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    The rise of the designer boarding house - John Kavanagh of Baker Kavanagh Architects

    John Kavanagh, Baker Kavanagh Architects

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    Modern boarding houses are no longer poorly adopted large houses with shared bathrooms and little acoustic or privacy consideration. They are now purpose-made and follow strong requirements to have a certain level of amenity in line with state policy. In fact, the modern boarding house is more like a hotel room, often with shared community areas and facilities.

    In an ever-less affordable property market, the affordable housing policies are a great incentive to encourage developers to build affordable housing in both poor and wealthy suburbs to promote a more balanced economic and socially integrated community.

    However, it’s not just policy that is driving the change. There is a shifting paradigm in habitat worldwide happening in our society and architecture is changing with it. The current younger generation also seems to have a more nomadic attitude to life compared to their predecessors. The traditional family structure has changed considerably and many in society have become interested in smaller living spaces. Australia has some of the largest houses in the world and so much of this space is unused and unnecessary, so why not make use of it?

    Architects and designers are faced with the challenge to design functional, smaller spaces and I believe we also have a responsibility to raise the perceived public profile of smaller space living in such spaces as boarding houses and student accommodation. They are great examples of well-crafted dwellings on a micro scale and also help create a sense of community, a good vibe and diversity. Our street in North Bondi, for example, has expensive apartments and public housing side by side. Having affordable housing scattered around, rather than in concentrated areas keeps an authentic feel to the changing socio-economic suburb. It also gives Australia a chance to showcase how good design can give interesting solutions to future issues of sustainability and ensures we’re up to speed with the rest of the world in these areas.

    I strongly believe in the benefits of boarding houses to the community. They promote community connectivity in an increasingly isolated society, improved density opportunities around things like transport and work hubs, suburb diversity and access for young property buyers into areas they may not be able to afford.

    A recent example of how affordable housing can work harmoniously in the community is evident in BKA’s design of a mixed residential/boarding room development in Wolli Creek. It was designed in a way to give all boarding house rooms their own private bathroom, kitchen and balcony, which is not mandatory for boarding rooms but our client was insistent on giving the boarding house rooms similar amenity to the apartments. There is also a communal open space that is available to all to help build a harmonious community within the building. This goes a long way to kill the stereotype that boarding houses are for the “down and outs” only.

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