A National Science Challenge research programme looked into what is working and what’s not for residents of two medium-density housing developments. The findings are useful as this building type is increasingly popular.
IN RECENT YEARS, there has been much discussion about the need to intensify housing. Reasons range from the need to accommodate growing populations, make more efficient use of infrastructure, avoid urban sprawl onto productive soils and reduce our carbon footprint. Smaller houses are also seen as one way of making homes more affordable.
What do residents think of their new homes?
But what happens when the new home shine wears off? What do residents who have moved to medium-density housing think about their new homes? What works well and what, with the benefit of hindsight, would they change or improve? What advice would residents give to designers and builders to allow them to deliver even better medium-density housing? And does living in medium-density housing deliver a high quality of life?
Two Auckland developments studied
The Shaping Places: Future Neighbourhoods programme of the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities: Ko ngā wā kāinga hei whakamāhorahora National Science Challenge has undertaken research to understand what it is like to live in two medium-density neighbourhoods in Auckland – Hobsonville and Waimahia Inlet.
Hobsonville Point is the largest master-planned residential development in New Zealand and also the largest medium-density development in New Zealand. When completed, the 167 hectares of Hobsonville Point will house 11,000 people in 4,500 homes. Waimahia Inlet is an affordable housing development of 295 houses.
The research process included surveys, interviews or focus groups.
Overall positive experience
Despite many residents having reservations about moving into medium-density developments, particularly with respect to lack of privacy and the close proximity of neighbours raising concerns about noise, overall their experience was positive.
The research process identified factors that contribute to a high level of satisfaction with homes as well as some areas where, having lived in houses, residents identify what would improve liveability further.
The average house size in Hobsonville Point is 167 m², and in Waimahia, houses ranged from 129.5 m² to 150 m². The design of the houses with open-plan spaces is versatile for both everyday living and accommodating larger groups.
In Hobsonvillle, the ability for clients to make changes to internal modifications during the design and build process was a positive, with kitchens the space where most modifications were made.
Noise, privacy and security
Design decisions and choice of materials largely alleviated residents’ concerns about noise and to some extent privacy. Concerns about privacy arose in houses where ground-level living areas were oriented towards the street rather than to a private outdoor area away from the street.
Residents with ground-level street-facing living areas did not feel that they could leave living room doors that opened to the street ajar unless they were in the room. Those with rear-facing living areas felt safe leaving doors open when at home, whether in the room or not.
Accessibility could be improved
Accessibility, particularly for elderly or mobility-impaired guests, was also raised. Residents suggested that incorporating Lifemark design features of level entry, wider doorways and a downstairs toilet would greatly improve their homes for residents and guests.
Heating, cooling and ventilation
Residents commented that their homes were warm, dry and easy to heat but not so easy to cool, especially in summer.
Many residents commented that the absence of cooling and ventilation in upstairs levels was an issue, and they would have liked to see this designed in from the start.
Garages often not used for cars
A significant proportion of residents do not use their garages for storing cars. Those that do commented that single and tandem garages were often too narrow to open the doors on modern cars.
Many homeowners have converted their garages for other uses, including additional living, bedroom or office space. Designing and building with this in mind by insulating and double glazing garages is likely to improve livability for residents.
Storage is important
Residents in both Hobsonville and Waimahia reported that they have added storage as this was lacking in many homes, particularly general storage such as linen or coat cupboards and sufficient storage in the kitchen.
Storage for outdoor items such as bikes was also an issue, particularly when the garage was single.
Varied quality and durability of finishes
The quality of materials, fittings and finishes was noted both positively and negatively, with residents in both developments valuing quality and durability.
At Waimahia, some residents noted that plaster and paint finishes were below what residents had hoped for, and wear and tear – for example, paint chipping, marks and dents in walls and fittings breaking – appeared early.
While residents are prepared to make trade-offs with the quality of finishing for affordability reasons, there is also an expectation that fittings and finishes will stand up to normal family life.
Amenity of the wider neighbourhood matters
A key trade-off when moving into medium-density developments is the loss of private space, especially outdoor space. In both Hobsonville and Waimahia, the developers addressed this trade-off by providing quality shared and public outdoor green space. The importance of this was noted by many residents, and usage of shared spaces is high.
Overall, at both Hobsonville and Waimahia, the experience of living in medium-density housing has been positive and, in many cases, has exceeded residents’ initial expectations. Good design and choice of materials along with quality shared and public amenities are key to achieving this positive experience.
Further detail on the findings from these studies can be found at www.buildingbetter.nz.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.