Lessons in Density: approaches to teaching housing design for higher densities

  • YEAR
    Turner, David
    2018 Conference Papers
    Architectural Science: Design Education and Research
    Conference Papers


In cities affected by high growth rates the public debates generated by intensification policies are vigorous, dividing opinion along established political lines: higher densities are generally acceptable to the left, and suburban densities are defended on the right. Auckland, New Zealand is not an exception. In architecture, such opinions and the divisions between them can become the source of argument, sometimes exhilarating, in the generally pragmatic routine of housing design. Students in Architecture Schools, many themselves the products of the suburbs also have political opinions, some tending to individualist conservative positions, others open to concepts of social community as a function of housing. Media debates inform and influence our work in design teaching. One side of the debate advocates for the continuation of low density suburbs, regarded as our rightful inheritance, our true culture of housing, and the most secure route to high and stable property values. Thirty years after Thatcher’s infamous statement, “social engineering” continues to be debated, even as architects in practice acknowledge that some manifestation of community is a probable consequence of higher densities. Recognising higher density housing as an issue in urban design and in professional practice, our Design Studios include at least one “housing” project in each of the second and third year project lists. These project briefs define housing design as the development of generic models and typologies for the unknown client. Two Elective courses in the Unitec School Programme expand on history, construction detail, sustainability parameters, and prime exemplars of the genre. This Paper describes the Electives and identifies issues that emerge most frequently from the Studio process and from studies conducted in the Electives: density, as the “first variable” in housing, used as a design tool (how to measure it, and how to define its effects); the qualitative issues of privacy and identity; and the readiness of most students to engage with ethical responsibilities relating to user anonymity (concepts of duty). Its conclusions suggest that students of this generation are capable of understanding and using the technical rules of housing design and also to competently express ideas dealing with social dimensions at levels of considerable subtlety.


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