Architecture

The new village: ageing and suburban planning

March 29, 2016

The family home of the future may not be a single, monolithic structure at all, but a collection of interdependent units that together function as a modular whole.

Photography Tess Kelly.

“ If you can facilitate a harmonious multigenerational existence through good design – and you can – then that’s an outcome worth pursuing.”

Andrew Maynard, Austin Maynard Architects

In fact, the family home of the future may not be a single, monolithic structure at all, but a collection of interdependent units that together function as a modular whole. This is already a common practice in South-East Asia, where a collectivist culture means it is not unusual to subdivide property and construct a series of annexes to the primary family home, independent dwellings for offspring and extended family, as well as grandparents. The result is often a supple family compound that expands and contracts according to the shifting configurations within. The Chinese call this a siheyuan and they are often of noble standing; the Balinese call it a karang and conceive it as a microcosm of the universe.

Architect Andrew Maynard’s Tower House (2015) for an expanding family in Alphington, north-east of Melbourne, is a wonderful example of innovative adaptive reuse of a suburban dwelling. Rather than simply append an extra room or two to the primary volume (the standard practice of suburban architect/builders for over a century), Maynard has created a mini village of smaller volumes scattered across the property. Playful, the pitch roofed, shingle and sheet metal structures look like so many Monopoly tokens laid out to an apparently haphazard design, but are in fact rigorously interconnected via sliding wall panels to create an internally coherent family home. Maynard refers to the compound as ‘anti-monolith’, and it is open-ended enough to grow and contract with the needs of future generations. “Any situation where you have grandparents living with grandchildren is a positive one,” says Maynard. “If you can facilitate a harmonious multigenerational existence through good design – and you can – then that’s an outcome worth pursuing.”

While Maynard’s solution may be too radical for some, there is a simpler – and very familiar – answer to expanding and contracting families: the granny flat. In the past, more often than not a humble, single-storey fibro sheet bungalow that ended up as storage or a band practice room, the genre has undergone something of a renaissance thanks in large part to the small house movement.

Upping the ante, Japanese homewares brand, Muji recently unveiled three remakes of the traditional kyosho jutaku, or ‘lucky drops’ – micro homes conceived to fit on a standard city parking allotment. The three huts are called the hut of cork (Jasper Morrison), the hut of aluminium (Konstantin Grcic) and the hut of wood (Naota Fukasawa) and, together, they illuminate a debate about small dwellings that are not only feasible but entirely credible. At 3 by 3.3 by 4.5 metres, Grcic’s two-storey hut is constructed from a composite wall system of an outer aluminium, inner plywood, with an insulating layer in between. The ground floor is for reading/lounging, the upper floor for sleeping. The Muji range of kyosho jutaku are priced from $US25,000 to $US40,000 and will be released in Japan in 2016.

This article is an extract from the Architecture and Design Forecast 2016. To find out more on the Forecast, visit future.australiandesignreview.com

Click here to purchase your exclusive copy of the Forecast.

  • Annie Cass March 31st, 2016 11:35 am

    Like all of Maynard’s work – I’m a fan! – it is a very good house. But we need to think beyond the individual family here. I have family members, a daughter-in-law and her lovely mum, who have mobility issues. With the older lady, this is the result of a degenerative disease, and it’s not going to get a lot better. I have also, in a past life, worked in aged care.
    So I can see a lot wrong from an inclusion point of view with the sort of real estate that still sells best, the individual suburban house. Yes, these can be made to work as multi-generational accommodation if the whole family is in the same town, but that happens less and less now. We move for career and survival reasons, and Grandma is left to fend for herself all too often. Nobody wants that, but it happens.
    So we need to design whole communities when we build neighbourhoods. We need family houses, yes, with self-contained apartments for teens or elders, but we also need comfortable ground-level apartments for those with health or mobility issues, we need hip singles apartments for child-free couples or singles, and we need all these various types of accommodation – but particularly that for the mobility-impaired – within easy walk of desirable facilities, because planning dependent on the car makes prisoners of those who cannot drive.
    Most of all, we need to mix these up, so that children, teens, parents and elders mix at street level. On their feet!


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