The project links housing outcomes to metrics and evaluation of housing design in the rapidly growing infill multi-residential sector.

  • Project dates: 2016
  • University Partners: University of Melbourne, University College London, University of Western Australia

Project Summary

Australian Research Council Linkage Project 2016-2018

 Australian cities are experiencing an apartment boom. Infill multi-household developments—namely apartment/unit projects within urban areas–are becoming home for a rapidly increasing number of Australians and urban dwellers around the world. This shift raises questions around systems of dwelling supply and demand and quality and fitness-for-purpose of infill multi-household developments. Although families are increasingly moving into apartments, the market is delivering predominantly small, 1-2 bedroom apartments, flooding the market with undifferentiated products, many with poor designs and performance, ill-suited to families. Other research focuses on failing compact city planning orthodoxy and small-scale responses, leading to major shortfalls in supply. Where developments do occur they are variously poorly located and lagging energy efficiency performance relative to the US, the UK and Canada. Supply- side research explores innovation in housing production towards more affordable models, while demand-side research captures exacerbating socio-spatial exclusion and affordability concerns.

Given that Australian cities are currently in the midst of building into their structure a long-term legacy of infill multi-household developments, there is an urgent need to develop ex poste evidence about how these boom-time dwellings are experienced in practice, and to use this evidence to inform policy and practice settings for good design. Taking as its ontological starting point that good design by definition leads to comfortable, affordable, sustainable and fit-for-purpose dwellings for households, Project HOME will provide an empirical analysis of infill multi-household developments, including the design qualities they embody and the householders’ own accounts of their environments.

In contemporary westernised cities, what characterises ‘good’ design for infill multi-household developments and what policy settings assist in delivering good design?

In the face of a major shift in dwelling practice, this project focuses on the lacuna of good design. By engaging two sets of agents–urban development professionals as producers and householders as consumers–it will analyse both apartments themselves, and the lived experience of their occupants.

Uniquely, the research will examine both the supply and demand sides of clusters of cases. An orthodox approach would entail longitudinal work of 5-10 years or more from design through to occupancy. To get around this timing problem, our method harnesses building plans and design expertise, and in-depth, post-occupancy based analysis of lived experiences. By relating both these sets of accounts of good design ex poste to policy settings, Project HOME will inform interventions towards achieving sustainable, affordable infill multi-household developments, for policy makers and city governments.

The research centres on real urban projects. Four contrasting core case study cities have been selected: Melbourne, Perth, Barcelona and London. With different origins and policy and practice contexts for urban infill multi-residential design, each city faces core challenges with affordability and quality in market-driven and increasingly investor-driven housing, each has struggled to contain land development, and each has different experiences of policy innovation. Each city is facing the dilemma of how to improve design outcomes for the long term in an era of demographic and climate change, while being wedded to a neoliberal, market-based delivery system.

Project HOME does not advocate simplistic transference of approaches between cities nor seek ‘Europeanisation’ models for Australian cities. Instead, it will reveal how different cities have solved their problems in different ways, including using different modes of housing delivery and establishing different benchmarks for ‘good’ urban design of infill multi-household developments, and different interventions. Revealing these urban narratives in different cities facing common problems provides for contrasting possibilities. This will form the basis for an analysis of the potential transition to policies and practices (likely different in each city) that reinforce good design.

Key People

Lead researchers

Professor Ralph Horne

Professor Ralph Horne

Deputy PVC, Research and Innovation

View profile
Dr Megan Nethercote

Dr Megan Nethercote

Research Fellow

View profile
Alexandra Gower

Alexandra Gower

PhD Student

View profile

Related Content

Research Programs

Housing and Urban Economics

Developing a better understanding of how policy and economic activities can be enacted to improve micro- and macro-economic prosperity.

Find out more