Zone Housing

Our households and family structure are continually evolving, but often this is not reflected in the homes we live in. Consequently issues arise when the family home outgrows those living in it, or a change in circumstance results in a desire for more space. In both circumstances the issue rests on the perceived inability to have flexibility within our homes.

CODA has a specific interest in issues related to housing and endeavours to find solutions to the growing pressures that stem from our increasing population and changing living arrangements. As a result, a number of our projects delve into the realm of housing prototypes and the concept of elasticity within the home. Broome North, a set of guidelines for housing in the Kimberley town of Broome, looks at this in relationship to a transient and demographically diverse population. Design strategies for the Town of Cambridge propose housing typologies that will allow the Council to reach their density targets as set out by the document Directions 2031. Whilst projects in the Pilbara consider how homes may have a greater level of flexibility to accommodate the fly-in-fly-out population and the possibility of whole families relocating to communities that exist almost entirely as a result of the resource industry.

The concept of ‘zone housing’ is a notable outcome across all of these projects and provides a solution to the lack of flexibility inherent in most housing. Essentially, the concept of zone housing is the incorporation of two independent houses within one single dwelling ‘shell’ to accommodate smaller households. Feasible in larger residences, the zone home can be re-converted into one larger home, as needs change, or when the household grows. This concept can be incorporated into existing homes and is increasingly important in the design of new homes, as is the case within Broome and the communities of the Pilbara. Consideration should be made towards the likeliness of a changing population and how housing could respond in the near future.

Within the Town of Cambridge single houses make up the majority of housing stock, representing around 74% of all housing. Population forecasts show an increase in lone-person and smaller households, whilst at the same time there is a growing tendency for adult children to remain at home for longer. This current combination of changes in household structures must in turn be reflected within new built form. In the Town of Cambridge there is an opportunity to make use of the existing housing stock and large land plots that typify the area. For a smaller household these large blocks are often high maintenance and costly. With its well-established character and attractive streetscape, there is a natural resistance in the Town to change within the established built form. Residents are protective of their environment and reluctant to move away into smaller residences.

Within the housing pamphlet compiled for the Town of Cambridge, CODA considers these factors and proposes a Zone Home option as one of the specific dwelling typologies relevant to the area. This approach would suit much of the housing stock within the Town, most notably within the suburbs of Floreat and City Beach. An important outcome of the zone home is the provision of a portion of the home for rental accommodation, providing the owners with an income source whilst also being able to remain in their homes.

Within Broome and the Pilbara, the driving forces behind the need for a change in residential typologies rests in the diversity of population and influxes in population. Towns within the Pilbara are predicted to experience large increases in population. Port and South Hedland, for example, are expected to experience a 300% increase by 2035, with towns such as Newman, Karratha and Dampier all anticipated to experience population growth in excess of 200%. In Broome the most recent census found that families made up 69.5% of households and that the cultural fabric of the town is particularly diverse. In both instances the driving force for a change in the way we think about new housing lay in the common lack of affordable and appropriate housing. This, in combination with a lack of labour, brings about high rental costs and a dominance of freestanding, single lot homes unsuited to a considerable proportion of the population.

All of these factors, in combination with the substantial demand for housing appropriate for low-income earners, are remedied within the zone home typology. The Broome Housing Guide makes reference to the term, ‘elasticity’, a concept that suggests the stretching and contraction of dwellings to meet the need for both adaptable homes and smaller, more affordable residences. In one instance, a standard 3-bedroom family home may be converted into a 2 bedroom shared house with the additional room forming an independent living space for additional occupants. The same house could be converted to suit a live/work environment or to accommodate extended family within a tight time frame. Homes in the Pilbara are often too expensive to either purchase or rent for those who work in supplementary industries such as retail, hospitality and community services. An increased provision of zone homes, amongst other smaller residences and housing typologies, would be beneficial for these sectors of the population and would provide a better response to population diversity.

Zone homes are a concept that is specifically suited to the broader Australian context, which typically favours larger houses and excessive block sizes. These may be suitable at particular points in our lives but in time households change and the requirement for a large home is often unnecessary, and, in some instances becomes unaffordable. The conversion, or design of a zone home provides the owner with elasticity of living arrangements into the future, as well as the potential for an income from rent whilst providing a greater level of smaller housing stock for those seeking affordable rental properties. It is a relatively simple application that can be incorporated into both new builds and through retrofitting existing homes. Elasticity is something that must be considered as a credible application within our built environment, particularly as we move towards a denser population both in the urban realm and in regional communities.


Western Australian Regional Cities Alliance. (accessed 8 September 2011).

Pilbara Planning and Infrastructure Framework, 2011. Australian Bureau of Statistics