Anecdotes about a practice's humble beginnings in small-scale housing are common, but does this downplay the significance of residential architecture? Peter Edwards reflects on the housing conversations that took place at the 2017 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum.
Many fledgling studios cut their teeth on residential work, starting on small-scale projects before attracting larger commissions. At the second in the University of Queensland’s 2017 lecture series, held at the State Library of Queensland, Melissa Liando of Csutoras and Liando explained how the Jakarta-based practice had initially formed to refurbish a small house. Five years later, Csutoras and Liando has an eclectic collection of projects under its belt, each underpinned by ideas about public and private space.
Anecdotes about humble beginnings in housing are familiar, but they tend to downplay the significance of residential architecture to the big picture. As the densification of cities is compounded by macroeconomic strains, the need for effective residential design is acute.
So how can we live together more effectively? The recent 2017 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum sparked a flurry of discourse on housing, considered at the scale of individual projects. Across a number of events, Liando and other architects from the Asia Pacific region explored the theme of effective housing. Four principles for residential practice can be distilled from these discussions.
Housing must be amenable
It may seem obvious to say that housing must provide amenity, yet amenity is something that is too often compromised. At the Our Houses: City Living in Brisbane and Seoul event hosted by Houses magazine, Brisbane-based architect Justin O’Neill (O’Neill Architecture) and Korean partners Sojung Lee and Sangjoon Kwak of OBBA addressed the nature of amenity. Although there are stark differences between the cultural expectations of housing in Brisbane and Seoul, all three speakers specified access to sunlight, privacy, ventilation and views as important benchmarks.
Sharing their perspective of Seoul, Lee and Kwak described how the rapid urbanization and densification of Seoul have required an enormous volume of households to exist in close proximity. Together with the economic imperative to maximize floor area, this has led to housing that is commonly plagued by constant shadow, poor ventilation, issues with overlooking and mandated window-screens blocking access to views. The work of OBBA seeks to innovate towards better quality living by providing maximum floor area without relying on maximum site cover. The studio’s work has challenged the status quo in Seoul, demonstrating that the long-term value of effective design outweighs the upfront expense.
Housing must be congenial
A city is defined by juxtapositions. Put simply, residential architecture can contribute to its community or shield its residents from it. A neighbourhood of tall walls, visual separation and car dependency stifles the activation of local environments and discourages investment in public spaces and facilities. Thus the house, townhouse or apartment complex becomes weighed down by the need to facilitate every function – an inefficient blueprint for living.
Complementing the views of Lee and Kwak, O’Neill outlined his reservations about the Australian tendency to favour quantity over quality in residential design. O’Neill’s argument was that appropriate development must not “steal from its neighbours” in order to deliver liveability. In essence, while maximized built volume in apartment developments may appease town planners and drive profitability, it also capitalizes on the very views, daylight and lifestyle that it robs from adjacent sites – making such development both unsustainable and uncongenial.
Housing must be personal
We don’t all live the same way, so it is important that residential architecture is fit for purpose. At the opening lecture for the Brickworks International Speaker Series, the charismatic South Korean architect Moon Hoon delivered a lively presentation of his flamboyant houses, which represent the extreme of personalised housing. Although ostentatious, iconographic designs such as Wind House, Two Moon and S Mahal House push the point that houses should be designed for occupancy rather than resale.
Taking a more measured and sustainable tack, Cairns-based People Oriented Design presented its The Least House Necessary workshop, which encourages architects to rethink what constitutes the fundamental needs of housing for their clients. Developed in response to the project homes and template apartments saturating the market, The Least House Necessary pushes back against generic and bloated floor plans, arguing instead for the lifestyle, environmental and affordability benefits of this philosophy. The maxim “houses for people, not people for houses” rings true.
Housing must be contextual
On the Brisbane Open House Unplugged: Houses Tour of the self-designed homes of Liam Proberts (Bureau Proberts), Michael Rayner (Blight Rayner) and Caroline Stalker and Bruce Carrick (Archipelago, LookOut Design), it became evident that all three residences shared similar elements appropriate to Brisbane’s climate and conditions. All three projects extend narrow, two-storey plans along typically slender Brisbane sites towards double-height living spaces at the rear. All three also use fenestration to blur the boundaries between inside and outside, taking advantage of natural vistas and the subtropical climate. Though their detailing and materiality vary, when viewed together the houses betray a shared design strategy optimized to the local context.
Across the Asia Pacific, different contexts demand different design responses. Sharing case studies from tropical Jakarta, Melissa Liando described a need for deep overhangs and passive cooling to manage the heat, humidity and rainfall. Moon Hoon explained the priority of insulation and thermal separation in South Korea, where the mean temperature drops below freezing in winter.
With dozens of architects presenting scores of projects in a plethora of formats, it can be challenging to cover the breadth of the entire forum’s scope in a succinct review. However, for practitioners in the residential sphere, the Asia Pacific Architecture Forum provided a timely reminder of the universal values that underpin good housing design.
The Asia Pacific Architecture Forum is a collaboration between founding partners Architecture Media and State Library of Queensland. Presenting partners are Artisan, Australian Institute of Architects, Brickworks, Brisbane Open House, Gap Filler, Garden Variety, Museum of Brisbane, Pecha Kucha Brisbane, The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Queensland University of Technology Creative Industries, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation and University of Queensland School of Architecture.