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Designing a more generous city - by Andrew Lilleyman

Andrew Lilleyman, Director, ARM Architecture

‘Tenure Blindness’ is not a new term. It has been around for a number of years and describes an even handed design approach to developments which integrate affordable housing with market housing. The idea is through creating equality of appearance, there is no identification and no social stigma drawn to social and affordable housing types. It is an old stigma that has been carried on post war housing through to, still visible, 1970’s developments.

Viv’s Place in Dandenong takes a different view. Rather than disguising its social type, the supportive housing development deliberately avoids a commercial or institutional look. It employs an idea of a secure and comfortable home for a diverse cohort of residents as its source of inspiration. The result is a structure that is vibrant to the street, with rich interiors that creates a sense of pride and place. The building contributes to its community and in turn, highlights an austerity in other surrounding private developments.

External garden and play area at Viv's Place.

This might be an unfair comparison as projects like Viv’s Place are achieved via different delivery metrics than private developments. Philanthropy and government investment provide funding, which in turn elicits a lot of good will and generosity, not just by those that govern but those that deliver these projects. The result is a housing typology which holds values driven by the simple idea of providing more for their occupants: more apartments, more outdoor amenity, more communal integration, more design, more patterns, more colour, more care. More for those who need more.

Affordable housing integrated into larger developments is the carrot used to unlock planning requirements, benefitting developer and tenant alike. Affordable Housings ‘metrics of more’ should not be overlooked, as they foster new thinking to help shape developments and communities.

Like private housing, affordable housing shares a need for secure environments for tenants, but also seeks out opportunities to open their doors to the community. This can include onsite support services for tenants to create pathways for individuals and families to get back on their feet, or health rooms to service residents as well as broader community needs. Common spaces often double as teaching or function spaces, welcoming in community and services to meet and commune to their mutual benefit. The Sugar Hill Apartments in New York for example, aligns itself to the city’s art scene with an onsite gallery for shared exhibition and education programs for residents and the public alike. These are meaningful public spaces.

In contrast to private housing, affordable housing is more aligned with universal access apartments, providing for disability requirements above and beyond the National Construction Code. It caters for real clients, rather than targeted markets, and therefore real diversity. Private developers have less incentive to provide Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) as its perceived to create larger apartments, different construction detailing and disrupts the status quo. In short, it is viewed as costing more. Environmentally sustainable design also falls under equal commercial strain.

Through the lens of affordable housing, there is altruism that prompts sustainability, conscious design for the health and wellbeing needs of occupants, and a greater focus on being a conscientious neighbour.

Viv's Place shared kitchen and common room.

There is more to talk about of course: the need for better outdoor spaces, streetscapes, spaces for children, apartment planning and mix and size; all of which can be added to a growing list of how developments can be more generous for tenants and for communities.

In early 2020 The Victorian State Government, as part of the Big Housing Build, committed $5.3 billion dollars to build 12,000 subsidised homes over the next 4 years. The accelerated plan aims to tackle the immediate shortfall of homes and sets up processes for the future. This initiative throws the spotlight on the complex issues around homelessness, to reward those already in the field of social support and encourage developers and planners to act with substantial change across the areas of community creation and diversity.

This initiative has the potential to affect hundreds of future sites and bring long-term, meaningful change into the city, for those who need housing, and for those who use and live in the city. So, before we hide social housing behind another commercial curtain, maybe we should turn our thinking around and view social housing as a healthy source of design, able to provide inspiration for developments to simply do more. It could be fertile ground for reimagining a more generous city, and a pathway to ending homelessness.

Tenure kindness, not blindness.

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