Not in my backyard!

Terraced homes have often been perceived as the antithesis of the kiwi ‘quarter acre’ dream, yet they’re not a new typology.

Since this city’s beginnings, many a terrace has been built to house Aucklanders. So, why, when it comes to terraced housing do Aucklanders seem reluctant to see more terraced houses being developed in their neighbourhoods?

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Richly detailed brickwork adorns an early terrace on Symonds Street

 

Perhaps it’s due to our enduring dream of a large back yard and a stand-alone house, that we never really embraced the humble terrace in the same way that Melburnians and Sydneysiders have.

In more recent years, our attitude towards terraced housing has if anything worsened. The terraced house was adopted by developers as the ‘efficient typology’ for delivering cheap infill housing. In the last two decades, this has led to terraced housing being squeezed tightly onto sites with little consideration for the requirements of the people who would actually live there.

Then there was the leaky-home debacle, which affected many of the more cheaply made terraced housing developments across Auckland.  As a result, the terraced house has too often become synonymous with ‘poorly constructed,’ ‘poorly designed,’ homes with a ‘limited lifespan.’

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Jalcon Homes’s innovative and contemporary new terraces in Hobsonville, designed by Stevens Lawson Architects, balance privacy at ground floor with open and engaging front facades to deliver an attractive and safe street.

 

Thankfully, the tide has started to turn on terraced housing. We’ve started to see an influx in higher quality terraced homes being built in Auckland’s new and innovative neighbourhoods such as Hobsonville, Long Bay and Stonefields.  On the back of these developments, would be terraced home buyer’s confidence seems to be on the up and up.

So what’s changed? What are the lessons we can take from a new generation of terraced home design? And what should you expect from terraced housing on your street or in your neighbourhood?

 

Lesson one

Driveways aren’t just for cars; roll out the welcome mat to pedestrians…

When you look down the driveway of an unsuccessful terraced housing project, you will see a long concrete drive surrounded by a wall of garage doors. This tends to create the feeling that one is standing in a concrete canyon. The car is catered for but this is done at the expense of everything else.

A shared driveway that’s suitable for pedestrians and cars on the other hand creates a series of spaces that can support a wide range of uses for residents. The effect is the driveway becomes an inviting access way to the housing, and creates the feeling that the driveway is ‘rolling out the welcome mat.’

Planting makes a big difference to the shared driveway too. Semi-mature trees (at least five years old) and landscaping along the driveway helps to break up the monotony of the terraces and soften the concrete canyon effect.

Defining a pathway within the space, either as part of the shared driveway or preferably separated from it, connects the neighbourhood to the site. This provides a much enhanced sense of address for both the new terraced housing and the street itself.

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This rear lane in Hobsonville by Construkt Architects benefits from being well overlooked by the housing it serves. The use of different paving materials and intelligent planting creates an attractive space for both pedestrians and cars.

 

Lesson two

Learn from the neighbours…design to fit in

More often than not the end unit of the terrace is a simple replication of the mid- terrace units, effectively ignoring the street and rudely ‘facing away’ from the neighbours. This makes for a very disjointed streetscape and does little to create a sense of community.

It’s best to learn from your neighbours, by observing the character of your street and your neighbourhood. Whether it’s the height and scale, or the materials and language of the surrounding buildings, acknowledging the character of the surrounding street is a sign of respect for the neighbourhood that generally should be encouraged.

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Lesson three

Design for privacy because it’s rude to stare…

Another challenge for ensuring quality in your backyard is the management of privacy for each dwelling; after all it’s rude to stare.  A number of clever tactics can be employed in the placement of the housing units on the site, the layout of rooms within each unit, and the detailing of the façade and landscaping to direct outlooks away from the neighbours. By designing for privacy, it’s possible to obscure direct views between units, without having to resort to translucent glazing.

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This terraced unit is setback from the front building line of the neighbouring unit, ensuring the first floor balcony is not overlooked by the adjacent property. Mature planting has been used by the owner to further privacy of their outdoor spaces at ground level.

 

Lesson four

Don’t be kept in the dark…

Access to sunlight is often a sensitive  issue, particularly as it can affect neighbour’s access to the sacred indoor-outdoor flow, daylight, sunshine, and privacy. Today, it is relatively simple for professional designers to use tools such as Sketchup to generate shadow diagrams for their projects, revealing the impact of proposed terraced developments.  Indeed, the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) requires shadows diagrams for many typical projects, allowing planners to understand this impact relatively easily.

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A good designer can quickly create a simple 3D model such as this one, to understand and demonstrate the impacts of design proposals on overshadowing and shading

 

Quality in my back yard!

Quality terraced homes in our neighbourhoods can help to provide an alternative stream of affordable housing that support a wider range of lifestyles and life-stages. Such housing can be attractive to single-parents who want to stay in the same school zone after separating, or first-time buyers looking to settle where they grew up, and grandparents down-sizing without losing touch with friends and family.

Terraced housing, as a more efficient housing typology, can help to improve the viability of local businesses by increasing the number of potential customers in your neighbourhood. It can also help to improve local services, such as more frequent public transport options.

We all want to live close to the people and places that matter to us. Quality terraced housing is a typology that is enjoyed around the world, and is a far more efficient typology for land use than the stand-alone house. By insisting on quality in your backyard, you can help ensure future terraced housing developments are a positive addition to our city.

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