A Design Perspective

Back in 2013, Housing New Zealand divested themselves of over 2,500 properties in the Tamaki area, with just over 200 of those homes falling within Northern Glen Innes. Creating Communities, a hand-picked consortium of architects, developers and builders, was given the task of re-imagining and redeveloping these existing sites to provide a mix of modern, social and affordable housing for the people of the area.

To help with the planning and the design of these new homes, Creating Communities engaged two of New Zealand’s leading architectural firms – Construkt Architects and Ashton Mitchell Architects.

Construkt, led by Principal Architect Russell Cannons, worked on the master plan, with the detailed design phase operating as a collaboration between Construkt and Ashton Mitchell.

Russell Cannons - Principal Architect, Construkt Architects.

Looking at the existing housing in the Northern Glen Innes precinct, Cannons says there seemed to have been very little thought given to the urban design of the area when it was first conceived. “Roads were carved through gullies, houses were placed in the centre of large plots of land, without any connection to the street, without good solar orientation, and without easy access to the land the houses sat on.”

“As we began to work on this project, we tried to address some of these issues,” explains Cannons. “And, as part of this change, this inevitably involved density and intensifying the suburb by smarter and better use of the land.”

Whilst Cannons recognised there is often a romantic association with the existing state houses, he and his team also understood the need to bring these new homes up to the current standard and expectations as to how we live today.

“There’s a line that we use around the office that the social house is never the experimental house on the corner. It’s about familiarity and legibility – dignity of the tenants through design.”

To assist with the detailed design stage of the project, Ben Sando, Design Director at Ashton Mitchell Architects, assembled a team to work collaboratively with Cannons and his team. The aim – to come up with a super-efficient design that was build-able for the right price and still looked good.

“We began to work and consult with Construkt around the design, buildability, costing, and security,” says Sando. “We then developed those ideas and designs to give them materiality, colour, texture and life… and turn them into working drawings.”

Ben Sando - Design Director, Ashton Mitchell Architects.

First and foremost, however, both architects were very cognisant of ensuring every house received the maximum amount of sunlight, that the living areas had a private aspect, and that the proportions were well-considered and as generous as possible. “The windows, for example, are higher than normal (at 2.4m), so that even in a dense subdivision you can see the sky. It’s amazing the psychological difference it makes seeing the sky,” says Sando.

“We used a lot of our learnings and experience from designing apartments by developing super-efficient, open-plan floor plans that allow the occupants to choose how they utilise their spaces, depending on their individual needs. This has the effect of feeling bigger than they are,”

One of the unique aspects of this new development is that it was built along the lines of a ‘blind tenure’ model, whereby the social and private housing is interspersed, using similar typology and materiality, with the aim of making the Housing New Zealand properties and the private homes indistinguishable.

“The design of all the houses come from the same thoughts and principles, and they’re all double-glazed and well insulated. The main difference is in the interior specifications,” says Sando. “Housing New Zealand has very specific requirements for the materials and products they use in all their homes, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms – and that’s the main difference between the social homes and the affordable homes. Some are because of maintenance concerns and others just legacy arrangements with suppliers,” he adds.

“For all the homes, we looked at new products and materials that were on the market that were both affordable and gave a homely feel – not just utilitarian, based around cost.”

What Sando also learnt from this exercise is that with these narrow sites and small footprints, the landscaping was almost as important as the design of the house – as was the way each of the homes ‘talked’ to the rest of the street.

“We wanted each house to present differently to the street, yet still look a part of it. We achieved this by breaking up the building form, and giving features to the homes using familiar, durable tried and tested materials, like brick veneer, horizontal weatherboards, and vertical cedar cladding as an accent material.”

This Creating Communities project is set to build 340 new homes on 57 different sites between the Glen Innes train station and Wai o Taiki Bay Waterfront. The project is well under-way and has less than 100 homes (mostly in construction) left to sell, with the last home expected to sell early 2019. The project is a pilot for the 8,000 homes to be built in wider Tamaki in the next 20 years under the direction of the Tamaki Regeneration Company (TRC). Approximately 2,600 of the new homes will remain social housing, with the remaining 5000 being sold privately. 

Outcomes & Successes

Ben Sando – Ashton Mitchell

“For us it’s been a real privilege to be involved with Creating Communities and the Northern Glen Innes project. I’m very passionate about making a contribution to help solve Auckland’s housing crisis, and we’ve been heartened by the very positive stories that are beginning to emerge from new tenants and owners; working through the concerns people had originally, and now seeing the overwhelmingly positive outcome.”

Russell Cannons - Construkt

We are really pleased with what we’ve achieved with Creating Communities in Northern Glen Innes, and there are aspects of this project that we believe are a blueprint for social housing in New Zealand going forward.

“Breaking it down, we see three main achievements. Number one, smarter land use – density done well. Number two, the successful use of architectural language – the use of strong, familiar forms and materials; and number three, the creation of communities – opportunities of community engagement through design.

“I would also place the success of this project under two broad headings – Success for the community and success for the tenants who are living in the new houses.

“With respect to the community, I would say that we have created streetscape. We have provided an opportunity to create a community through communal engagement by the placement of the houses close to the street. And we have used architectural language and forms, borrowed from the surrounding suburbs, that allow these new homes to fit seamlessly into the area.

“And in thinking about the tenants… people are always at the heart of our design process. Tenants are already saying they’re warm, dry and quiet; their power bills are lower, and they’re talking about the access they now have to outdoor living. And as I was visiting the site the other day, I came across this lady who was busily digging up her beautiful landscaped front yard to plant vegetables and taro, so she could share them with her neighbours – there it was, right there, it’s all about creating communities through community engagement.”

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