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26 April 2022

From White Picket Fences to Medium Density Housing

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For a long time now, New Zealand has had a suburban mentality, with dreams of white picket fences and visions of a quarter acre section with a vast back yard for children to play in. That worked in the 1950s and 1960s but started going stale a while ago. At long last that vision has cracked and a much more compact vision has arisen — one involving smaller sections, shared side walls and a more densely populated metropolis. Yes, we’re talking medium density housing (MDH) and I got so excited about the subject that I’ve written a book about it. Medium. Launching on the 18th May this year.

It has been an interesting journey, researching and writing about MDH, having lived in apartments for the last 33 years. It is a subject where virtually every person in Europe knows more about the subject than we do, as their cities are far denser and more compact than ours. Parts of New Zealand are making great strides in that direction, but it is a little uncoordinated at times and we could do with a few more reminders about what, why and how. As an example, New Zealand can’t even agree exactly what MDH is, and a lot of what we are building and calling MDH wouldn’t even register on the scales as medium density overseas. Slightly higher than “super low density” does not really make it medium density.

My view is that whatever we do, we need to design well and build better. There is no point in creating more MDH if it is such poor quality that it will soon need to be torn down, or if it is likely to become a low-rent slum. It seems wrong to start to design MDH if you don’t even know what the issues are that residents face every day. Everyone has got a different opinion on what the real issues are — what’s your pick for the most pressing issue? We explore all those issues. Well sure, everyone just wants a roof over their head, at an affordable price, whether renting or owning, but what is the best way of getting that roof up there, or how to make it stay in place? Are you still designing and constructing your MDH properties the same way that you approach a standalone home? How do we all make absolutely sure that none of these are going to be leaking buildings? Perhaps it is time you teach yourself some new tricks, and follow a page from our book. Get ready to be very busy.

With the Medium book project, we’ve all been busy as well. Newspapers today are full of news about how the property bubble is bursting and how building supplies are running out, how inflation is going up and business confidence is going down, but we can’t pay any attention to that. We’ve got cities to rebuild, and the nation needs a new book to help guide that process. All through summer my illustrators and I have been at work crafting this book, frantically trying to meet the deadline for printing. It started off as a small project but has grown in scope and in ambition, trying as hard as we can to offer some advice that we hope you will find valuable. It is not just words though, so there are lots of pictures as well! It is the sort of book that you will want to have beside you at work every day. Register now for a copy of Medium, and best of luck for your adventures in density.

Medium: A technical design guide for creating better medium density housing in Aotearoa New Zealand, written by Guy Marriage, offers best-practice guidance for the design and construction of medium density housing (MDH) in NZ, along with local case studies. Click here to register for a sponsored copy

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