4 Sep 2017

Smaller and smarter living spaces

From Nights, 7:12 pm on 4 September 2017

More of us in apartments could be the answer to New Zealand's housing crisis, says design writer Catherine Foster.

She celebrates our history of building up, rather than out in the new book Apartment Living New Zealand.

Apartment living hasn't always chimed with New Zealanders, many of whom arrived here nursing the quarter-acre dream, says Foster, who lives happily in a 40m2 apartment.

"When land was cheap and the population was small, that worked - but as our population grew the roads, the services, the infrastructure that underpins the city had to grow, too."

Foster's book covers the first apartment style buildings of the '30s, early art deco apartments and mid-century classics such as Auckland's Seymour Apartments through to modern conversions of old buildings and newer builds from the late 1970s on.

One of the first in New Zealand was Auckland's Brooklyn Apartments, built in the late 1920s.

By the mid-20th-century, some of our multi-storey buildings were inspired by the European modernist movement, such as the Le Corboisier-inspired Seymour Apartments.

"They are absolutely classics of their era and they have stood the test of time. Good apartments with good design that are still very sought after."

So-called 'walk-up' or lowrise apartments are probably the best modern day solution to denser urban living, Foster says.

Multi-storey buildings are too expensive to build, so apartments in these aren't widely affordable.

"Building an apartment to modern code is an expensive procedure: especially multi-storeyed lifts, fire and sound separation. They are not cheap to build unless they're low-rise walk-up apartments."

Poor-quality highrises that blight parts of Auckland have deterred many from apartment living, she says.

"Awful little shoebox things, there was oversupply, and they really were aimed at the student population, they were horrible. And of course, we then had a big swing away by the general public saying 'We're never going near those horrible things'."

Hobsonville in Auckland is a good example of effective dense urban development, Foster says.

"To get [apartments] affordable it very much comes down to urban planning. They have to be small, you're probably going to sacrifice indoor space as long as outdoor space is provided, as it is at Hobsonville Point."