Modernist slum-suburbs

with increased work travel distances and heightened

segregation between higher and lower income groups.

Quick-fix ‘out-of-sight’ developments are contributing

significantly to stigmatisation and ‘othering’.

This raises not just a sociopolitical problem but also an

architectural and urban one. Cross-cultural tolerance

and integration are not simply the concern of the

socio-economic or policymakers, but exists also in the

domain of the architect and urban professional.

Beyond social and indigenous housing initiatives, there

also is the contentious case of refugee housing- an area

of great public debate in contemporary politics and

social work but not so much in architectural circles.

This also forms a touch-point of residential affordability

and housing for the future.

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4. Communal Living

Current models of inner-city living should continue

to diversify their offerings and evolve in accordance

with future living and working lifestyles. Rather than

a one-size-fits-all approach, the residential property

market and its associated housing policies should aim

to be more flexible, responsive and inclusive overall.

The resurgence in co-housing initiatives such as

Melbourne’s Urban Coup reflects an increasing desire

for community-centric owner-occupier housing

that is still amenable and close to the city centre. An

increasing number of prospective purchasers are

hoping to have more say in the design of their property

if they will be living there long-term: that is, they wish

to invest not just for short-term financial gains but

also qualitative returns that will see them through the

various phases of life. Committed owner-developer

groups such as Urban Coup allows such choices to be


Perhaps more architects should be having these

open-ended, nebulous conversations: is it currently

feasible, for example, to raise a family or age-in-place

in an apartment tower? How can we future-proof

vertical communities from demographic stratification,

and ensure yields don’t all skew towards 1-bedroom

student shoebox apartments?

The decision to live communally or ‘grow old

with your apartment’ should not be a reluctant

compromise on location, access, tenure type, price or

choice. Alternative models should be embraced and

investigated to avoid homogenous development or

income-bracket favouritism.

This apartment-and-townhouse project champions

housing diversity in an otherwise cookie-cutter

multi-residential development climate.

The “assemble your home” concept gives purchasers the

ability to tailor their dwelling to financial and functinal

needs, providing a choice of standard or premium

options for their kitchen, bathroom and flooring, and a

range of extras such as a dog door, flexi-room, fold-down

bed or kid’s bath. There is a more nuanced palette of

choice on how individuals wish to live than traditional

models, while balancing construction efficiency, site

density and overall financial viability.

WestWyck Ecovillage, Brunswick.

Stage 1 by Peter Mills & Michael McKenna.

Stage 2 by Multiplicity.

Image by ArchitectureAU.

Westwyck comprises a cluster of 30 apartments

and townhouses around and within the former

Brunswick West Primary School. The units have

been developed in stages over a decade and are fitted

with solar panels, rainwater harvesting, grey-water

recycling and above-standard insulation, as well as

common landscaping areas and vegetable gardens. Its

affordable, ecological and community focus has drawn

much interest by like-minded locals and continues to

outperform itself in the housing market.

With a mission to repurpose the vacant schoolhouse,

developers Lorna Pitt & Mike Hill (also committed

owner-occupiers) have taken a long-term view on

the housing project and are personally invested in

community building. Recognising the importance of

122 Roseneath St, Clifton Hill by Icon Co, Wulff Projects good design, they also partnered with similarly-aligned

& Assemble. (currently in design documentation phase). local architects (named above) for creative heritage work

Image by Assemble.

using cost-effective, sustainably sourced materials.

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5. “Amenity-pooling”

A key factor in housing liveability and affordability

is the access to civic services: be it physical access

to shops, parks and schools, or financial access

an apartment’s body corporate fees. In a future of

increasingly privatised superblocks and towers,

designers and developers should to democratise

spaces where possible, through the localised sharing of

amenities between adjacent residential blocks and with

its broader community.

Consider the notion of car-pooling. When a resource

is shared by actively coordinating schedules with each

other, utility and social benefits are maximised while

energy expenditure is minimised. In the same vein,

high-rise “amenity-pooling” could streamline the

unnecessary number of identical programs such as

pools, gyms and function rooms (refer diagram below;

these are typically energy-intensive), reduce the overall

ecological footprint and strengthen neighbourly

relations between tower residents.

Scenarios where “amenity-pooling” could occur in

high-rise apartments:

(a) At ground level, to restore these traditionally public

programs to full public access.

(b) At intermediate levels, with residential bridges

linking ‘actively coordinated’ towers in series or

parallel. Stephen Holl’s Linked Hybrid buildings in

Beijing come to mind.

Current situation: Private-access-only amenity

(inaccessible and insular) that exists as duplicates from

tower to tower (unsustainable).

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Linked Hybrid Mixed-Use Complex in Beijing by Steven

Holl. Image above by Dezeen.

Sketch below by Steven Holl.

5. “Amenity-pooling”


(c) At rooftop level, where the best views and light

in the building could be reserved for communal

activities, instead of plant room or penthouse decks.

While this proposal seems a huge stretch from our

current ways of doing housing, the topic certainly

warrants further research attention, particularly since

the surge in housing density wtihin already built-up

areas such as the CBD will place immense pressures on

existing civic infrastructure.

As land becomes scarcer and more subservient to

yield, there will be fewer parks, sports courts and

other public open spaces at ground level. Can we

rethink engineering and functional standards so that

the valuable roof plane can be appropraited for civic


To illustrate, let us consider a public school which

admits students on proximity-based acceptance. If

the neighbourhood is gentrified to accommodate

population growth and its residents double, the same

school will not have enough places and support

services, and unless it upgrades, expands or hires more

staff, its admissions has to be more selective.

Furthermore, these residential ‘amenities’ in

question need not only be limited to the luxury

triumvirate of gym-pool-sauna. Why not consider the

“amenity-pooling” of primary schools, childcare, aged

care services, bookable meeting rooms, doctor’s clinics,

home-office consultancies and so forth?

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Would families then be discouraged from living in

these denser areas simply because their children have

a lower chance of getting accepted into a school? These

are the everyday scenarios and flow-on-effects we have

to be conscious of.

If nothing is done to improve and expand these

civic programs to meet the needs of a burgeoning

population, residential liveability and affordability for

each of those occupants will naturally suffer.

As design professionals we are responsible not just

for our allotted site for the duration of our services,

but also for the shaping of our urban domain as

an accretive whole. The civic condition of a city

has a direct feedback loop into its housing market.

Let us continue to push the boundaries of creative

programming, democratic accessibility and civic

amenity in each project, over time incrementally

benefitting urban life and its symbiotic relationship

with private residential life.

6. Self-Governance

Security is one of the key factors in choosing one

place to live over another. It is inextricable from

the liveability-affordability-stability venn diagram;

a suburb that rates lower on residential security

typically reflects lower property prices than their safer

counterparts. If a percieved threat to one’s security

is sustained and unsolved, the public perception of a

that neighbourhood can quickly plummet along with

property desirability. From then on the stigma is often

difficult to remediate, even with the promise of new

building stock.

Is the self-governed model scaleable ? How might

such thinking apply not just to medium-density but

high-density dwellings? What is the (fine) line between

passive surveillance and overlooking?

However difficult the questions are on housing the

future, they will not go away with quick-fixes nor by

turning a blind eye to the civic condition. Housing

is being developed at an unprecedented pace before

our eyes, and this generation of architects have the

requisite creative and professional skills to rethink and

reshape its effects on tomorrow, one dwelling at a time.

Fundamentally, residents want to feel safe and

protected in their home. To a degree architecture and

urbanism can reduce the risk of dangerous situations

by designing safe and resilient neighbourhoods from

the outset.

Urbanist Jane Jacobs’ ‘eyes on the street’ still holds true

today; architects should adopt passive surveillance as

first principles in the design of housing, before relying

on surveillance technologies and heavily policed

reception areas (refer diagrams below).

In many ways, self-governed ‘common security’

imbues a sense of collective responsibility that passive

‘private security’ system is unable to offer.

Heller Street Park & Residences in Brunswick by Six

Degrees Architects. Photo by Patrick Rodriguez.

Example of passive surveillance, neighbour security

and effective public-to-private gradient via shared

greenspace. This urban gesture extends beyond the site,

stitching dwellings back into the local fabric.

Amelyn is a design-focused researcher from Melbourne,

with a deep interest in civic agency and socially responsive

infrastructures. She believes architecture is at once a physical

practice, critical discourse and catalyst for social change.

She recently presented a speculative paper on refugee housing

at the AMPS housing conference in Nicosia, Cyprus 2016;

the project has also been exhibited in Melbourne and in

Madrid as part of Archiprix International 2015. Her M.Arch

thesis, a critique of laissez-faire privatisation and consumer

behaviours in Southbank, was awarded the 2014 Edward &

Penelope Billson Prize and Ernest Fooks Memorial Award.

Her writing has been recently published by the Australian

Design Review, Architect Victoria, Assemble Papers,

Architecture & Design, FLOG and Inflection Journal.

While working towards her architect’s registration at

Fieldwork and Assemble, she hopes to examine the potentials

of opportunistic urbanism through ongoing research and

regular contributions to architectural publication.

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