Sense of belonging: Anne Street Garden Villas

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Ontological security is a sense of well-being derived from stable and orderly living conditions. It stems from something as simple as knowing where all the light switches are in your home and extends to familiarity and a sense of security with your neighbors or the people you live with. Safe and reliable housing is essential for ontological security. The design of the Anne Street Garden Villas by Anna O’Gorman Architect, in Southport on the Gold Coast, employs a number of important strategies that promote a sense of connection, security and order for residents.

O’Gorman’s design approach was informed by the question “How can we help social housing residents develop a personal connection to their home?” The question was posed to current tenants of social housing in Queensland during a series of workshops coordinated by the Housing Partnerships Office of the Department of Communities, Housing and Public Works and the Office of the Architect of the government of Queensland.

O’Gorman set out to “ensure that our project is focused on the future, rather than on what was done in the past.” She explains that one of the main conclusions of the workshops is that “for residents to feel a sense of belonging at home, they must feel connected to their immediate environment and to their neighbors”. This need motivated the design to ensure that residents have the opportunity to connect with their neighbors.

Independent and compact dwellings are characterized by a series of thresholds that mediate community interaction.

Image: Christopher Frederick Jones

Five of the units are located on the ground floor and two are located on the second. At a fundamental level, the design approach has prioritized insulated, lightweight single- or two-story buildings that respond to the local climate and can be constructed with simple and affordable building systems.

All of the strategies that guide the design are based on the ability for residents to choose between connecting and withdrawing from their neighbors. The dwellings are grouped around a central garden area with a deep earth plantation and large shaded trees, and each unit overlooks the garden, offering convenience and security through surveillance. Site planning also promotes a community streetscape, with village-like development of self-contained housing on a compact scale. Each accommodation is designed with a series of thresholds to arbitrate community interaction at ground level and direct access to clear public and private spaces.

Car parks are located on the edge of the site, preserving the central areas for pedestrians.

Car parks are located on the edge of the site, preserving the central areas for pedestrians.

Image: Christopher Frederick Jones

The car parks are located at the northeastern edge of the site, allowing better pedestrian access and focusing on the shared garden space at the center of the development. Separating parking lots from homes improves the attractiveness of the street and allows residents to connect with street activity and their neighbors. The garden is a defining element of the design, encouraging natural air movement and providing passive ventilation and privacy to each dwelling.

Each accommodation has an entrance courtyard and garden which provide residents with a private space to retreat. In a smart design move, each yard includes a seat that offers a view of the shared garden, allowing residents to connect with their larger surroundings without necessarily being in a social setting. These courtyards also provide shade and thermal mass to cool the main living spaces of each dwelling.

Flexibility is inherent in the interior design of housing to adapt to changing demographics and changing lifestyles and work.

Flexibility is inherent in the interior design of housing to adapt to changing demographics and changing lifestyles and work.

Image: Christopher Frederick Jones

Internal housing planning is admirably effective, aligning with the Housing Partnerships Office’s approach to providing “smaller, smarter” housing.1 Each accommodation meets the accreditation requirements or in the guidelines for the design of habitable accommodation,2 which means they are designed in an inclusive manner to meet the needs of people with varying abilities. There is also an inherent flexibility in planning to accommodate changing social housing demographics and changing ways of living and working at home.

Anne Street Garden Villas is one of 20 social housing demonstration projects selected as a participant in the Queensland Government Architect’s Density and Diversity Open Ideas Competition in 2017. A key piece of the dossier of the Queensland Government The competition was for the project to enable residents to “be a good neighbor”, for example by creating opportunities to socialize and respecting the privacy and space of neighbors.

Each of the demonstration projects provides an opportunity to highlight the principles of Q Design, which is part of the Queensland government’s attempt to achieve better results in urban design.3 These principles are composed of three main objectives: to work with the context, to establish a solid structure and to demonstrate leadership. The 20 demonstration projects, which are collaborations between the Housing Partnerships Office and the Queensland Government’s Office of the Architect, will be used as case studies to inform proposed design guidelines for improving the quality of future social housing in Queensland. The projects are also the result of the important but often invisible work of government architectural offices.

The impacts of these demonstration projects extend beyond government funded social housing. Anne Street Garden Villas and other similar projects showcase best practices in creating affordable, climate-friendly residential architecture. They also represent an example of high quality ‘missing link’ housing and the potential to encourage market investment in this type of housing.

Perhaps the most significant impact of this project is its ability to promote ontological security for residents, as all good social housing projects do.


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