The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
September 16, 2008

Do it once, do it right

It has been said that if you want a job done right, then do it yourself. The government seems to have taken this to heart at present, by announcing that a competition for an affordable home has been launched: one possible sub-text being that as they have no way of making housing affordable, perhaps you’d like to design yourself one. Its not to be sneezed at though – there’s an $8,000 first prize, and a guarantee that the winning entry WILL be built. Open to students, professionals, and all comers, the affordable home is to be bought in at under $1400 / m2 and a max area of 120 m2. If you can meet those restrictions, then an all up construction cost of $168,000 for the house would indeed put it in the affordable category, assuming that the land was free of course. Details all available on the DBH website here, including, presumably, where to get this supply of free land.

Judges, somewhat to my surprise, include the aged and venerated Gordon Moller (a former NZIA President, the Chair of the panel, and designer of a Skytower or two), Prof Gordon Holden (Victoria University architecture Dean), as well as Graham Coe (Master Builders), David Brown (Certified Builders), Lynda Amitrano (BRANZ), Thérèse Quinlivan (Community Housing Aotearoa) and Kevin Mara (Housing Corp). I’m surprised because the Minister in charge, Shane Jones, doesn’t seem to have a particularly pro-architect slant, and has appeared reasonably antagonistic to the benefits of good design in the past.

But here’s the thing. While the competition is being touted as a wonderful chance to solve the housing crisis for those young worker bees, there’s another motive at play. The DBH, at Jones’s instruction, is developing up a set of rules to make simple building simple again. If I read it right, then instead of having to comply with the standard sheath of some 30-odd Building Code clauses, a ‘simple house’ will only require a designer to follow one single document, and that’s got to be an improvement. The commenting date for this closed on 29 August (thanks for the notice DBH), and is sort of going to change the market in some way, I hope: who will want to hire an architect to design a complex building, using all those extra rules, when they can have a ‘simple’ house for less?

This house then, will be the first of many (we hope) to provide cheap, affordable, and stylish (we really hope), homes across the country. The way it is doing it: a firm move away from the rather prescriptive ‘performance’ regulations of the current Code, to the far more unbudging prescriptions of the ‘simple’ home. Good luck with the Competition!