Unitec School of Architecture Senior Lecturer Dr David Turner is calling for better oversight of Auckland’s housing design to ensure developments improve housing supply while maintaining privacy and social amenities.
In an article published in the architectural journal Asylum last month, Dr. Turner says that regulations under the 2016 Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) have permitted housing developments that don’t meet the standard needed for higher density urban housing.
The AUP’s goals are to intensify housing within the city, with the new rules reducing earlier minimum site sizes, set-backs and external space, and increasing allowable building heights.
Dr. Turner says the standard of medium density housing design is now being set by three generic models: a three-storey walk-up apartment block, terraced housing in two and three-storey versions, and stand-alone houses.
The three-storey apartment design is widely used, often replacing two or three detached houses with up to twenty apartments. This ratio achieves the AUP’s density goals of increasing density from nine or ten dwellings per hectare (DPH) to between 70-100 DPH. These apartments meet the demands of smaller households and require lower capital costs and less maintenance, he says.
As well, apartment blocks and terraced housing usually include practical ratios of parking on the site, good standards of privacy between units, adequate outlook from habitable rooms, and a reasonable provision of public external space for residents.
However, the multi-storey detached house model often involves an extreme reduction of private external space because of the relaxing of requirements under the new rules. This approach has seen side yards in the new layouts built with no more than the minimum space needed for building access. There are no gardens and the private open space was often reduced to less than a metre of land between house and fence.
“The stand-alone house type has its origins in a preference for separate buildings among New Zealanders,” Dr. Turner says.
“Unfortunately, at these higher densities, the layouts sacrifice privacy, with distances between buildings reduced to the point of extreme discomfort, windows close to boundaries and exposure to windows in the adjoining property.”
The infill model has also seen Auckland’s traditionally wooded suburbs and mature backyard planting steadily disappear, with more of the city’s suburban surface becoming impermeable, he says. Private enclosed gardens for children, the washing, pets and fruit trees no longer exist.
Furthermore, notes Dr. Turner, at twenty-five dwellings per hectare, these developments weren’t making intensive use of land or contributing to the housing numbers needed for the supply of housing to increase as intended.
“These schemes are evidence that detached housing is a type of design that supplies large floor areas at sub-urban densities. Within the present demographic pattern of progressively lower occupancy rates, housing at this density does not populate suburbs with enough people to satisfy the policy’s purposes of increasing use of amenities and public transport.”
As many intensification developments have been completed in the four years since the AUP was adopted, and numerous others are in progress, Dr. Tuner believes it is now time to ask the policy-makers what their intentions were when they abandoned density constraints, and to investigate ways to institute stricter controls on developments to ensure they achieve their intended purpose.