Making It real
My story in attempting to bring a new housing type that improves affordability, livability & community resilience
If we in Australia are privileged with so much space, why do we have housing affordability issues? There are many reasons why we are in this predicament, but the one I am wanting to focus on here is unseen yet has been growing in our DNA since Europeans arrived over two centuries ago, that is our desire for independence. When considering this in the context of the housing solution I was looking for, I knew there was a need to challenge the “co-living” arrangement that is typically understood to be at the cost of independence. I was adamant if a solution was a multigenerational house, then unless it could be designed and proven it provided a high degree of independence, it would not be as wildly accepted as it should. Let me better explain this by looking at the building blocks of our culture.
The Australian iconic classic movie, The Castle, demonstrates that a house in our city is more than a sign of success, it is considered a right. Our ability to have control and influence over our own space is fundamental and we will fight tooth and nail to protect it, to protect our “serenity”. This right has been fueled by the successful wealth creation this nation has built over its relatively short life span. Yet success without reflection and a willingness to change, have led us into an environment where our insatiable desire for our own sanctuary has contributed to an unsustainable trajectory of resource use as well as increasing levels of loneliness. Cultural expectations might need to shift, but this does not mean we have to sacrifice a level of independence and the sanctuary we desire from our “castle”. There are examples where we have changed in the past, if not counter-productive to our real needs.
Melbourne and Sydney are in effect a city of 2 centuries, the first ruled by horse and rail, the other by the car. Early on, limited resources forced many to reside in close-knit communities as our streets were lined with miner cottages and terrace homes, while the more affluent lived on the "quarter-acre" lot. As the means of transport shifted to the automobile, our independence grew and so did our suburbs as we redefined what our castle should contain. Even though many of us in the first period co-lived with other family members, society judgement increasingly placed pressure on those not able to demonstrate self-sufficiency through house ownership. From this, we sought increased levels of independence, first by moving away from family and then by redesigning of our homes. We took greater pride in our kitchens as it increasingly became the centre of a home where we creativity worshiped food, family and friends. Room types were introduced such as rumpus and media rooms and the ensuite become expected in almost all bedrooms. Spaces became larger to ensure that our space was our own, not influenced by different family members or polluted by the sounds they made. Over time we designed so many additions to meet our increasing need to be more independent and freer from influence, but at what cost?
Have you ever asked why we now have a shortage of 1 bedroom dwellings and why this doesn’t seem to be such an issue in cultures not as wealthy as our own? Not that I have sufficient empirical data to support this following opinion, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there exists a relationship between wealth and increased expectations of independence. The byproduct of this is to twofold. One is that there are now increasing levels of loneliness which has a societal price all on its own, and the second being an overuse of resources as more are needed to house 2 people in two separate homes than if they were in one. Putting this together, I was adamant that there needed to be another option that gave people a desired level of independence, was acoustically respectful, whilst being much more environmentally conscious. I was only increasing my belief that the Multigenerational house if designed appropriately, could provide all these aspects better than any dwelling currently available. The fear of not getting it right was the basis of a recent AAMI insurance company advert where they humorously demonstrated when one’s Grandmother hijacked the independence of the younger family, famoulsy converting the "Man Cave" to a "Nan Cave". (For some reason the company has removed the video from public viewing).
When it comes to determining our desired independence, our society has somewhat followed the trail of Goldie locks as we have oscillated between high to low density living over the past 2 centuries, while we enter the third looking for that middle ground. Whatever density we land on, it is certain that a high degree of our desire for independence will have shaped the outcome as we come to realisation that we need to get more from using fewer resources. There needs to be greater awareness that a Multigenerational house can meet these challenges whilst being one of the most sustainable ways to live. For it to however be as successful as claimed, it needs to be designed in such a way that allows all family members to still have a sense of ownership and influence over their own space, whilst still having all the benefits of co-living. At the core ingredient in all of this is unsurprisingly allowing different family units to have mastery of their own kitchen and living areas. When they can worship food, family and friends in their own space, they are closer to having the comfort of being the master of their own Castle.
A property expert with over 25 years experience working across both private and public sectors, predominately within the housing space.