Saturday, January 09, 2016

Housing and Living Space

My basic premise is that multi-storey buildings are not necessary, more over that humans have legs and are meant to be mobile. Further more that multi-storey buildings are not a solution to urban sprawl they are the cause. Urban sprawl is a consequence of focusing all attention on one single centre, no matter how distant that location is. Multi-storey office blocks and retail stores require large hinterlands or catchment areas. If insist on putting roots down, rather than staying mobile, then smaller walk about villages separated by park lands or nature reserve would be better. As for  needing too much land: I disagree.

Assuming that the maximum sustainable human population of this planet is 10 billion people, and assuming that a city 100km in diameter can be home to 10 million people and no more, then 1000 cities are required to house the world population. Assuming that 2/3rd of the city area goes to infrastructure: then person would get a block of land 16m x 16m, and a 12m x 12m building could be put on that block of land. Further assuming 3m x 3m rooms, then such building would have 16 rooms. The basic room requirements are:
  1. Kitchen
  2. Bathroom & WC (they can be separate but wouldn't need more than a single 3m x 3m space)
  3. Laundry
  4. Dining
  5. Lounge
  6. Bedroom
  7. Garage
There is thus potential for additional 9 bedrooms, and therefore for significantly larger population in the space. The new metric handbook [Tutt and Adler] indicates  that some building regulations place a minimum of 25 sq.m for one person flat. Such can be achieved from a 5m x 5m building, given that 2.5m is potentially too small for a room especially once wall thickness taken into consideration, also given that building preference is multiples of 300mm, a 6m x 6m over all building would be preferable. Given such space it can be divided into 4 equal areas, and provide 1) kitchen, 2) combined laundry and bathroom, 3) combined lounge and dining 4) bedroom. Car parking or garage space would need to be additional. Thus land requirements can be reduced below 16m x 16m and with walk about villages forming the 100km diameter city: the city centre can be limited to cultural facilities, with business centred in the villages not centred in the city.

Consider the following sketches [dimensions are in millimetres]:

1 Acre as square area

Division of Acre into the Quarter Acre Block

Division of Acre into Sixth Acre Blocks

Typical Housing Block with 4 Bedroom House

Typical block with small Housing Units, no parking and walk about.
Extra Space added

More space Added

Typical Housing Block with 8 dwellings plus parking

Five Dwellings and Improved Access

6 Dwellings, improved parking and access

5 Dwelling with some parking for visitors

Dwellings replaced by 8 Caravans

7 Caravans with some visitor Parking

What the planning regulations are more likely to allow

The proposals above ignore the planning regulations, which impose minimum land areas for detached dwellings and for shared land. When planning regulations are imposed, only likely to be able to subdivide the typical housing block to provide for two dwellings.

My basic view is that housing in the vicinity of schools, hospitals and similar facilities should be high density, and rent only. People should move in and move out. For example, the elderly and sick need closest proximity to hospitals. Whilst students and young families need closest proximity to schools. By moving people in and out of these areas, it avoids the need to abandon such facilities and to develop new facilities. 

If the buildings providing such facilities are 4 storeys, then adjacent high density housing should also be 4 storeys and diminish in height to single storey in less than 1 km from the centre of such facility {average walking speed is 5km/h, therefore 1 km is about 12 minutes away}.

Planning should also support houses being moved in and out from a block of land, and provide for the blocks of land to have service modules which provide the utility services normally connected to a house. That is the use of caravans and motor homes should be integrated into the community. Population in an area shrinks and grows, and so do employment opportunities, people should not be enslaved or otherwise held prisoner to a specific block of land.

It should have been apparent during the early 1980's, that there is need to increase the mobility of the people, not mess around with mortgage rates. People in South Australia (SA) were going interstate to find work, but had mortgages on houses in SA they still needed to pay off, and they couldn't sell the house because no one wanted to move into a state with no employment. The way large employers are closing down, history is going to repeat itself.

We do not need multi-storey accommodation in Adelaide to prevent urban sprawl, rather we need to remove the need to go into Adelaide. Constructing a massive hospital in Adelaide is only benefit to politicians not to the people. The community was advertising just how far away medical services are, they needed and wanted local hospitals in the mining and farming towns.

We really need to develop the interior of the continent away from the coast line. The population needs to be mobile but have the comforts and conveniences of fixed dwellings. Development does not require construction of buildings, but construction of infrastructure that supports the functions of those buildings.

The above sketches illustrate that existing housing blocks can provide for more dwellings. Rather than construct a 4 bedroom home, 2 to 4 dwellings would be more flexible. The design problem is how to make the 4 dwellings function as 1 dwelling whilst kids are young, then function as 4 dwellings when the kids are older? How to have primary and secondary dwellings on the one block? This is going beyond the granny flat, as there are planning restrictions on the function of such building: there has to be dependency between the granny flat and the main dwelling: they cannot be two independent self-sufficient dwellings. That typically means there are restrictions on putting two dwellings with kitchen, bathrooms and laundry on the one block of land: one has to be dependent on the other for such facilities.

Subdivision of the land into separate properties is a different matter. My concern here is not having parents invest in large houses, providing large bedroom studies to support their kids in further education, then there being a future problem of finding their own affordable house. Whilst the parents otherwise need to downsize their house for retirement. Clearly the large family house only serves a temporary need: but its presence obstructs the provision of more affordable and suitable housing for both the young and old alike.

So somehow a single property, building or land, needs to be split into multiple private zones. The above sketches show individual dwellings, but a large dwelling could be divided internally. The latter concept being pushed a few years back and known as zoning. One of the zoning concepts is the idea of renting part of a large house out to others to pay for retirement. Another idea is that the kids buy the house from the parents, both still live in the house, but ownership shifts hands. One version of the latter idea is that the parents own the house, and they therefore provide the mortgage to the kids: a mortgage that the banks may not otherwise provide. Another version is that the kids have better jobs and more income, so they pay off the mortgage and take ownership of the property, and thus enable their parents to stay in the family home on retirement.

There are a multitude of possibilities: the main requirement is to get away from the idea that the Australian dream home is a quarter acre block. Its a stupid idea, its not as if people spend that much time in such houses any way. There is increase in people eating out, so large kitchens and dining rooms not really required. They spend more time at work, or on the road. So for the most part really only need a storage facility and somewhere to sleep.

Land ownership is also more problem than benefit. If the state/government wants to put a highway through your property then they typically can do so. There may be a dragged out court case, and compensation owing, but ultimately the highway is likely to go through: especially if that is what the public at large wants. If a nation is defined by geographical boundaries, then the land should remain in the ownership of the state. People should not be granted ownership of land, but rather granted license to occupy and use.

If at all possible the cost of land and buildings should be separated. Though I would go further and say that land should only be rented. If land rent goes up, then possibly a good idea to move or rent less land. Such would possibly encourage mobile homes, and keeping homes to sizes which can be transported without special permits. Better yet the increase in the widths of roads to accommodate wider loads without special permits. Broadloom carpet for example is about 3.6m wide, so rooms which are whole multiples of such dimension would have the less waste in the use of such material. Further more 3m to 3.6m width is a better width for a room than the approximately 2.4m width of a shipping container. So allowing a maximum of 300mm for wall thickness, would result in a minimum building width of 4.2m, then allowing 300mm clearance either side would result in a minimum road lane width of 4.8m or 9.6m for a road.

On the other hand transporting buildings is largely transporting empty space, so better to have something that can collapse for transport and expand for usage. A shipping container can be slit down the middle creating 1.2m wide segments. Single extension panels can then be placed either on the outside or the inside. On the outside the panels could be 1200mm wide whilst on the inside they could be limited to say 900mm. Therefore the building could be increased in width by an extra 1.8m to 2.4m: giving a building that is from 4.2 m to 4.8m in width.

Further more buildings don't need to be made from rigid materials, they could be made from light weight textiles. A large percentage of a building is just covered space, it needs some weather proofing, but it does need to be constructed to keep other people out for the purpose of securing contents. Even so walls can be made secure, and fabric roof placed over, if the walls are high enough then access via the roof would not be convenient for thieves to take advantage. But once again planning regulations have to permit fabric structures.

It should not be necessary for the whole of a building to be designed to resist earthquakes or hurricanes or any other extreme environmental event. To start with, the buildings designed to the codes will not resist: the designs can and most likely will be exceeded, and the buildings destroyed by earthquakes or hurricanes. It is better to design a building that collapses in a relatively safe manner: single storey buildings have better scope for fail-safe behaviour than multi-storey buildings. Multi-storey buildings are death traps, no matter what codes they are designed to. Light weight, soft textiles are less likely to cause severe injury on collapse than heavy rigid materials.

We need planning regulations that enable and empower the individual, but which prevent the creation of over crowed slums. If blocks of land are properly serviced, have boundary fences, and minimum clearances of the building envelope from the property boundaries then creation of slum areas is reduced.

A lot of the new large house developments are on the way to becoming slums, what with their near continuous roofscapes, and lack of circulation around the buildings. Building rules set minimum distances from property boundaries based on fire resistance levels. The South Australian development act, adds extra requirement of building either being on the boundary or 600mm away. The problem is that the 600mm seems to relate to the wall not the building envelope. So dumb building designers set wall 600mm from the fence, have 600mm eaves overhangs to the roof, and the 100mm to 150mm wide gutter over hanging the property boundary, encroaching on the neighbours property.

The purpose of the 600mm boundary clearance is access for removal of litter and vermin. Narrow gaps between buildings will trap litter, and attract vermin, and if the gap is too narrow access to clean up is prohibited. It should also be noted that the minimum width of an industrial platform is 600mm, and increasingly ladders are prohibited for use when working at heights. So to be able to clear gutters, paint eaves boards, need space to install portable scaffolding platforms. So the 600mm boundary clearance should be from the building envelope. The 600mm eaves concerns windows, and summer and winter sun: less than 60mm doesn't provide adequate shading. Therefore minimum wall clearance from boundary is 1200mm. So 900mm to meet minimum distance from fire source, not acceptable on its own for deciding boundary clearance.

Building on the boundary should not be acceptable. Fist two adjacent buildings built on separate properties have a gap between them, an inaccessible gap: a gap which breaches the intents behind the 600mm minimum boundary clearance. That gap maybe less  than a 1mm, but it is still a gap, now what can 1mm width of rain water 6m high do to the walls? Besides the dirt and grime, and water that can damage the building materials, there is a lack of circulation around the building for both people and air. Take note the English terraced house have ginnels and paths behind. These ginnels being deliberate tunnels passing through the row of terraced houses, with the second storey passing over the tunnel. Construction of such ginnels is not something that is likely to be built by private individuals building their houses to the property boundaries. Terraced houses were and are designed and built as a block of houses. So building houses to property boundaries should not be allowed.

Private detached dwellings should have a minimum of 600mm path circulating around the entire building. If do not have such circulation then the buildings should be attached. If attached then there is no open gap between the two dwellings, the roof will span such gap. It is also important that attached houses are constructed such that individual houses can be demolished without damage to the other houses. With well designed terraced houses individual houses can be demolished.

To be clear, neither multi-storey buildings or two storey buildings should be required. A walk about village can be designed and constructed using single storey dwellings only. Increased insulation requirements for energy efficiency also typically means improved insulation against noise. Smaller houses have less surface area and volume, and require less heating and cooling if insulated.

A dwelling suitable for one person is typically also equally suitable for two people. Average household occupancy in Australia is 2.8 persons. A large percentage of 3 bedroom houses are occupied by one person, only 5% of households are considered to have too few bedrooms when judged against some Canadian quality of life index. There is a shortage of suitable housing for school leavers, students, and retiree's. Basically properties for single's and couples, despite a recent article which suggests a shortage of 3 bedroom apartments. Any further construction of dwellings is going to push occupancy to 2 persons per dwelling. Real estate agents therefore need to get better at managing available living space with the needs of the population. Families need moving into homes near schools, single people need smaller homes closer to something else: work, entertainment.

I contend we have all the family homes we need, some may need extending, but no others need constructing. Further construction should focus on single storey sole occupancy dwellings: such dwellings are likely to have a bedroom and office: possibly described as two bedroom house. Such dwelling would be equally suitable for 2 people: a couple.

However the most important requirement here in South Australia is shifting focus away from Adelaide as a business district: cultural and administration district I have no problem with, such activities do not require regular transport to and from the city centre. Regular business commuters to and from a city is a waste of fuel. Mining, farming and manufacturing tend not to be in state capital city centres they are remote in suburbs. These areas need developing into more diverse business centres. City centres are typically office and retail, and there is no need for people to be travelling large distances for office work or retail. So cities are largely obsolete, it is only their cultural facilities that are of real importance. Further if a country is to be considered developed then the physical geography of the country should be developed not just isolated spots. Australia's interior is largely a barren undeveloped wasteland: if you get lost there don't expect anyone to find you, and don't expect to live long enough to be found.

Given a typical car can travel at least 400km on a single tank of fuel, I suggest there is need to at least construct a network of small outposts on a 400km grid: so that no matter where a person is in Australia that person is no more than 400km from some concept of civilisation. Each outpost to have at least one medical doctor and a small hospital, along with a fuel depot. All part of getting the population mobile and exploring the region. The big problem for Australia is getting water to these outposts. Which raises another issue, pipelines are not necessarily the best way of getting resources to an area: a pipeline has to be filled and that waste the particular resource. So for example transporting water by truck is potentially better than water by pipeline. Water by truck is not as convenient as water by pipe, but it wastes less water in the transport system: all the water can be used.

Australia is not the only place that needs to consider future land development: the world has problems with supply of housing, schools and hospitals. Rather than bulldoze slums, it would be better to impose some simple planning criteria, to improve circulation of air and people, and otherwise improve sanitation. Large houses are not really required. Large houses need to be cleaned and maintained, most people cannot afford servants, and they don't have the time to look after such houses. People are thus pursuing lifestyles of the rich and famous but can only partially support such lifestyle: its crazy.

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[09/01/2016] : Original