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Towards Specific Adaptable Housing

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posted on 2022-07-27, 22:50 authored by Zee, Emma

The aim of this thesis is to explore specific adaptable design for suburban housing. First an analysis of existing New Zealand mass suburban houses was conducted. It was found that many mass suburban houses are a repetition of generic, low cost, plan generated, hipped roofed houses. This thesis provides evidence that the mass suburban houses are not easily adaptable as they are generally not designed to be altered. Secondly, existing literature on adaptability was explored in which a duality between two design approaches was identified. The very determinate approach to adaptability often results in an overly specialised design, with ideal characteristics but only for a specific brief. The indeterminate approach is to provide a space where no particular use is determined, the theory being that occupants can choose their own use for a space. The literature review for this thesis found that the indeterminate, or multi-use, approach was often used in conjunction with the terms neutral and generic which have a tendency to indicate spaces devoid of character. The thesis aim is to provide adaptable design where the use is not determined but the characteristics of a space are.

It was found that the definitions of adaptability are convoluted and sometimes contradictory. A definition towards specific adaptable housing was developed based on conclusions drawn from a survey asking participants their preferred spatial characteristics for a variety of activities, existing research and design led research conducted in this thesis. The definition went through several revisions to consider where adaptable design allows alterations and removals to be done easily in the future, considers aesthetics and allows a change of use through considering social and utility function through varied spatial qualities. The adaptable definition developed in this thesis is specific and clear about what can be achieved but allows flexibility for the designer as projects will lend themselves to particular outcomes.

A range of adaptable design tactics were identified from the literature review. Each idea was analysed for how it could fulfil the adaptable definition of this thesis. The collection of design tactics is comprehensive and informed by a range of publications, precedents and design led research. Design generation one utilised some of the adaptable tactics from the literature review in conjunction with the survey results. Lessons learnt from design generation one informed the definition of what adaptability means for this thesis in relation to aesthetics and consideration of social and utility function over time.

The specific approach to adaptability is seen in the selection and application of the design tactics in design generation two. The most significant aesthetic and adaptable design tactic being the link which has little impact on built fabric when additional structures are constructed or removed and allows disparate shaped or sized structures to be joined which enables freedom of design and form. Furthermore, the link often becomes the circulation between structures making space planning straight forward when considering how additions will fit in with an existing dwelling. Flat roofs and beam and column construction are notable adaptable design tactics which can allow additional storeys to be added relatively easily to a dwelling in the future. The approach to the ground plane and site are also important considerations as the predominantly two storey design will take up less room on site, allow greater options for additions, more garden/yard area and allows for double height interior space.

Specific adaptable housing is important as it allows occupants to easily adapt their home when their needs change, while providing a unique building which contributes to the occupants' quality of life. As adaptable homes can be built in increments over time it is a clear method for occupants to have the space they want when they need it and can afford it. With housing shortages, the cost of house building and a growing population within New Zealand, the need to look at alternative design approaches is particularly important. Applying the study to terrace housing and a comparative cost analysis of the adaptable design outcome is identified as valuable areas of further research.


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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

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

870204 Residential Construction Design; 970112 Expanding Knowledge in Built Environment and Design

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Allan, Penny; Southcombe, Mark