Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Adaptable Dwelling: A Response to Cultural Diversity

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posted on 2021-11-12, 10:29 authored by Holmes, Celia

Traditionally, dwellings have evolved in response to social and cultural needs, and changed simultaneously with the development of society. The dwelling is associated primarily with the concept of culture and identity of its occupants. This is challenged through migration to a new and unfamiliar context. In 2010, immigrants granted residency in New Zealand came from increasingly diverse cultural backgrounds (Department of Labour, 2009). These varied cultural backgrounds present greater challenges and complex settlement barriers. A house that is able to cater to diverse cultural needs in terms of function, privacy, and adaptability is crucial for today's growing multicultural society. Immigrants are often placed in council housing that was designed for New Zealand's Pakeha culture which does not provide for the requirements of non-Pakeha cultures. Immigrants are often required to make significant cultural changes through the immigration process and many attributes of their cultures are lost because dwellings are inappropriate. This thesis argues that architecture has a vital role to play in the mediation and integration of immigrants. The dwelling is an important medium through which immigrants can maintain a sense of cultural identity and can develop positive interactions with the wider community. It proposes a generic solution to public housing that is not spatially restrictive nor culturally inhibitive. The research navigates multi-disciplinary boundaries, through both an individual and community lens. It enables a holistic view of culture, immigrants and the importance of the dwelling. The research looks at recent immigration to New Zealand, the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of immigrants and the general challenges immigrants face. Furthermore, it explores historic and contemporary architectural theories on flexibility and adaptability. The design phase brings together research findings of cultural research on immigrants' cultures in the design of a dwelling. It focuses on flexibility as an architectural solution. The design responds to the differing spatial needs of immigrant groups moving to New Zealand. It enables reflection of their identity in their transition to the new culture of New Zealand. The design phase is split into three sections: first, the creation of a generic solution that remains site-less, second, the generic solution is tested against the requirements of an Islamic family, and third, the outcomes of part one are tested in a higher density situation. This thesis concludes by reviewing how the proposal has taken into account the diverse needs of particular cultures and specific living requirements of the immigrant groups studied. Through the concept of flexible design, the changing cultural needs of occupants are addressed. Immigrants moving to New Zealand will have a housing typology that can be adapted to their lifestyles and accommodate diverse cultural requirements.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


de Sylva, Shenuka