According to the Buchan Group, the residential sector has always been a paradox of differences dependant on price point, location, supply and demand, demographics, community, and transport integration.

However nowadays, the advent of connected cities and infrastructure, alongside population growth, is driving higher density requirements in central locations and rezoning within accessible suburban locations; while the desire for a detached home or unit living coupled with diverse price points – from affordable to luxury – has opened up new typologies and reframed traditional ones such as co-living.

A new way of living

Advancing the shift in how we view residential design, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a complete re-think in the way we live; this is in equal part due to the ‘lockdown’, remote working requirements, and a wider re-focus across society on priorities and quality of life. The economic effects of the pandemic have also caused a shift in the need for more affordable and social housing stock. Aligned with this is the ever-present equality debate, the decline in affordable housing and habitation proximity to the workplace, mobility, and migration and travel, all of which have increased the need for flexible living options.

The pandemic has expedited thinking on policy concerning development typologies, with a review on foreign investment, build to rent and rent to buy models, investment properties, new home grants, first-time buyer stimulus and renovation packages being considered. Funding models for this increased demand will continue to be a hot topic as capital is prioritised. However it is clear that any crises – whether health-related, economic or climatic – validates the need for homes and associated policy to be adaptable and agile.

The impact of isolation

The world has changed rapidly due to the pandemic; isolating to prevent the spread of infection has meant that people are spending more time at home than ever before. Achieving a healthy and flexible work-play-life balance has proved easier for those in detached dwellings with ample internal and external space, but it is evident that this pandemic has caused increased difficulties for those living alone or in small homes/units without interactions with community or access to external space and sanitary communal zones. Even if a ‘magic bullet’ such as a vaccine becomes available now or in the future, the impacts of the pandemic will have far-reaching consequences on the way we live and the way residential property is designed.

Working from home together

The psychological implications of home-based quarantine, isolation, and ’lock-down’ are yet to be seen, but what we do know is that they way residential properties are designed will need to be adapted to meet new expectations. Whether they are in a house or an apartment, people will require ’work zones’ beyond a desk in the corner or a study nook, enabling them to delineate work-life from home-life. An increase in acoustic linings, power, and data connections to this space will allow for greater connection and flexibility.

Internal and external break out spaces enabling multiple occupants to connect, engage, or isolate throughout a property will be a necessity going forward. Multi- residential developments will be seeking an increase in external communal spaces that allow for social distancing and community activities such as urban farms, gardens, exercise space, and other self-sufficiency focused inclusions. Self-sufficiency measures could extend to a need for self-generating power and water supplies and these needs will need to be considered. Quality of life has always been a driving force for those in high-rise, high-density, and affordable living developments, and this is expected to become amplified as we assess high-density living based on increased population growth. This, alongside life cycle costs and sustainable design principles, will address building standards and design outcomes.

A sustainable future

Sustainability and passive design have long been employed by architects and designers. The way we build, the materials we select, and the design principles we imbed, may have not been developed in the past due to economic or planning constraints, but we expect to see a greater focus on this with long-term design thinking now taking a greater role in how we conceptualise residential buildings.

Reducing pandemic spread and negative climate impact while balancing the need for social interaction will increase the need for resilient, well designed and planned mixed- use communities. Encouraging a work-play-learn-live mixed-use built environment, planned within walkable distance removing daily reliance on cars, and with optimum infrastructure, may create a best-designed approach for positive psychological, economic and climate responses. However, well-planned infrastructure will need to provide the foundations for these liveable communities to work, connect, and respond to each other alongside maintaining social distancing.

Residential reimagined

Beyond the pandemic, the built form of new residences may require a re-assessment of vertical transportation for social distancing protocols. An increase in lift car numbers or automated lift functions to avoid touch points and fewer people per lift are likely directions. An increase in vertical transport to serve units directly and reduce corridors may change the space planning of the service core. What were once emergency or fire stairs may become more frequently used and so these areas will need to be reviewed in terms of design, security, cleaning, ventilation, and trip hazard awareness. Where people have previously entered multi-residential blocks freely, we could see extra security, highly regulated access, or sanitisation zones at entry. The removal of traditional concierge services may be reinstated to centralise dissipated practices such as mail collection, uber eats deliveries, and facility management.


 Movement within multi-residential developments is likely to be rethought. The free movement we see in common areas could now evolve into a series of contactless pathways and frictionless interactions. Limiting the need to touch surfaces for navigation, operations for adoption could be technology-based – such as smartphones to call lifts, automated doors, motion sensors, and facial recognition. Home automation tech may advance to detect occupant numbers and enable shut off of services when residents are out of the area.

Communal amenities such as BBQ spaces, gyms, and pools have all been impacted by viral transfer and may be reimagined in the wake of the pandemic; while the increase in e-commerce could see the inclusion of parcel lockers with individual access and fridge lockers for food deliveries. DDA considerations must be implemented, with reduced touchpoints for those with physical impairments such as blindness, deafness or other disabilities. We are avidly watching the policymakers and code directives in this space.

Cleaning protocols will most definitely increase in frequency and the modes of cleaning will become more technologically advanced. We are already seeing the adoption of robot cleaners and light systems that automatically sanitize. The service design of the residential building may incorporate a greater need for air filtration and water filtration systems with an increase in new developments gaining higher Green Star ratings/Wells ratings or the like.

The co-sharing model may further wane as people struggle to associate with unknown people and maintain social distancing in communal zones. However, the uptake in co-living or multi-generational living, where like-minded individuals or families live together, may increase as the economy rebounds. There is strong evidence for the positive outcomes of these typologies in relation to community building, shared experiences, and interaction. Using shared amenities reduces the economic impact on the inhabitants and also allows for social interaction, albeit the overall area of the shared space may increase in size due to social distancing measures.

Co-living brands and operators may have to review their philosophies and their leasing models to adhere to changing expectations from lessees and policymakers. If these models are to survive, cleaning regimes and protocols may need to be reviewed with the inclusion of increased services, HEPA filtration systems, and UV light devices to reduce the spread of airborne pathogens, especially in communal areas.

Beyond primary residences and investment properties, there has been a significant impact on student housing. Australia and New Zealand have many foreign students, and medical assessments will be an essential post-travel procedure going forward; zones will need to be allocated for this practice, alongside availing properties which can handle resultant isolation and social distancing needs. Many student housing precincts have had no visitor policies implemented.


Aged care, transitional care, and assisted living residences have been further influenced by COVID-19 with more extreme visitor restrictions, carer policies, and on- site distancing requirements not only for inhabitants but carers too. Zones to facilitate these changes will need to be considered and adaptable for potential future occurrences such as this.

We have previously mentioned technology and isolation. One step further to encourage interaction during times of isolation could be VR for interaction in others’ homes, encouraging communication and shared spaces virtually. You could share a coffee with a friend on the other side of town or a relative on the other side of the world beyond a video call or a telephone chat. This is a trend which has seen ready adoption during the recent lockdowns.

We could see an upsurge in alternative approaches to the design of housing, such as an increase in tiny houses, shipping container conversions, and – as we have seen with this pandemic – temporary shelter and temporary housing for those in quarantine or requiring minimal medical intervention, as well as adopting a model to help with our homeless population and providing them with a safe place to reside.

Beyond adaptations associated with COVID and the ‘fear of germs’, the design of buildings, and more specifically residences, needs to change as society and the nature of living has changed. Whatever does transpire as a result of COVID-19, housing spaces are here to stay but how they change will be increasingly interesting to watch.

Image: Buchan Group