Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sustainability & Space: Future trends in Australian Housing

With the GFC nearly over, tighter bank lending, climate change and an ever increasing population constantly on the minds of Australians, the question can be asked - Where is the future of housing headed? This is more difficult to answer than first thought. For many people, especially those of a younger generation, achieving the Australian dream of owning your own home with a Hills Hoist in the backyard is quickly becoming a product of fantasy. It seems prevalent now, more than ever, that the notion of the Australian dream is just that - a dream. The reality is an accumulation of a life long debt for a minimal dwelling that is often 5 storeys off the ground and no outdoor space. Not wanting to loose that sense of home ownership embedded in our culture, the younger generation are turning to architects to combat the lack of affordability and rising utility bills.

Sustainability and Space seem to be the new focus on housing. How can we make an eco-friendly dwelling that draws in light, originality and comfort? "I think the drift to big McMansions has come to an end," says Melbourne architect Norman Day. "We're coming to the realisation that we don't need a castle. I think the public is a little more ahead of politicians on this. There's a real interest in harvesting water, solar power and trying to get off the electricity grid." Sydney Architect James Stockwell agrees on the utilities "... given the way energy bills are just going up, I reckon a fair bit of thought needs to be given by home buyers so they don't end up spending a fortune running their place." Yet while having a home that can convert your pets bodily functions into running the kettle is a nice thought, the problem boils down to space.

Australia is a large country, but our infrastructure is relatively minuscule and relies too heavily on our coast to sustain our population. Sometimes there just isn't enough affordable land to allow population growth and sometimes that land must be preserved for environmental sustainability or to combat urban sprawl. Sydney's issue with urban sprawl puts large amounts of strain on our infrastructure - the further west we go, the further west our pipes, cables and roads must go. A solution has been touted quite publicly by our former Prime Minister Paul Keating: Build large tenement blocks in the city. People must embrace unit living. The problem with this is that it goes against our national psych of landownership. People want a home with a backyard, not to live in communal cages. However, reality tells us that a compromise has to be achieved and this responsibility falls on the architects and builders - Peter Cotton, National Practice Director of Mirvac Design says the trick is to make "smaller feel bigger, ensuring every space is utilised". A big focus for Mirvac is promoting social interaction through its design of major estates -- apartments that engage the street scape rather than looking inward, and building community areas where people can mingle with plenty of easily accessed open spaces.

However, units have not been all that popular in Balmain. The latest figures from Ashton & Rowe have recorded that while unit capital growth is up 17% in 3 years, the demand for them has recorded lower yeilds than those in other parts of Sydney. On par with this, the same report shows a 61% increase in 3 bedroom homes coming on for sale (and not yet sold) while 4 bedroom homes are estimated to decline in demand over 2011. These stats point to a popularity spike in smaller 2 bedroom homes - semis and terraces. People seem content to live with less space as long as it is on land.

So one can speculate an extreme attitude for the future; in order for affordability and sustainability to be achieved, the average Australian must let go of their dream and be content to build their home within the confined walls of a unit.

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