Flexibility essential in home design

John Tookey

21 Oct 2019

John Tookey, Professor in Construction Management


The Stuff Your Place survey makes for interesting reading on housing.

It speaks to fundamental societal change as much as housing and infrastructure needs for the future.

Look at the basics. The very fact that there is a substantial number of respondents in the higher age (65 and well beyond) categories says much for a voluntary participation online survey in the present day.

Technology has become ever present and ubiquitous across the spectrum in society.

So technology is changing – that is a given.  But what about housing expectations?

It would seem from the figures that increasingly we are seeing higher proportions in the population that are living in apartments rather than standalone dwellings.

This is particularly the case in Auckland, and follows the trends that have been identified in recent NZ Census data although it is hard to nail down specifics from the responses to the survey.

Apartment living is on the rise, as is living alone. The question for society and housing policy is significant. What types of housing should we be constructing for the future?

The survey figures provide a snapshot, as does the Census. But does this indicate what is actually likely to be needed in the future?

Practically, today's young people eventually age – sorry folks, this happens. Trust me – the alternatives are not attractive!

Currently there is a demand for apartments close to amenities and work. Indeed 'empty nesters' are increasingly looking towards this 'lock up and leave' style of living, as well as investors seeking to buy into this new development theme.

Needless to say, industry is responding to this emergent demand. A cursory glance at the skyline in Auckland will reward the observer with views of a substantial number of apartment projects underway.

Renting rather than home ownership is increasingly adopted. Either from financial necessity or from choice. But trends change, as will societal norm.

We have seen increasing amounts of rental living for many years. Currently around 56 per cent are owner occupiers compared to a previous high of 72 per cent in the 1990s.

For current rental dwellers, family homes will eventually become their expectation.

A place to grow a family and bring up children. Is the current vogue for trendy, hipster apartments likely to remain extant?

Maybe not. Society is evolving so quickly with respect to technology and its use that current developments will age extremely quickly in terms of functionality.

How do I know? Easy. In the few minutes that you have been looking at this article, how many texts have arrived? How many FB updates? Instagram messages? What about emails?

If you are using a desktop, have your stroked your phone to see if you have missed anything? Exactly.

Studies show millennials check their phones 150 times a day. Current psychology is attuned to change and stimulus. Can we really expect the construction industry response to our current demands to stand the test of time? I do not believe so.

So how can we deal with these competing demands? As society continues to evolve, designers and builders will have to become more creative in how housing and infrastructure delivery matches our expectations.

Flexibility and reconfigurability will be essential for the future; generous, shared spaces to allow family growth in suburbs, once the preserve of singletons.

In the final analysis we have an almost insuperable benchmark from history: The Kiwi Quarter-Acre Dream.

But designers and builders will need to deliver this in a quarter of the space and at a quarter of the cost. Maybe this should be the future of KiwiBuild?

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First appearance

This opinion piece was first published on Stuff.