Zones and versatile design create sustainable homes


Street Wise- Published In the West Australian July 17th, 2013

Author: Tess O’Brien


Perth’s population is expected to increase by half a million within the next 18 years (Western Australian Planning Commission 2010).  Architects, planners, developers and the individual are all important participants in the changes that must occur in the built environment as we re-think the Australian home in order to accommodate this immense shift.

Infill housing is a vital component in densifying our suburbs. Comprising 47% of the 328,000 dwellings required throughout Perth (West Australian Planning Commission, 2010).  Perth’s future housing must consider more people and a changing demographic. Our population is ageing such that by 2051 the percentage of people aged 65+ will be double that of today. Those aged 85+ will have quadrupled (Judd 2012).

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) revealed that 74% of Australians over 55 years currently live in detached dwellings. A large percentage of these have 3 or more bedrooms.  This challenges the notion that the elderly require or desire smaller homes.

We need to be creative to “right size” to provide demographically diverse housing stock designed for flexibility.  Housing design should include the potential to expand and contract as residents move through the natural phases of life.  Innovation in housing design would allow for a single home accommodating several stages of life. This is sometimes referred to as “zone home” design, whereby houses can be reconfigured into different occupation zones depending on occupants needs.

The term ‘Ageing in Place’ has been coined to describe the ability for people to remain in their own homes as they age, regardless of their individual care needs. Higher density housing could provide a platform for this.  A live-able portion of all new households should be designed to be universally accessible.

By thinking outside of the box designs could involve the integration of shared living space for use by a collection of households.  This type of solution can increase density through smaller and better-designed homes and provide the additional living spaces or ‘spare rooms’ that are often only used sporadically.

A positive shift is required in the perception of high-density and infill housing, which is becoming a fundamental part of Perth’s housing evolution. It is an exciting challenge to design for future generations within the parameters of an entrenched image of the Australian home located on a large block.

Finding the correct mix of affordable, well-sized and demographically diverse housing will ensure housing in Perth is sustainable, adaptable and able to accommodate an aging population well into the next century.


Judd, B. Downsizing amongst older Australians . AHURI Positioning Report No.150, Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, 2012.    

Rowley, Steven Phibbs, Peter. Delivering diverse and affordable housing on infill development sites . AHURI Final Report No.1, Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute , 2012.  

Western Australian Planning Commission. Directions 2031 and Beyond: Metroplitan Planning Beyond the Horizon. Report, Perth: Western Australian Planning Commission, 2010.