Affordable housing – it’s on everyone’s lips, particularly in relation to young people, desperate to get on the housing ladder. It is equally important for older people, particularly those who rely on affordable rental options.
Scott Inverarity from Ignite Architects tells us about a new community housing development designed to meet the needs of Auckland’s escalating population of older people. It’s a project that Scott believes breaks new ground, not only with respect to affordability, but also in terms of safety and familiarity for its tenants.
How did the project come about?
33 Henderson Valley Road is part of the Haumaru Housing portfolio, a forward-thinking joint venture between Auckland Council and charitable trust The Selwyn Foundation that currently manages more than 1400 affordable rental units, housing some of Auckland’s most vulnerable older citizens. Haumaru means shelter, a caring and safe-haven for everything, and this philosophy has underpinned the project right from the start.
What makes 33 Henderson Valley Road different from other community housing projects?
We weren’t aiming just for housing, we wanted to create homes that people love. You only need to look at the exterior of 33 Henderson Valley Road to appreciate that this is something a little bit different from the council-owned accommodation of the past. Gone is the brick and tile unit and in its place, you find a contemporary apartment block, split over four levels. In other words, the kind of home that is fast-becoming the norm for urban living in Auckland, and it’s attractive to look at from the street.
In what way does the building meet your objective of creating a lovable home?
The main structure is broken down into four separate components, or wings, to reduce the sense of massing you get with multi-unit accommodation. Elements from the traditional residential design pallet - features like gabled roof, brick cladding and a profile metal roof have been introduced to add character and resonate with the resident’s former lives. Great care has been taken to create an “untypical” social housing solution. And while equality between residents is apparent in the façade and window openings, this uniformity is tempered by some unique aspects within the façade patterning, once again allowing residents to identify with their own space – a place to call home.
The building is set within a location already familiar to residents. The impact of this is two-fold: residents get to keep existing connections with people and community services within the neighbourhood, and a strong sense of familiarity eases the transition into a new living arrangement. This is further enhanced by the development’s adjacency to the road, which mitigates any suggestion of isolation.
The four housing wings are linked by an internal street that encourages interaction between residents. Each kitchen has a window onto the internal street, making it easy to see neighbours coming and going, which is important not only amplifying the sense of connection but also safety. Communal spaces outside the lifts are designed to be leisure zones where residents can catch up, settle in for a game of cards or have a quiet read outside the walls of their own apartment.
What about the special needs of older people: how have these been taken into consideration?
The communal spaces provide places where people can pause and rest – a kind of mobility stop that works on a physical and mental level. We were determined that people didn’t feel the need to rush or hurry inside their apartment.
Another consideration was resilience and ease of maintenance. These design aspects are always important but older people in particular are vulnerable to services breaking down and the intrusion of maintenance works. It’s about simplicity and clean spaces, the removal of clutter and some refinements to enhance the home experience. For example, living areas are extended by a fully covered balcony off the lounge that can be used in all weathers.
And, as you would expect, the apartments are wheelchair accessible and have designated spaces for parking a mobility scooter.
Relative to other projects Ignite has worked on, how does this one rate?
Anything we do that contributes to the community well-being is special. However, we give community projects the same attention to sustainability and quality standards as our commercial work. It was important to Panuku that 33 Henderson Valley Road is recognised for its environmental credentials and we achieved this with a NZ Green Building Council Homestar Rating of 7. This tells you that the design is practical, efficient and environmentally sound.
How successful was the project in terms of delivery?
Working with Panuku is an incredibly positive and enriching experience. Their staff’s knowledge of Auckland combined with Ignite’s experience in designing housing and care facilities for older people is a great combination. The Selwyn Foundation, Age Concern NZ, mana whenua, tenant reference groups and the Henderson-Massey Local Board also got involved, helping us to understand the challenges and emotional needs of people moving into a social housing situation, particularly in the West Auckland context.
The project team was determined to make sure that apartment living could meet the needs of older people and this informed many decisions, including the pathways which were designed with curved edges so that people in wheel chairs can cut the corner rather than having to go over the grass.
This genuine desire to collaborate, acknowledge experience and share knowledge has resulted in a philosophical and technical set of design guidelines that we are currently documenting, so that future projects benefit from ready access to specific guidelines e.g. apartment sizing, hallway widths, heating solutions, insulation and ventilation.
It’s great to see an organisation like Panuku investing in quality and community well-being and Ignite is proud to have been part of the 33 Henderson Valley Road project. We think that it provides a valuable template for social housing providers who want to provide more than just a roof over their tenant’s head. At the end of the day it’s about respect and using the design process to confer dignity on people who are vulnerable and all-too-often overlooked.