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Diverse Density: An alternative housing strategy

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posted on 22.11.2021, 10:22 by Ellis, Samuel

Diverse Density proposes an alternative housing strategy to the idealistic top-down process of housing development.  The term ‘Top – down’ refers to a situation in which decisions are made by a few people in authority rather than by the people who are affected by the decisions (Cambridge).  Problems/Position/Question: New Zealand’s urban housing is in a period of flux. Pressures of densification have permitted the intervention of medium density housing development schemes but these are not always successful. These typically top-down processes often result in internally focused design schemes that do not adhere to their specific context. The subsequent design outcomes can cause detrimental impacts to the local, urban and architectural conditions.  With vast quantities of council regulations, building restrictions and design guidelines clouding over the housing sector, commonly referred to as ‘red tape’, occupant participation in the housing development sector is dwindling. A boundless separation between top-down and traditional housing processes has occurred and our existing neighbourhoods and historic architectural character are taking on the brunt of the problem. The thought-provoking, alternative housings strategies of key research theorists Alejandro Aravena and John Habraken frame positions that challenge contemporary densification methods with an alternative strategy.  This position is addressed by endeavoring to answer; How can demands for denser housing achieve dynamic design responses that adhere to changes in occupancy, function and local site conditions?  Aim: The aim of this thesis is to challenge New Zealand’s current housing densification methods by proposing an alternative densification strategy. Explicit devotion will be attributed to opposing top-down building developments. Secondly, this thesis aims to test a speculative site-specific housing model. The implementation of a Christchurch housing scenario will situate an investigative study to test the strategy and its ability to stimulate greater diversity, site responsiveness, functional adaptability and occupancy permutation. The post-earthquake housing conditions of Christchurch provide an appropriate scenario to test and implement design-led investigations.  Objectives: The primary objectives of this design-led research investigation it to challenge the idealistic top-down method of developing density with a new method to:  - Develop contextual architectural cohesion - Encourage residential diversity - Reinvigorate architectural autonomy - Respond to, and recognise, existing site conditions - Develop a housing model that: - Adapts to occupant functionality preferences - Caters to occupancy diversity - Achieves contextual responsiveness  The proposition is addressed through a speculative design-led scenario study. A well-established Christchurch urban environment is adopted to implement and critique the envisioned alternative strategy. Development of the designs responsiveness, adaptability, and functionality produce a prototype housing model that actively adheres to its particular context.  Implication: The implications of this research would be an alternative densification strategy to perceive the advancement of punctual assessment of building compliance. With accelerated building processes, the research may have implications for addressing New Zealand’s housing crisis whilst simultaneously providing diverse, personable and responsive architectural solutions. A more dynamic, up-to-date and responsive housing development sector would be informed.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Architecture (Professional)

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Gjerde, Morten