Making It real
My story in attempting to bring a new housing type that improves affordability, livability & community resilience
(Please note that this article is one in a series and it may make references to previous articles)
I’m not sure if shared by others who have bought a “renovators Dream”, but a few hours after landing the home, a wave of shock hit as the gravity of what I signed up to started to become more apparent. I just bought a house that wasn't even livable nor looked structurally sound. I needed to act quickly so I could get renters in to help cover mortgage payments. Even though I didn't own a house at the time, I will admit I was a bit precious in that I didn’t think I could live in a house that was in such a poor condition. Yet I was soon to be proven wrong about its immediate “livability”!. Not soon after I took possession of the house, I arrived to start renovation works and found not only had someone changed the front door lock on me, but I had squatters living inside the house!
A group ranging from 14 to 30 years old had not only taken residence but had looked as though they had had a pretty decent party the night before! After negotiating their departure over 2 hours, they slowly rolled out on bikes that could only be described as a collage of bike parts from different decades. With saddles hanging from the front, back and sides of these pieces of art, the scene was not unlike a caravan of explorers going in search for new lands (or homes) to conquer. What was also surprising was just how many there were considering it was a tiny house. It was like watching an army of circus clowns climbing out of a minicar, but instead of clown outfits, they were wearing a soup of steampunk-rainforest attire. I lost count, to be honest, but it was quite a spectacle watching this herd of bikes ride off around the corner. Yet that wasn’t the end of it. Not knowing what I would find in the house, I was shocked to find a considerable amount of house goods that they must have gathered over two days. It appeared they had plans that they were in for the long haul. This certainly wasn’t the type of excitement I had in mind when starting this journey, yet I would soon find out that this was just the beginning of the many twists and turns requiring constant problem solving and negotiating.
After completing the renovation works, which I enjoyed way too much, the house actually came-up a treat which made me wonder why I wasn’t moving in myself. I eventually found a tenant, giving myself some time to work on what my future home would look like. It was during this early design phase that I started to challenge how a house for life might function, which helped galvanise my belief on the benefits of a multigenerational home. There is something quite magical about the process of designing as you regularly test scenarios over and over in your mind as you work through how one might use a different configuration of spaces. The number of iterations was too numerous to count, but they seemed insignificant as I became fixated on trying to design a house that looked like any other from the street, but internally would allow two families to co-live with one another with a desired level of independence. However just like any creative process, particularly when trying to solve a problem, it can be a bit of roller coaster as you ride the waves from the thrills of reaching that “ah-ha” moment, only to quickly come crashing down once you discover how quickly regulation waters the flames of inspiration. Many lessons were learnt during the initial design phase, non-more so that the importance of the width of your land lot. This measurement is crucial when seeking to design for those with mobility issues, be it for ageing in place or those with a disability. I quickly found that typical townhouses wouldn't work on anything less than 10 meters. Legislative spatial requirements for mobility-impaired or large families demands significant space. This highlighted that if we continued on the current infill development trajectory of subdividing lots into typical townhouse developments, society would have a limited supply of new homes that meet ageing in place demands. (Hello Royal commission on aged care!) It was here where I challenged the notion, “if designing within the rules restricted the solution, then do the rules need changing?”
Current media continually warns us that we are in an age of disruption, where the pace of change in the way we are living is forcing us to challenge existing rules. To meet this change, being flexible and adaptable are now considered crucial survival skills, yet we would be hard-pressed to find many examples where our typical house layouts demonstrate these traits. Yet I come to discover there was a reason why Flexibility isn't a more commonly used word in the context of house designs; it’s merely incredibly tricky. I came to this realisation as I worked through the many different family arrangements that could exist within one home and how I could address their needs so that they didn’t fill forced to move every 7-10 years. I went through so many designs, but I knew that Flexibility was to be the centre of what I wanted to design, and finally in 2011, I had that “A-HA" moment. Due to the restrictive size of the lot, approximately 350m2, the design process forced me to design two stairs with a second kitchen on the second floor. By designing the second kitchen to be easily dismantled and reinstated, the house could function like a single-family home which I was assuming would be its primary use. There were a few bugs that needed to be ironed out, but I was ready to find someone who could transport it to Architectural drawings and get it ready to build. I was prepared for the next stage; building my design team.
A property expert with over 25 years experience working across both private and public sectors, predominately within the housing space.