Learning from the rest of the world
Curbing our housing crisis
With the housing crisis reaching fever pitch and 10 per cent of those houses that are available remaining unoccupied; the need for economical, well-sized houses to fit the masses, is higher than ever.
In overpopulated countries such as the United States, the ‘tiny house’ movement has become a craze that city slickers can’t look past. With houses growing from 2,479 in 2007 to 2,662 square feet in 2013, the tiny house movement signals a move to houses of less than 1,000 square feet and even as low as 400 or 80 square feet. For those who like to stay on the move, the gypsy lifestyle has also caught on, with tiny houses on wheels becoming almost as popular as the all-American RV.
While the movement is most active in the United States, interest in tiny homes has also taken a resurgence in other developed countries such as Japan, where a 925 square foot home for four was developed in Tokyo, called House to Catch the Sky. The three-storey home literally reaches out to the sky with a large opening in the roof and upstairs windows that bring in the sun while keeping the inside rooms private from the homes next door.
In Barcelona, the House in a Suitcase, or Casa En Una Maleta, was built inside a 293 square foot apartment. “The project investigates minimum space in our daily activities; the pieces of furniture open according to each moment of the day. Thus, the unique space of the room 9x3x3 metres varies in size and use during the everyday activities,” said the architects, Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores.
Meanwhile in Manchester, Abito created intelligent living space apartments of 353 square feet. The Abito concept includes a central pod which serves all the functions that you would normally find in a much bigger house. This includes a kitchen, bedroom, living room and office space. Like the House in a Suitcase, the Abito living space is a minimalistic way of utilising all living spaces depending on the time of day.
Further north, Tiny House Scotland has created the Nesthouse which is a 250 square foot modular moveable small eco-house that can be built and moved wherever you choose to live. The houses, which cost approximately 155,000 euros each, can be powered on or off the grid and can include a variety of modules including the bathroom, kitchen and sleep niche. This means that they can also be moved about on wheels and operated anywhere you choose to travel to.
In Germany the community of Vauban created 5,000 households in an abandoned military base in Freiburg. It was built as "a sustainable model district" on the site of the base which was named after Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the 17th century French Marshal who built fortifications in Freiburg while the region was under French rule. Construction began in 1998 and by 2001, the first 2,000 residents had already moved in.
Each of the houses in the community are built to a low-energy consumption standard, with many of them heated by a combined heat and power station burning wood chips and the remainder working on solar collectors or photovoltaic cells. It is the first housing community in the world that produces a positive energy balance throughout the homes and the solar energy surplus is then sold back into the city's grid for a profit to every home.
Elsewhere in Germany, British architect Richard Horden and the Technical University of Munich developed the Micro Compact Home, a high end 76-square-foot cube home which is designed for one or two people, with useable spaces for the kitchen, bathroom, office and sleeping areas.
While the jury is out about whether we are meeting the demand in our biggest city, Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia, which has an estimated population like Auckland, with an infrastructure built to accommodate fewer than half that number, is currently in the middle of a large, sustainable development. While Liberia is a first-world country, it does signify the need to build on reusable and sustainable technology to improve living conditions.
In 2007, the Liberian National Housing Authority (NHA) invited Broad Cove Partners, an American company that builds housing in frontier markets, to submit a proposal to develop affordable housing.
The organisation eventually reached an agreement to develop a 300-acre parcel of land with 1,200 single-family homes on the main highway between Monrovia and the International Airport outside of the city.
In 2009, a $1.9 million loan was given to Liberia to support the first phase of the project, which would consist of approximately 80 basic homes ranging from between $25,000 and $30,000.
The homes are being built with renewable and locally-sourced materials such as bamboo, clay tiles, sustainably harvested timber, and bricks made from compressed earth and cement which will keep the houses naturally cool. The project also incorporates solar power systems and is exploring the possibility of using recycled rainwater.
Meanwhile, the Flow House was originally designed for New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by the Make it Right Foundation to revitalise the Lower 9th area of New Orleans. After the home has been used to its extent, all materials can be either recycled or returned to nature.
The house incorporates flowing light, which works with the local climate and utilises locally sourced sustainable products in the build. This includes rainwater harvesting potential, photovoltaic roof panels and rain gardens to absorb any storm water runoff.
“The flexible design is able to accommodate the evolution of technology and changing family structures over time while celebrating direct connections between residents and their environment and neighbours,” says senior designer Jose Atienza.
Built on the outskirts of Paris, the “Sustainable Eco-House” is also an interesting project where the residence has been built entirely with the use of wood panels. The house was prefabricated in a workshop then delivered to the site and assembled within two weeks (an amazing building time for those of us who have ever gone through the long and drawn out building process).
The most intriguing element of the building is unfinished roof, with a functionality explained by the architects: “on the one hand, it takes the archetype of the context, inserting the project in its environment without disrupting the urban rhythm, on the other hand, it won’t accommodate a closed roof that would become a catch-all attic or a wasted space. So, we have inserted inhabitants in it, and have left it open by transforming it into a vegetable terrace, intimate and sunny”.
Thanks to clever architectural design, the building can be remodelled depending on the taste and needs of the owner. The property is also built entirely out of sustainable larch panelling and can be assembled in pre-fab fashion in only two weeks. Equipped with a rainwater harvester for plants and efficient external insulation, this property is both ecologically sound and a money saver.
Similar to the shipping container RE: Start project which took place in Christchurch, following the earthquake, another home in Denver, Colorado was made by craning two shipping containers onto a steel platform and encasing them in panelling.
The house features two bedrooms, a kitchen, study, bathroom and laundry, with concrete floors to provide natural insulation from the sun and solar photovoltaic panels to provide electricity.
While countries worldwide are slowly beginning to incorporate sustainable housing into the remaining infrastructure, New Zealand still has a long way to go.
As of June 2017, there were 1.84 million private dwellings in the country. On average nearly three people are housed by each private dwelling. In the year ended June 2017, there was potentially a shortfall of about 9,000 new homes consented compared to what was needed to meet increased demand from a larger population in the same period.
Official figures prepared for the new housing minister estimate a shortfall of 45,000 houses in Auckland, with supply of new homes well behind increased demand.
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) put the shortfall at as high as 44,738 homes, following a huge growth in demand through 2013 to 2015 which a more gradual increase in completed new homes did not keep pace with.
Meanwhile, in Christchurch, the housing boom has prompted a huge building resurgence which has, in some cases, outweighed the need. Currently, some of Christchurch's rental market is oversupplied and freshly-built terraced houses are sitting empty and unsold in the suburbs.
This puts pressure on the pockets of the developers, however according to Tony Brazier of Brazier Property Management, "We only see the market having gone too far when we see builders going bust. They don't know until it's too late . . . they have a long-time lag for work to be done."
So, for now, the key is finding a niche market for extra houses and sensible planning for future population growth, the question is, will we get it right before the housing bubble pops?