Rivalling the Suburban Dream

Rivalling the Suburban Dream add

For New Zealand to be successful in medium density housing development, we need to have examples which are just as seductive as the kiwi suburban dream.

Architect Pete Bossley says kiwi apartment living is a poor substitute for the space and lifestyle that suburbia offers and this needs to change.

‘Urban designers will tell you: if you build a train station, a bus stop and offer a posh little apartment, then the people will come. But it's not as simple as that. Thought needs to be given to how someone is going to live in these things and to their relationships with what is happening down on the street and the surrounding amenities.'

According to Pete, the trouble with apartments and higher density living in New Zealand is too much of it hasn't been designed well.

'When it comes to apartments, we've got to think beyond "two bedrooms and a bathroom",' Pete says.

'We need to be designing generously to compensate for what the suburbs have to offer. For example apartments have little to no storage. You can't expect someone who's been used to having a garage or a shed to store their junk, to then accept a miserable little cupboard in a carpark above the bonnet of the car. Likewise, if there's going to be no garden or lawn, there needs to be lively street life and facilities close by. My fear is we're letting the developer's build, without insisting upon what we need to live.'

Bossley Architects was involved in the development design guidelines for Ponsonby's Vinegar Lane and Cider Building, a mixed-use urban zone comprising supermarket, offices and apartments in the fashionable Auckland suburb of Ponsonby.

One of the precedents for the project was Amsterdam's Borneo Sporenburg development - an island of planned high density housing, but on a domestic scale, accommodating Amsterdam's architectural heritage and a fresh contemporary vision.

'One of the challenges of designing a big building that people will live in is how to give it human scale. Borneo Island is a solution, in that the development is made up of a collection of lots of small narrow sites and buildings, designed by lots of different designers within prescribed parameters,' Pete says.

Like its Dutch muse, the Vinegar Lane development provides for the individual within the collective. Each of the sites is individually owned, with each applicant introducing their own designer to the development. Pete says the first design concepts were a case of "first in best dressed" as there were no neighbours. The design panel functions to offer suggestions and rarely a "yes or no" response.

'The end result is the facades are all different which makes it quite lively. If one designer is responsible for an entire development then the temptation is to design out all the little idiosyncrasies and flaws that are typical of a streetscape. And that's how you get these boring monolith buildings and everything matching. By bringing lots of different designs together - overseen by a design panel - it's a way of letting things happen, allowing for the little inconsistencies that create an enjoyable environment.'

Pete believes shared responsibility is required if we are to manage densification of our cities well - Government, developers, councils and designers, as well as social agencies being involved at the briefing stages.

"We all work from what we know, rather than what might be actually happening out there, so everybody has a role to play in making this work."

Pete Bossley is a guest speaker at ADNZ's Medium Density Housing Summit being held April 5th-6th. For more information on the summit and to see who else is speaking visit http://www.adnz.org.nz/mdhs