New New Zealand Housing: Recasting the Good Life at Mid-Density

The studio is about housing and recasting ideas of the good life amidst contemporary challenges. It centers on the currently unfolding housing legislation in New Zealand that stipulates a blanket increase of residential densities in the major cities to meet acute shortages. Colloquially known as the 3×3 rule, the zoning limit is raised to allow three apartments or townhouses on all residential land, marking a significant break from the long adherence to single-family houses on quarter-acre lots. Beneath the debate about economic and technical constraints, the core problem concerns dearly held ideas of the good life intimately associated with tropes of the single-family house, from backyard BBQs to DIY in the garage. While the situation is distinctly Kiwi, the challenge of transforming existing low-density neighborhoods to meet pressing environmental and demographic challenges has urgent international resonances.
Historically, New Zealand has often found itself a natural laboratory for new policies, products, and ways of living – from women's suffrage to the minimum wage and the eight-hour workday. The current circumstances present a rare and significant natural experiment to study key issues in contemporary housing and urban district-making. First is the idea of affording housing as a right and the question of how a distinct and high quality of life closely associated with low-density suburbs might be articulated and adapted to more resilient and sustainable patterns of settlement. Second is the urban architecture problem of moving from low to mid-density housing, which exacerbates challenges of safety, privacy, and long-term adaptability that require careful resolution, particularly in the seismic, multi-cultural, and climate-sensitive Oceanic context. Third is the circumstantial opportunity for leapfrog development to establish alternative modes of housing production and ownership, such as advanced timber construction in the logistically remote yet forest-rich country.
The studio is critically situated to learn from and contribute to an evolving and fast-moving situation. As output, students will produce and publish a public-facing think-piece illustrated by the design scheme, examining and recasting a familiar trope of the good life to catalyze an informed public debate on housing in a moment of transition. The studio is organized around three lines of inquiry. First is a longitudinal survey of ideas of the good life, tracing the debate back to its historical and philosophical basis of how such things can be defined and measured, and forward to cross-cultural variations and comparisons, including the emergence of Japanese and Scandinavian design as shareable ideas in the late 20th century. Second is a deep dive into the Kiwi milieu as the basis for articulating a local yet shareable idea of the good life compatible with contemporary challenges. Third is the design and communication of housing both as a building and an idea, learning from the arrival and unfolding of modernizing influences in the Austronesian milieu to amplify this work's reception and impact on housing outcomes in the near future.