As history has shown, affordable housing relies only in part on design. Its success is dependent on a number of complex factors including trends in the housing market, local and regional incomes, zoning, and land use policies. The construction or re-purposing of affordable housing infrastructure requires the support of politicians, city planners, and residents. Even when cities have had the best of intentions for such housing developments, results have often proven to be less-than-promised, due to failure enacting strong policies, poorly-chosen locations far from public transit networks, and faulty design solutions, among other variables. The Sydney Affordable Housing competition aimed at garnering global attention to the important issue of housing in Sydney, Australia, where the economy is strong but where residential space is among the least affordable according to surveys of major metropolitan markets.
The competition attracted a range of proposals that addressed this sensitive topic at all scales. As the design brief outlined, the jury evaluated proposals based on flexibility, and applicability to different locations across the city. The competition set no specific sites, and participants were requested to choose a theoretical site or collection of sites within Sydney. The jury evaluated equally those submissions proposed in the suburbs, and those inserted within the densest parts of the city.
A number of trends were evident in the proposals. Particularly noticeable was modular design. The jury evaluated positively those proposals which sought to create livable housing spaces, over those that attempted to make sense of interesting but altogether difficult modular geometries. Stacked hexagons, beehive forms, cubic buildings, prefabricated units that stack in different organisations over time, and the use of shipping containers were examples of typologies proposed in multiple submissions, many of which were successful.
Another topic several proposals sought to tackle was affordability of construction: prefabrication; adaptive re-use of materials from existing infrastructure; locating obsolete, under-used, or under-valued sites within Sydney; establishing completely new financing models based on leveraging the tech industry, or municipally-owned lands like streets, highways, and park systems; or balancing profit-earning commercial spaces with low-income housing units. The most interesting submissions offered much more than just affordable housing, and included larger-scale urban plans for commercial spaces, transit-oriented development, transportation hubs, and green spaces, in an attempt to give new value to lands, thereby recapturing development costs.
The jury reviewed each of the proposals and asked: What is specific to Sydney about the design? Does the idea have potential to offer real affordable housing solutions? Does it also strengthen the city fabric in some other way? Even if abstract and conceptual, can it push the city to reconsider housing in new ways? Bee Breeders was impressed with the range of submissions and would like to thank each participant.
Jury feedback summary
The jury's favorite proposal succeeds in offering Sydney both a new housing network and a network of green spaces. 'Bridging Affordable Housing' is comprised of a simple module: a structural bridge pier with decking that contains prefabricated housing units topped by a green roof. The proposal recalls the re-purposed railways that have become NYC's successful Highline or Paris' Coulée verte'. One can imagine this new elevated linear housing/park snaking through Sydney organically, growing from multiple locations and eventually merging like connective tissue within the city. The jury encourages the designer to further develop the proposal, so one may get a sense of what it might be like to live in such a space suspended above the city streets: How are the interior spaces organised? How do they relate to the garden above?