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Monash Art Design & Architecture

Stealth Urbanism: The Covert Advance of Suburban Density and Diversity

Over the past fifty years, the composition of Australian households has shifted from predominantly nuclear families to a plethora of diverse small households, while the percentage of detached, single family dwellings within suburban areas has remained consistently high. Consequently, misalignments between household needs and available stock contribute to housing shortages, cost of living pressures, and suburban sprawl. The Federal Government’s solution is to increase the density of housing stock in established, serviced residential areas through rezoning, despite history indicating that planning legislation is incapable of directing or even controlling development.

Planning legislation is unable to reconcile density ambitions, diversity needs of variegated households, and de facto development. Therefore this research explores alternative approaches to densification and diversification through infill strategies that negotiate planning constraints, popular conceptions and design tactics. Hobart is used as a test case indicative of Australian regional contexts to explore the potentials and implications of alternative approaches to sustainable suburban intensification.

The research makes a new contribution to suburban densification research by investigating barriers to the realisation of infill development with a specific focus on the planning process. A comparison of the desired development outcomes with planning allowances revealed a misalignment between the development expectations of planners, developers and the community which limits the uptake of multi-level residential development. However, by deploying residential architecture in an alternative dispersed, subversive and covert manner, identified planning barriers to residential density and diversity can be circumvented and the development expectations of all parties can be met.

The research develops of a series of stealth negotiation tactics to counter the prohibitive constraints of planning regulations and decision making processes. The design of infill housing typologies tests tactics and the analysis of local suburbs and international best practice developments generates strategies.

Stealth Urbanism demonstrates possible pathways to rectify the currently prohibitive misalignments between strategic ambitions and directives by working within, rather than replacing, established planning processes. The research demonstrates that the deployment of residential architecture in a covert manner can facilitate and encourage the diversification and densification of Australian suburbs. Consequently, the research provides a method for realising the network of government strategies that aim to increase the resilience of Australia’s cities.

Please click here to access the PhD.

Re-measuring density: alternative methods for assessing and progressing Australia's suburbs
Bennett, A. 2015 Living and Learning: Research for a Better Built Environment, 49th International Conference of the Architectural Science Association. Crawford, R. H. & Stephan, A. (eds.). Melbourne Vic Australia: Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne, p. 567 - 577 11 p.

The architecture of subliminal coercion
Bennett, A. 2015 Architect Victoria, Autumn 2 p.

Undercover architects: The deceptive face of frontline practice.
Bennett, A. In: Architectural Review Asia Pacific, No. 139, 2015, p. 36 - 38.

Faculty of architecture, building and planning, University of Melbourne.
Bennett, A. In: Architectural Review Asia Pacific, No. 135, 2014, p. 16 - 19.

Book review: How to make a Japanese house
Bennett, A. 2013 In : Architectural Review Asia Pacific. 132, p. 16 - 182 p.

Omnipod, Avalon City Retreat
Bennett, A. & Norrie, H. 2013 In : Architectural Review Asia Pacific. 130, p. 60 - 67 p.

What’s Up Doc(klands)? Healthy bacteria and creative citizens
Bennett, A. 2013 In : Architectural review Asia Pacific. 123, p. 40 - 43 p.

Inspired infill
Norrie, H. & Bennett, A. 2010 Sanctuary: Modern Green Homes, 10, p. 14 - 22 9 p.

Terra 6: Student Architectures
RAIA/SONA Australia (Eds. Bennett, A. & Westbrook, K)

Cradle Coast Campus
Norrie, H. & Bennett, A. 2008 In : Architectural Review Australia. 106, p. 72 - 77 6 p.

Alysia Bennett

Tardis is a single residential commission in Hobart, designed in collaboration with Keith Westbrook, which is due for completion in 2017.

The brief for the house was to create a family dwelling on a small block on the edge of a cliff by subdividing an underutilised plot. The cliff edge, proximity to a neighbouring dwelling, height limits of the area, and the required setbacks restricted to allocated buildable area. Consequently a tension arose between the size and volume of the interior spaces.

In order to prevent amplifying the cramped nature of the build area with low ceilings, the interior focus is a double height living space that opens out towards Hobart's mountain and river views. The configuration of the adjacent spaces is then arranged to maximise flexibility and ensure that the small house is suitable for many household configurations over time.

The small house demonstrates that it is possible for detached dwellings to be both affordable and highly amenable. If more detached dwellings had small footprints and were able to accommodate multiple household configurations, the suburbs could become a viable and resilient form of settlement in regional areas.

Alysia Bennett
Granny Work/Shop

The GRANNY WORK/SHOP is a conceptual prototype for affordably and sustainably ageing in place in the suburbs. Shifting household demographics, along with an expected increase in percentage of residents aged over 65, will put great pressure on the existing low density housing stock of the suburbs. Simultaneously, retirement villages and other aged care solutions focus on relocating residents to smaller dwellings, often away from their original established communities. Whilst viable in urban and rural settings, such villages are culturally and aesthetically displaced in suburban areas. Such economically driven housing also often removes desirable ‘raw’ space (garages, attics, spare rooms) restricting the ability to accommodate creative self expression, entertainment and economic generation in retirement. GRANNY WORK/SHOP offers affordability and resilience to suburban aging in place. This is achieved through built in flexibility to address housing and amenity shortages in keeping with cultural traditions and individual aspirations.

For more information on the project, please click here.

Alysia Bennett
Trojan House : Streetscape

Receiving a commendation for the 2014 Cemintel 9 Dots competition, Trojan House tests the application of Stealth Density to new multi-residential mixed use development on the fringe of a suburban activity centre.

The brief called for participants to 'rethink the 'quarter acre block' and how this condition – so culturally ingrained – can be adapted to solve a range of issues around affordable housing, dwelling size, infill development and, most significantly, density. A new direction for housing is sought; one which encourages creative, sustainable housing solutions to suit a variety of household and family types that live in our cities and suburbs. Imaginative infill projects in cities such as Tokyo, demonstrate that smaller and varied housing does not have to compromise quality spaces and living amenity. Spaces that are flexible, multi-use, and embrace overlaps in public and private zones can initiate a new take on the housing typology – promoting a future housing model.'

For more information on the competition, please click here to access the 9 Dots competition page.

Alysia Bennett
Haflway House

Completed for the 2014 NEAT competition, Halfway House tests the application of Parafiction based planning to a multi-residential mixed use development suitable for both inner urban and greenfield sites.

The brief called for participants to demonstrate how Canberra can continue develop as a very notable city, that is sustainable and innovative, via the development of new architectural typologies.

Halfway House is a conceptual prototype for urban housing that challenges definitions and stigmas associated with affordable housing. Blending antonymic typologies, ideologies and systems, it creates a new hybridised approach to enable the stealthy progression of affordable housing in a market that is typically adverse to its presence.

For more information on the competition, and to see the proposal in full, please click here.

Alysia Bennett
Hidden House

Hidden House is a residential project located in Acacia Hills, an area with semi rural subdivision, just south of Devonport on the North West coast of Tasmania. Developed in collaboration with Keith Westbrook, the clients wished to have guest bedrooms and a bathroom in addition to the main dwelling.

Through the inclusion of a garage space and semi-embedded courtyard within the building footprint, the large three bedroom dwelling could accommodate two separate households, purely through the addition of a second kitchen. Additionally, the dwelling could also act as a single household with a home business. Long term, the house could also 'extend internally' to accommodate additional bedrooms in the attic space or insulated garage. Each of these alterations could enable a greater use of the building without major construction work or requiring any planning permits.

The Hidden House demonstrates how a duplex can be introduced under the guise of a new single family residence.

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