Kent Nordin, senior executive and general manager of Ikea Australia presented a lecture hosted by the Historic Houses Trust back in 2007 under the title of ‘Out of the Box’. He said, “In Europe Ikea’s prefab houses are designed to be affordable for a single parent on the equivalent of a nurse’s wage, when we have house and land releases people literally camp out over night at our store shop fronts to sign up for this housing stock.”
This got me thinking about what Australia is doing with regards to providing this kind of service to it's public. What I found was staggering.
The answer is, not much! There is an overriding sense that the Australian family is somewhat institutionalised to a housing model that is not only unsustainable by nature of construction but is influenced in design by exterior forces. I would like to propose to you that most of the housing available to us is ultimately generated out of fear.
We are taught through years of conditioning that we need to build in a certain way to ensure resale value is maintained, we need to maximise the interior space of our homes to make them feel as large as possible. This space is often divided up into cramped small quarters to maximise the amount of text we can fit onto a real-estate sales pitch. In turn we buy the smallest block possible to afford the biggest house we can get. The flow on effect has repercussions far beyond the obvious aesthetics i.e. the need for mass mechanical ventilation, the cramped nature of available outdoor space and its relationship to inside, this keeps kids inside rather than promoting an active lifestyle, also the lack of consideration to basic solar passive design techniques, appropriate shading and the maximisation of correct orientation, the list goes on.
Alternatively 7% of houses are designed by architects. While this way of living can produce a much more appropriate response to place often we see a massive escalation in cost per square metre, the average architectural home starting at around $2500/m2. This too is unsustainable because it excludes the majority of people. Where is it all heading? I believe to a re-emergence of prefabrication and modular construction unlike anything we have seen to date.