Reconfiguring Suburbia - Small Homes Retrofitting & Adaption Service

Published 10 November 2021

Written By Jamal Tomkinson

University of Melbourne MARCH - Thesis Project
Supervisor: Associate Professor Rory Hyde

Reshaping our suburbs with smart design - Project by Jamal Tomkinson

Almost fifty years have passed since Robyn Boyd deployed the Small Homes Service Model that injected good design into the then outer suburbs. At the time issues facing the suburbs consisted of an abundance of land and a lack of materials, today those once outer areas have transitioned into middle-ring landscapes that are now facing a very different set of challenges. These areas have a plethora of housing stock that is unsustainable, unaffordable, and does not factor in shifting demographics and needs to increase in density.

Although there are new typologies of buildings that address the latter, they seem to miss the point of what people desire about the suburbs and aim to reach the masses through a top-down approach and strip the neighborhood of its character.
With “Renovation” culture consisting of 1/3rd of Australia’s construction spending, there is a clear opportunity for architects to provide advice on how to re-shape these communities, capitalizing on the bottom-up approach.

This service would facilitate the process of modifications to existing homes that create diverse options for different occupancy types and purposes, retain their character, and reconfigure density that is more socially and sustainably driven, aligning with the needs of a “new self-sustaining suburbia”. By formulating case study homes, the physical demonstration of new ways of living acts as a catalyst in conjunction with an upgrading service thus engaging the transformation of suburbia. Shifting the suburbs from a mono-functional landscape to just sleep and commute to one of free-flowing ecology of sharing and caring, creating an undulating and diversifying network of sustainability and economic and social richness.

The concept of the proposal is a service that takes existing housing stock, subdivides, or adds to this then, retrofits them to provide different demographic options and purposes. The fences are removed from the boundaries resulting in a new shared open community. The subtraction of fences allows the urban morphology of the suburb to be translated from a place where social interactions are ordered by the street, to a connected social dynamic. The result of this convergence provides new program boundaries dictating what is public, semi-public, and semi-private.

By formulating a series of case study homes associated with the service, for people to come physically view within the immediate context, coupled with the ability of the architecture to facilitate more community engagement moments would have an organic spread across the suburbs. The service could adopt one or two houses at a time with further development plugged in down the time. This could be engaged by developing parties via neighboring sites, neighbors self mobilizing orchestrated by the service or the community. The final result of the service would essentially turn the shut-off nature of the grid in the suburbs into one of porous nature.

The program will consist of Six modified detached post-war case study houses. Each foregrounding different themes such as co-living, sustainability, and density, amalgamated into one independent community with shared resources for a range of demographic types explored on a case-by-case basis.

Case study house 1 explores options for elderly aging in place. An aging resident could leverage their property and create an adaption of their existing home, providing extra income and concurrently creating a small community for residents. This is achieved by dividing the existing home to create two separate self-sustained units, with an additional living unit and social club at the rear that is flexible for future conversion to an additional dwelling. The configuration of the units provides a balance between internal and external interaction. Gardens at the front and a seating area, allowing the architecture to facilitate the connection with neighbors on the street interface as shown on the left. The internal courtyard with a bbq area provides additional shared space for the occupants to carry out activities and assists in creating enriching relationships between the elderly.

Case Study House 2 sees a scenario where there is a stay-at-home parent who is seeking a space to run a community home daycare, A partner who needs space to work from home, and a granny flat scenario. The house is extended with the granny flat, kitchen and childcare program at the rear and the existing 2nd living room is converted into a small home office. At the front of the building is an open playground. The childcare area has the opportunity to adapt to an additional living area in the future. The L shape extension provides the inner courtyard space for children to play, as well as a clear connection to allow for passive surveillance.

Case study house 3 contains a family that wishes to leverage the dual occ laws, to create an additional unit using side infill techniques. The original house uses dual access points for the conversion of the front room to a work-from-home scenario, and a rear granny flat extension that outlines the interior courtyard. The side unit creates space for an additional family of up to 5 people. The front interface promotes interactions from both dwellings with a bbq area. The roofline of the infill structure follows a similar angle, to retain the characteristics of the adjacent post-war home. Internally, a large skylight provides ample light to the middle of the lateral structure, with an open dining space, that opens out to the courtyard.

The 4th case study home is designed for a couple who recently purchased an older house, but want to bring it up to date with sustainability standards, implementing a deep retrofit. The garage is retrofitted and adapted for a small business with a hidden kitchenette and bathroom space. The adjacent greenhouse is split into a meeting room and a garden space for community use. The building is retrofitted to a 7 star home with sustainability victoria standards. The section shows the application of different strategies with an emphasis on aspects such as draught-proofing, air-tightness testing and energy, and water-saving techniques. The openness of the rear boundary provides an inviting dynamic for others in the complex to engage in the shared garden.

Case study House 5 is based on a young couple who are seeking to start a co-working network for the neighborhood. The prefab pods are placed in a group formation at the rear and the front of the building is also converted into a small hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. The pods consist of meeting spaces, presentation rooms, and desk spaces. This fosters the connection of individuals from different professional backgrounds as well as alternate use in other scenarios. The rear boundary opens up to the path which leads to the community hub to be used for lunchtime interactions.

House 6 is for a family that leverages the property to create an interlocking model for additional units to gain passive income, whilst creating alternative housing for nonnuclear residents. The original house has an additional level to maximize density, with the rear units connected by a shared courtyard as well as a private outdoor space. The second level is designed in a way where there is no overlooking to adjacent properties.

The case study houses are supported by a service model used as the delivery mechanism to upgrade suburbia. The scheme could be in conjunction with local government, the D.P.C.D, and a team of architects. The service would use an online application point, to then be assessed by an architect to further formulate options, supported by incentives from the government. Several different build options can be explored, such as a private builder, chosen by the client, a sustainably accredited builder or, a provided DIY toolkit for clients who choose to build themselves. The scheme would dramatically incentivize those who are willing to convert their existing homes into shared community-dwellings.

The application of these new-formed and connected communities unlocks a poly-nodal, gently densifying, and diverse 20-minute neighborhood. The disperse of a range of different programs has the ability to adapt to new changing social and economic conditions while connecting to existing amenities.

This retrofitting and adaption service has the possibility to transform, the once segregated neighborhood dominated by low-quality private spaces, into a free-flowing ecology of high-quality shared spaces, amenities, and culture. These areas now have a plethora of housing stock that is sustainable, provides affordable options, and factors in shifting demographics upgrading suburbia to the needs of today.

We offer deep respect to the traditional custodians of this land and honour their ancestors who have nurtured and cared for this country for thousands of years. We pay homage to the living cultures, languages, and knowledge systems of the Noongar, Wurundjeri and all Indigenous Australian peoples.