Ecovillage Co-housing

By degenhartSHEDD (formerly Design Forum Architects)
multiple occupancy

Doolee Ct, Currumbin

By: degenhartSHEDD

Green Dot Awards Entry Board

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

This project has not been constructed, but it is designed to contribute to the streetscape of its small hamlet through a very articulated street presentation, expressing the separate bedroom pavilions that form a fundamental characteristic of this project. Two of these bedroom pavilions, along with the entry ramp, carport, store and vegetable garden address the street, while the other four pavilions address the eastern side of the site that bounds a creek. Common facilities are located centrally, and address the north vegetable garden area and the neighbour’s house beyond.

What problems did you have to solve?

The problems to be solved were many, as the site was extremely constrained in size for its brief of accommodating what are essentially six tiny dwellings and a communal living area, along with the associated car parking and outdoor recreation areas. In addition, each of the separate dwellings or bedrooms needed to achieve minimum solar access requirements, the principle driver of the pavilion concept. Another challenge was the incorporation of thermal mass in a cost effective way when the structure was essentially lightweight and with an elevated floor. In fact, the elevated floor was also a challenge for accessibility requirements as well, particularly as the intended users of the project were envisioned to be six elderly and possibly disabled women. Site coverage was a huge constraint, and although it was exceeded with the blessing of the Village Design Panel, that blessing was not achieved lightly.

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

Our client, The Gold Coast Housing Company, was a major contributor to this project by providing its fundamental vision and raison d’être: the provision of sustainable co-housing for age-challenged women. The selection and subsequent contract negotiations in the purchase of the site from Landmatters Pty Ltd permitted the co-housing concept to be considered, forming the foundation of this socially sustainable project. Also, Col Little of City Planners, a director of The Gold Coast Housing Company, supplied the necessary town planning support and advice, as well as being the client representative and project manager.

Other important contributors to the project were members of our own team, including the design architect, Amy Degenhart, supported by Julia Sigut, Luiz Braga and Hiro Nakamura.

Although the project did not gain formal approval from the Village Design Panel (VDP), the approval authority at The Ecovillage, Tony Peart from Apeart Building Consultants did provide the energy certification for the project, and Rob Norman of the VDP did provide valuable advice and support throughout the approval process.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

The value of the design was primarily to resolve the challenge of providing six individual living compartments that comply with the Architectural and Landscape Code in a cost-effective manner on the single site. Accomplishing that goal successfully would normally have been a sufficient catalyst for obtaining the financing required to fund what was naturally going to be a high per metre build cost and modest rate of return, based on fulfilling one of its primary functions, that of being affordable housing. Unfortunately, the project had an extremely ambitious budget and that aspect, coupled with the tightening on financing resulting from the global financial crisis, became the main hurdles preventing its realisation to date.

What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

The concept of prefabrication and modular construction was one of the sustainable aspects of the project, along with the principles of good solar orientation and access, thermal mass, cross ventilation, rainwater harvesting on a grand scale, high R value insulation, edible landscape, permeable paving, a material palette composed of recycled materials and those of low embodied energy and low volatile organic compounds, as well as an elevated and lightweight construction that resulted in minimal interference to site hydrology and soil health.

Further aspects of sustainability include the limitation on the footprint of the building, the use of external walkways to link the pavilions, open car parking, the inclusion of equitable access, and the general social concept of co-housing, particularly for a group within society that can fall victim to the problems of isolation, that being elderly women.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

The benefits of the project to the community are many, but the goal of providing affordable, socially integrated, accessible and sustainable housing to a vulnerable portion of our population provides the principal value. Naturally, the users would receive the greatest benefit, being provided with a sustainable living option that is both affordable and friendly, and simply not otherwise available in such healthy and beautiful surroundings. The Ecovillage community would also benefit, as these women residents may have a great deal to contribute to their local community, potentially having time and skills to share with their younger neighbours. Society on the larger scale would also be improved, as making homes such as the ones envisaged available might delay the entry into the public elderly housing system for the lucky residents, thus easing the strain on the public purse, not to mention easing the emotional strain on family and friends.

Other general comments

It is with great disappointment that this project has stalled indefinitely with the opportunity of it coming into being possibly lost forever with the site being placed on the market. It is rare that such visionary projects are considered, and even rarer that they are brought to fruition. It would be nice to think that some form of intervention might salvage this worthy concept from the wreckage of the recent global and local financial distress.

For more information on this unique socially sustainable project, please contact us directly on our website, detailed below:

www.degenhartSHEDD.com.au