A new design competition for the Western Australian region of Hilton seeks to re-define what we think about when we think about public housing.

This week, the Hilton Design Competition put out a call for architects to design “a new kind of public housing” for Hilton, an area approximately five kilometres east of Fremantle. A design brief for the project specifies a search for “novel” housing typologies that “challenge expectations and generate variety, equity and affordability”.

“Well-designed public housing promotes economic and social diversity and improves the quality of life for its residents,” reads the competition brief.

“Without public housing, many vulnerable Australians would be unable to access accommodation, forcing them to make desperate choice about how they meet their need for shelter.

“Place-responsive infill housing can also create more sustainable cities by providing diversity in the housing market, by countering urban sprawl, by creating more opportunities for social engagement, and by consolidating services to deliver better public infrastructure.”

One of the competition aims is to demonstrate how, through sensitive design, public housing can help retain and reinforce the urban character of an area.

For instance, many of the buildings in Hilton were designed and prefabricated in Austria towards the end of WWII. While this model has become an important aspect of Hilton’s character, much of this residential stock fails to meet current accessibility stands – a particular problem for older tenants. The lack of housing diversity in the area, coupled with gentrification, has contributed to Hilton’s growing unaffordability.

Initiated by the Housing division of the Department of Communities in Western Australia, the Hilton Revitalisation Projects seeks to provide innovative solutions to the problem of inadequate low- to moderate-income housing. The competition has been endorsed by the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) and developed in consultation with the office of the Western Australian government architect.

The competition will run across two stages. Stage one will require entrants to submit an initial concept for two public housing units of up to 80 square metres. A maximum of four shortlisted entrants will be invited to participate in stage two, which will require the submission of a developed concept based on the initial design stage. This latter, more detailed concept needs to be able to be rolled out across six specified infill lots in Hilton.

A contract will be offered to the winning entrant, who will be given the opportunity to apply their model to the design of 14 new public housing units on seven battle-axe lots in Hilton.

“The Hilton Design Competition will tackle these challenges [of housing diversity and unsustainable urban sprawl] by demonstrating how design quality can be achieved through an ‘economy of means’ to create public housing that is modest, inclusive and ‘placeful’,” reads the design brief.

More information on the Hilton Design Competition can be found here.