“For me, cost of housing is a relevant struggle living in central Auckland. High prices and larger homes got me thinking about alternatives as did consumerism.”
Through her Masters study in 2017, Ayla wanted to take an anthropological approach to her pursuit of alternative living options by first probing into the prevalent attitude that larger housing is tantamount to success. A return to first principles yielded the question. ‘Why do we have these tendencies?’
Ayla discovered that many Kiwis have expectations of wanting detached properties with lots of space. The issue is further compounded by our desire to consume ‘stuff’ to fill these spaces.
“Especially with the sprawl that continues across New Zealand’s landscape, the gaps between our homes aren’t as small as they could be because we are sticking to an established fabric as opposed to creating a new fabric.”
While urban space is at a premium and densification provides a remedy, Ayla doesn’t insist that we deviate from the vernacular of a detached house, but rather utilise the space we do have, empowering that space to perform outside the parameters of its patent purpose. She proposes that delineation of spaces - conceptually and in terms of configuration - can be done away with in favour of homes that are more fluid, adaptable and dynamic. In this way, smaller homes can do big things.
“It’s about making sure you are providing a home that is flexible within itself, with moveable elements, and the removal of fixed walls so separation between spaces is not as strict.”
As part of her recently completed thesis, Ayla tested her theory against three sub-groups - a small family just starting out, an elderly couple, and a group of flatters. The aim was to prove that dynamic, fluid living environments, where spaces are not monogamous to just one functional identity, is a germane idea, relevant to all kinds of peoples at all stages of their lives. Her hypothesis was correct.
With inspiration drawn from small, efficient homes in Japan, Ayla believes there is a quantum paradigm shift that needs to occur in New Zealand to knock the ‘bigger is better’ notion on the head once and for all. “It’s quite the norm for Japanese people - tight, multi-functional spaces. We aren’t used to it in the same way and it is about convincing people this is viable living and not a downgrade.”
There is an adventure ahead to think laterally about how to get our small spaces to do big things. Increasingly, more and more designers and their clients are putting their hands up for the challenge.
To learn more about Ayla Raymond-Roberts and her views on ‘the small house: a model of the detached home for densifying New Zealand suburbs’, register now for the ADNZ National Conference in Rotorua, running from 25-27 October. The conference is open to everyone, not just members of the architecture community.