Flexibility and livability - the changing face of the Great Australian Dream: Amelia Starr

Flexibility and livability - the changing face of the Great Australian Dream: Amelia Starr
Flexibility and livability - the changing face of the Great Australian Dream: Amelia Starr

Our vision of the Great Australian Dream is changing. Today’s houses are greener, more efficient and safer. However shifting demographics and changes in how modern Australian families are living point to a new emerging trend: livability.

According to the Productivity Commission, investment in housing remains the single biggest financial commitment that Australians make in their lifetime. However, in reality, our lifetime investment is not designed or built for a lifetime’s use.  We design and build our houses for a ‘Peter Pan population’ – people who never get older, never have illness, and never have a change in life circumstance or ability.

Demand for homes that are more flexible, versatile and lifespan sensitive is on the rise and the market drivers are clear.

Consider this: baby boomers, the first of which turned 65 just last year, are part of ageing explosion like none other in Australia’s history. By the middle of this century, one in four Australians will be aged 65 years and over. This massive market of home owners doesn’t want to live in a home that screams “old age”.  These homeowners want safe functionality, but they don’t want to give up attractive design.

For the first time in three decades, the number of couple households with children is on the rise. And current trends suggest that many of these children will stay in the family home well into their late twenties. Women are returning to the workforce in increasing numbers after having children. Households where both parents are employed have increased dramatically, making up nearly 60% of all couple households compared to 40% in the early 1980s. As a result, grandparents are increasingly becoming the primary carers of their grandchildren while their own children work.

What does this tell us? At any one point in the average day three generations pass through the typical Australian home.

The truth is our homes aren’t designed with safety and comfort of the whole family in mind.  A recent UK study revealed that the average home design caters for just 18% of people.  If you are male, fit, aged between 18 and 45, average height and weight and right handed then you are one of the lucky few who fit the ‘average’ profile.  The remaining 82% of people have to accept homes that don’t meet their current or future needs.

Qualitative research undertaken with recent homebuyers, builders and renovators indicates that Australian’s are becoming more aware of the benefits of livable design. Most believe that livable design features make homes safer and easier to live in. For older homeowners, more than 80% support the widespread adoption of livable design features.

International research has found that it is 22 times more efficient to design your home to meet your changing needs upfront, than it is to undertake an expensive retrofit.  And yet, few people consider livability when they are buying or building a new home.

Livable Housing Australia (LHA) is driving a transformation in the way we design and deliver the Australian dream home.  LHA’s practical, common sense guidelines to livability, the livable housing design guidelines, outline simple and straightforward design features that can be incorporated into any new or existing home, whether a detached house or apartment dwelling.  The designs of more than 250 individual dwellings have already achieved the livable housing design quality mark that attests to enhanced livability.

Up-and-coming and innovative builders are beginning to incorporate the livable housing design features into their homes because these features don’t cost more to incorporate upfront, aren’t difficult to include, and because people love the end product – a more livable home.  As president of the Building Designers Association of Victoria, Michael O’Sullivan, says:  “The guidelines present an unmissable opportunity for us to integrate livability principles into beautiful and practical design that can be enjoyed by everyone.”

Livable homes are safe for young children, able to meet the changing needs of families, support people with disabilities to live independently and help older Australians to age in place.  The bottom line is simple.  A livable home is really just good design.

Amelia Starr is executive director of Livable Housing Australia

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