Social housing designed with panache

NICE JOB: Architect Dave Strachan and student Travers Reynolds on the deck of a house built by Unitec students for VisionWest charity.
NICE JOB: Architect Dave Strachan and student Travers Reynolds on the deck of a house built by Unitec students for VisionWest charity.

A group of architecture students are providing the building blocks of a better future for marginalised families.

Sixteen students from Unitec have spent the past year designing, documenting and building two dwellings that will soon be transported to a Henderson plot owned by VisionWest community trust.

The trust will rent out the two and four-bedroom homes at a price below market rate.

Student Travers Reynolds said the likely tenant for the properties will be someone who is struggling to get into other housing schemes.

"And that might be a woman living in her own car with a child," he said.

"So we have tried to provide something nicer than what they might expect, and that just performed better as a building."

The brief was simple - the students had free reign with design within the budget constraints, but there was one minor request.

"The director of VisionWest loves a flat roof, so he was pretty happy with anything that had a flat roof."

The homes are equipped with large north-facing windows, a concrete slab floor that enables warmth to be trapped from the sun and a single-pitch roof akin to an insulation sandwich.

"With the colour we tried to think about what a house in west Auckland would look like if it had grown out of the ground, so this forest green and ironsand come together nicely," Reynolds said.

The work was done under the guidance of Dave Strachan, adjunct professor and director of Epsom-based firm Strachan Group Architects.

Strachan has been running the Studio 19 project for the past five years and says this is the first attempt at social housing.

He said the main challenge was creating a high-performing house for a modest budget.

"Typically they get a very low-performance house that has no design content," he said.

"These people battle to pay their power bills, so we have put things in like low-energy lighting and made very high-performing thermal envelopes."

The project offers practical experience for students who are often disconnected from what they put on paper and how it works in reality.

"When students draw a line on a page, it's just a sketchy line and they don't really know what it means," Strachan said.

"Then of course the line becomes something very real when they start to build it, so that is closing the loop."

VisionWest community housing manager Mark Woolley said the finished product was outstanding.

"It's innovative and it's on the cutting edge of design."
He said the project proved affordable social housing needn't look bad.

"You can drive past social housing and spot them out, but these are funky and they are something to be proud of."

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