Chapter Studies: UTS + RMIT

1. On the philosophy of living

Stemming from developments in western psychology and the impact of eastern mysticisms on western cultures there has been an emergence of a widespread reconsiderations of questions of how we should live. A philosophy of living is then an intellectual and self reflective approach to what could been once considered more mundane aspects of life.

2. On Formalism
Formalism emphasizes form. Compositional, it is about an interest in the visual relationships between building parts and the work as a whole. Shape is the focus of attention and it leans towards architecture’s role in producing functional art-forms. Formalism is made explicit in a great deal of modernist architecture.

3. On Structuralism
Structuralism gives buildings and urbanism real intrinsic value. With origins in a splinter group Team 10 from the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM), structuralism is about built structures corresponding in form to social structures. As a reaction to rationalism and functionalism, it promotes architecture as providing social and community participation. One of the greatest structuralist architects is brutalist Herman Hertzberger, and more recently and more eclectically Ralph Erskine and Ted Cullinan. Structuralism takes its cues from social and urban components.

4. On Industrial construction
From work of the Bauhaus director Mies van der Rohe, later the Eames House and Roger’s Lloyds Insurance Building, modernism in architecture has long been fascinated by industrial construction methods. Modular and prefabricated housing techniques arrived in Australia in the latter half of the 20th Century and period examples include project homes by Pettit & Sevitt, Civic Construction Co., and Merchant Builders. All contemporary architecture uses manufactured components, but what are the extreme options – from automotive production, to IKEA flatpack?

5. On flexible spaces and modularity
The standard house is built as a highly static and immovable object, but the people who occupy them are not. Families grow, shrink and change and so do the occupants and their needs. But to alter or renovate a house can be a cost prohibitive, time consuming and highly disruptive exercise. How can we design and construct houses more intelligently, houses that predict and allow for adaptability?

6. On varying density
'Sprawl is bad, density is good.' - A contested maxim of contemporary architecture. Densification brings with it many advantages including intensification, proximity, activity, reduced travel energy, shared services and maximisation of land value. But there are great challenges associated with density too - privacy, solar access, ventilation, congestion, building circulation and provision of personal and recreational space. Density pundits such as MVRDV and BIG provide extreme counterpoints to green-field sprawl through their built and hypothetical projects. Australian capital cities will almost double in population over the next 40 years. How can intense densification increase the capacity of our cities to house this population?

7. On size
It’s official, the average Australian home is the largest on the planet. What is this obsession with size? Is it required and what is the impact on quality of space, quality of construction, energy consumption, and the use of outdoor (garden) and public space? How can we learn from other space paradigms, such as from the Japanese?

8. On minimised spaces
Through spatial efficiency and flexibility a high quality of life can be maintained with a vast reduction in floor area. Projects like Nendo's Drawer House, M-CH by Micro-Compact Home and Micro-flat by Piercy Conner use detailed design to compress domestic spaces to the point of being 'appliances-for-living-in'. Casulo take a different approach where furniture 'nests' like a Russian Doll maximising mobility for a nomadic lifestyle. How can the apartment or terrace typology be reduced and reconfigured yet still meet the needs of the Australian housing market? Can savings in unit-site-costs and materials be transferred to operability and componentry and result in affordable housing outcomes?

9. On zero energy systems
Long the dream of environmental architects, the contemporary home can final achieve energy neutrality, or even produce energy to sell into the grid. The kit of parts is now extensive: solar panels, advanced thin flexible solar films, heat pumps, underground heat exchange systems, trombe walls, thermal mass, recycled materials, superinsulation. Of course, great design helps and passive solar architecture became highly sophisticated in Europe by the 1970’s. And remember that the energy to run a typical home exceeds the embodied energy used to build it after less than 10 years.

10. On Urban agriculture and planting
The recent re-examination of world energy and food supplies has caused a resurgence in the popularity of localized agriculture. Since 2007 over half of humanity lives in urban environments, so unlike the food movements of the 70s, the new focus on agriculture, horticulture and gardening is primarily an urban phenomenon. It is also linked to movements of food security and a renewed excitement for health benefits of been close to ones food source.

11. On Advanced materials studies
The history of modernism is also the history of the failure of new materials. Architecture has clung to glass, steel, concrete and timber in the absence of realistic and durable alternatives, and Australia’s love affair with the repulsive fibro sheeting came to an abrupt end with asbestosis fears. But the last 30 years has seen a cornucopia of new and durable materials arrive, often from other industries. Carbon fibre, tension fabrics, phase change, recycled plastics – the list is a long one.

12. On what makes a neighbourhood vibrant
The latin root of the word vibrant means ‘to shake back and forth’. A vibrant neighbourhood is one that creates and protects activities supported by a large majority of the population in that neighbourhood. Vibrancy can be created by a complex mix of urban conditions such as density, architectural treatments of entries, and socio-economic and cultural factors.

13. On housing typologies
Explorations of typological hybrids that re conceive the relationship between housing, building fabric and market dynamics. We will take our cues from core-and-shell typologies such as shopping malls and commercial office towers, half-build, multi-key, shop-top and the like.

14. On the housing market and economics
Sydney's real estate market is a litmus on the supply and demands of housing for the city - cost of living, amenity, proximity, supply and demand, build-cost, lending rates and economic stability each shape the property market. Market pressure for larger detached houses with fewer occupants, home theatres, triple garages, formal and informal living spaces work against affordability initiatives. Students working in this cluster will be exploring spatial divisions, densities, and amenity within the context of land values and living costs. Economies of volume and repetition, facade to floor area ratios and emerging construction technologies will be analysed to inform new housing development prototypes.

15. On developers
Developers have many rules-of-thumb when establishing the feasibility of a site and project. A dynamic interplay of unit site cost [the cost of land per approvable dwelling], build cost, holding costs and time lines all impact on the success of a project. Developers consistently state they cannot make money developing affordable housing in Australia's capital cities. What makes a developer tick? How can architectural design reduce risk and increase profit in the development of affordable housing?

16. On procurement models
Walk into a bank with a 10% deposit and get a mortgage for your low cost home? Yeh, right. With millions of Australians disenfranchised from the middle income financial services, what alternatives are there around the globe? Paradigm shifts do exist such as the Microcredit system pioneered by Mahammad Yunos in Bangladesh – but can this be applied to housing? Leasing, renting, self-build, partial self-build, house sharing, or just ultra low cost materials? If a unit costs $5,000 does it matter if it only lasts 5 years?

17. On ownership modes
Collective models of housing compliment private dwellings with shared spaces and resources, blurring the distinction between public and private realms. Clusters, cultural shifts, bottom-up modes of co-habitation, legal, social and spatial structures each play a part. Focus here will be on the amplification of neighbourly sharing producing new economic, social and spatial possibilities. Collective food and energy production, transport, green and service spaces, child care and so on.

18. On fugliness
Should Australian urbanism be tarred and feathered with this term? Sadly, yes. Although only 1% of homes are architect-designed, this studio has to come up with a game-changing approach that gets the public to re-engage with design quality and encourage developers to commission meaningful work. But lets first of all drill deep into the fugly world – what is it? What drives it? Where are the best examples? Can it really be celebrated, or buried?

Chapter studies that are exclusive to RMIT:

A. On effecting urban cultural and social capital
Social Capital is a sociological concept that argues for an awareness of the real value of the connections and networks that are created between people and groups of people. It is often viewed in opposition to more tangible things that might bring economic benefit, such as a screw driver, or an objects of desire such as a TV. It also has a less neutral side which sees the varying ability of different classes to build social networks as a less obvious side of class hierarchy. In Urban terms the late and great Jane Jacobs referred to this idea frequently.

B. On poetics, intangibility, hidden forces and space
Atmosphere, light, air, sound, weather, seasons, movement, habitation, daily rituals of usage and so on form intangible topographies within our home. These dynamic and temporal phenomena and forces which activate spaces and our experience of space. Yet the design of houses, or more importantly the lack of design, means that the power and poetics of these forces is largely ignored and lost, resulting in mundane architecture lacking perceptual stimulation, poetics and delight.

C. On wet spaces
The traditional domestic kitchen, bathroom and laundry are expensive and immovable spaces that are highly resistant to change. Many visionary designers and architects, from Buckminster Fuller to Joe Collombo and Dieter Rams, have explored alternative design solutions to these cumbersome service areas. Often the resultant design proposition ended up being a highbrid between product and furniture design, in which these service areas are treated as discrete and movable industrially manufactured objects. Perhaps it is time to revisit this approach.

D. On advanced manufacturing technology
Robotics, CNC, digital and rapid manufacturing and other advanced fabrication technologies are poised to change the world of industrial, product and fashion design; in many ways this has already happened. Most importantly they herald a departure from the economic paradigm of standardisation. What possibilities do these hold for the design and construction of houses?

E. On indoor climate
It is estimated that up to 30% of the worlds energy needs are associated with the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings. The rapid push in Australia to air-conditioned indoor climates in domestic space is putting ever more pressure on our energy infrastructure and associated production of greenhouse gasses. How to treat the indoor climate in a much more passive, intelligent and sensitive manner is a major design question and opportunity.

F. On neighbourhood amenities
The western worlds modern habit of having all or most amenities within one large household is comparatively unique and stems from a combination of an enlarged sense of individuality, a disconnection from local communities, and a capitalist led desire to sell a large amount of cheap and disposable objects such as washing machines, home theatres, pool tables. With mixed success he post WWII housing crises in Europe created housing that used a mix of shared neighbourhood amenities.

G. On intelligent systems and prefabrication
We need not think of the entire house as a prefabricated unit, perhaps only the hidden parts that add so much cost and complexity but are largely independent of architectural style, expression and vernacular. In an era where we expect plug and play from our proliferation of digital devices, the design and delivery of services to and throughout the home such as electricity, gas, data and telephone cabling, hot and cold water, sewerage, heating and air flow belong to another era. This archaic design logic makes the home clumsy to build and inflexible to change and update. Domestic building construction has much to learn from the automotive and electronics industry.

H. On globalisation
The terms globalization means a lot of things to different people but essentially referes to the remarkable interconnectivity the world worlds peoples and economies now shares. It is a fallacy to suggest that there has not been economic and cultural trade prior to the last 30 years, however a doubling of the world population sinces the 60s and the combination of internet and cheap travel has allowed a large amount of the world to develop an interconnected that is unprecedented in human history. This is having large impacts on migrations and peoples notions of home.