Where are architects going with housing?Posted: June 30, 2011
Victoria’s architects had their annual awards ceremony last Friday, handing out gongs in a range of categories. Curiously, the official AIA site shows the happy faces of the winning architects, but no pictures of the winning buildings. It should have both! Nevertheless, I finally succeeded in locating a file showing pictures of all the winning buildings in all categories – see Award Winners 2011.
Given the pressing housing issues facing our cities – like declining affordability and the need for higher densities in established suburbs – I was curious to see what the best architects in the State were doing in housing design, so I took a look at the winners in the New Residential Architecture category.
The premier honour for residential architecture in Victoria – The Harold Desbrowe-Annear Award – was won by NMBW Architecture Studio for a house in Sorrento. This is a detached house on a relatively large lot. In fact it
could be is an up-market beach house.
There were three other winners in the New Residential category. Two of them – Beached House, by BKK Architects, and Westernport House, by Sally Draper Architects – are also detached houses in relatively remote (from Melbourne) locations, seemingly on even larger lots.
The only winner located in a metropolitan setting is the Law Street house, built for their own use by husband and wife architects, Amy Muir and Bruno Mendes. I like it, but architect’s own houses don’t generally provide a template for addressing the wider task of housing the population at large.
In contrast, there were only two awards for higher density housing. The premier Best Overend Award for Multiple Residential went to architects Elenberg Fraser for the A’Beckett Tower (see exhibits) and the other to Hayball architects for a three storey development in John Street, Doncaster.
The A’Beckett Tower has a strong and colourful presence on the edge of the CBD that must have impressed the jury. You can see something of what the architects achieved with the interior of this award-winning building by looking at the floor plan of a 63 m2 two bedroom unit (see first exhibit) and at these pictures. Hmmmmm…….nice view.
Doubtless these are all worthy winners and I have no problem with architects designing upmarket houses. But I do wonder what vision the profession has of its social and economic relevance when it gives four awards to single dwellings – three of them detached and in essentially non-urban locations – and only two to multi-unit housing. In any event, I’d expect most income from residential work would be coming from multi-unit housing, not from a handful of made-to-order upmarket dwellings.
On another aspect, I found this extract from the jury’s citation for the A’Beckett Tower interesting. According to the judges, the project demonstrates “understanding, skill and inventiveness within the constraints of a developer-driven, large scale apartment building”. Developer-driven!? The implication seems to be that the architect’s job is unusually (unreasonably?) hard when the client wants to come out ahead financially and not lose money! Is the corollary that architects needn’t worry too much about what clients who aren’t developers want?