People make the place

People make the place add

The catchphrase 'people make the place' was devised to capture the sentiment that communities are the sum of their parts and are functions of the kinds of people they contain.

In the context of the New South Wales Missing Middle Design Competition, the meaning is quite literal. People did, in fact, make the places. The outcome of establishing such an egalitarian playing field for sharing low rise medium density housing ideas was extraordinary - but more on that later.

Ahead of her presentation at this year's Medium Density Housing Summit, Lee Hillam of the NSW Government Architect and Director of Dunn & Hillam Architects, describes how the usual process of seeking feedback on government policy doesn't always reach a broad part of the community, or get the range of responses from industry that is needed to truly test the ideas.

Thanks to her roles straddling public and private sector, Hillam has a unique take on architecture and all it encompasses. "I sit across practice and policy which has been really helpful to me in giving advice to others. There are a lot of us involved with NSW Government Architect who wear a number of hats and have a deep understanding of how the industry works."

It was the NSW Government Architect changing its tack after 200 years that gave rise to a succession of wins for the built environment and the people who live in it. "After a long history of being an architecture practice, it became an advocacy body, championing good design; one that advises government and lobbies for better design process and outcomes in the built environment," Lee explains.

In its earliest days, a major coup for the group was having 'design' become an object in the Environment Protection Act. "I say beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but design is different - design is objective, and good design can and should be assessed in a legal way."

It was its recognition of the fact that good design is a collaborative process that saw another major achievement for the group via its launch of the Missing Middle Competition. This was a low rise medium density housing open design competition. It called on architects and building designers to showcase their vision for the future of medium density housing in NSW. Designers participated in a competitive design-led process to apply and test the draft Medium Density Housing Code and draft Medium Density Design Guide.

True testament to the substantial appetite the public have for their built environment and their community was the 111 entries received. "Most people are never going to read through a 300 page policy document, but through this competition so many interesting things came out about how to make modifications or tweaks to suburban fabric."

Few would disagree low density housing is not sustainable for the population of the planet, and people came to the party with valid and thoughtful solutions.

"Rather than saying 'here's another greenfield site for medium density housing' - which is in fact an easier task - people took up the challenge of looking at how they can modify suburbs within 10km of the city where the main pattern is freestanding housing on large blocks.

"The challenge is how to help bring our existing suburbs forward - make them more dense - without wiping the slate clean or ruining the character."

To hear Lee Hillam talk in depth about Missing Middle and her work on other transformative medium density housing projects, join her at the Medium Density Housing Summit in Auckland 11-12 April