How much house do we need, and what level of integration with the surroundings do we seek in our homes?

Challenging our ideas about the level of accommodation and privacy we demand in our homes, The Least House Necessary workshop commenced with a lecture showing dwelling places created by the first Australians and contrasted this with today’s sub-divisions which we offer to new home owners across this country.

The first Australians had a vast range of structures to dwell in, choosing materials immediately available, and suitable for the season. Shelters varied from a windbreak or sun shelter during the dry season, to a platform in the wet season, above the damp ground, or an all encompassing dome that kept out rains and mosquitoes. A dome was occupied not just by husband and wife and their offspring, but included siblings and the in-laws.

By contrast, an aerial photo of a current subdivision was presented, with fully-fenced lots and dwellings built close to side and rear boundaries. The only open space was the front setback, offering no privacy, and unlikely to be used. These heatsinks thwart the potential of a cooling breeze, outdoor living, and connection to the neighbourhood. Inward looking homes, with full climate control create little opportunity for casual interaction with the neighbor. If the houses weren’t so large, and the lots so small, greenspaces within each lot, connected as wildlife corridors, could bring nature into homes, and enhanced well-being that connection with nature brings.

One of the ways we connect with nature in our homes, is by creating spaces on the edge of the building via bi-fold doors that open to the garden, or a deep verandah of 2.4 metres at least, that is big enough for living in.

The verandah is cheaper to build, and if we had less house, and more verandah, there might be money in the budget for a garden with plants and a solar array.

A matrix allocating levels of enclosure was completed individually. How much privacy do we need for living, sleeping, bathing or cooking? What level of enclosure do we feel comfortable with, for weather protection, insect screening and security? It’s romantic to think we could live on a verandah, but its usually in addition to a fully lockable house. Could it be instead?

These levels of construction were then negotiated in groups, and a house designed with a fairly conventional level of security. Space for chooks and vegies was a requirement. Overall size and budget were also factored in. What a lot of ideas came forward in a couple of hours.

School teachers made up the majority of the workshop participants, with architects making up the balance. The potential this has for sharing ideas across the professions, and into the classroom, has a positive role in educating the public to demand better, thoughtful homes, where people can thrive, with nature.

Article by Helen Bernard, Architect

Photo Credit:
Image 1: Shaneen Fantin of POD
Image 2: Residential home designs created during the workshop
Photographer: Fiona Joy Photography
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