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Award winning design for new state housing complex

14 August 2018

Housing New Zealand’s Jennings Jersey development in Mt Albert has just been shortlisted in the annual New Zealand Institute of Architecture awards.

Photo credit: Simon Devitt Photographer

The development has already been recognised by the architecture industry and praised by tenants. In May 2018, it was an Auckland NZIA Award winner and in June the project won a merit in the Property Council awards. Now the project has been shortlisted for a national NZIA Award in the multi-unit housing category.

Convenor of the awards jury, Richard Goldie, singled out the project, saying he is pleased that a Housing New Zealand development is on the awards shortlist.

“Social housing is hugely important and also, because of budget constraints, architecturally challenging,” Goldie said. “We have to find ways to up the game with this type of work, and Housing New Zealand obviously is trying hard to lift standards of design and performance.”

The Jennings Jersey homes, ranging from two to four bedrooms, are contemporary in design and embody the type of medium density housing encouraged via the Auckland Plan and the Unitary Plan.

The project’s architects at Monk Mackenzie say award winning design should be the norm for new state housing.

Designing state houses for Housing New Zealand in Mount Albert was new territory for architecture studio Monk Mackenzie. Known for innovative projects, such as the bright pink cycleway, Te Ara I Whiti/Lightpath in Auckland and the giraffe house at Auckland Zoo, designing 18 new homes on a 3649 square-metre site on the corner of Jennings St and Jersey Ave was viewed as an exciting challenge by the practice.

Monk MacKenzie’s Sean Flanagan says one key to the project’s success was the minimal palette of materials used. The variation and dynamism is added by the tenants when they move in, he says.

“The buildings themselves don’t need to be visually busy. They can be a carefully composed backdrop to life.”

Housing New Zealand tenant Pauline Otunuku moved into one of the four-bedroom homes last December. "This home is helping us to live our lives. My kids are settled and I love it here. It’s great; I like everything about this house."

Award-winning quality should be standard

Flanagan says it is a thrill for the Jennings-Jersey redevelopment to be recognised with awards because a lot of thinking and effort had gone into the design – by the architects, the wider consultant team, the builders, and Housing New Zealand.

However, Flanagan stops short of saying it was great for state housing in particular to be awarded.

“That shouldn’t be worth a mention,” he says. “It should just be standard that state housing projects are competing for awards. For that to be the case there needs to be a continuing drive by all involved for projects to be award-winning quality – whether or not they eventually win an award.”

Enhancing existing neighbourhoods

The perception that Monk Mackenzie is hoping to change with this and future projects is that medium-density housing is detrimental for existing neighbourhoods.

“We’re trying to show that a collection of new buildings and streets can be composed with care.”

But more than buildings, Flanagan says, it’s the people who move into a neighbourhood who have the greatest potential to enhance it.

“Modern state housing is a conduit to enhancing neighbourhoods because it means new people are coming into the community and it’s an opportunity for us to practice that most human of skills – living together. Housing design can help by setting the scene.”

Adhering to Housing New Zealand’s philosophy, Flanagan says that increased density means greater numbers of people, which can lead to livelier streets, busier parks, and safer neighbourhoods. A growing population becomes the justification for investment in better amenities, including public transport, more vibrant town centres and better equipped parks and playgrounds.

“These days you see people travelling across town to take their kids to the latest and greatest playground that often includes a skate park, basketball courts and a splash pad. It’s not surprising that these tend to be in areas of increasing density.”

Flanagan says the design team was also conscious of the project’s impact on the immediate neighbourhood. When density increases, the quality of the design of both the new homes and streetscapes can aid acceptance amongst the community.

“It contributes significantly to the understanding that we can all get along, we can all care for each other, and we can all contribute to enriching one another’s lives.”

Flanagan says he lives in the vicinity of the Jennings-Jersey redevelopment and kept a close eye on the neighbourhood Facebook page during the construction.

“There were some beautiful comments posted about how the community was excited to be welcoming the new residents.”

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