Saturday, October 1, 2016

1 The Affordability and Social Quality of Housing

The per capita income of Malaysia has increased 30 times since independence, but as people moved from kampong houses to terrace houses and now to high-rise, the quality of the home environment is far from 30 times better. In fact, it has become worse (figure 1). At the same time, houses are getting more and more expensive.

Figure 1 From kampongs to terrace houses to high-rise

This book is about a solution to those problems: a cost-saving way of improving the social quality of our homes and neighbourhoods.

As cities grow, rising prosperity fuels the need for new housing: but the supply of land is limited. Where land is cheap, people can afford to build bungalows. But as the cost of land increases, people build instead semi-detached houses, terrace houses, low-rise, or high-rise flats.

Also, with increasing prosperity, car-ownership has spiralled, not only congesting main arteries but also dominating neighbourhood streets, making them less safe and discouraging walking, cycling, outdoor play and casual social interaction. Compounded with “stranger-danger”, children are cooped up inside. With few people and activities in the streets, neighbourhoods become socially poorer.

Alas, terrace houses in the cities and suburbs of Malaysia are already out of the financial reach of most people.  They must make do with high-rise housing, which has long been associated with even bigger social problems.

Is it inevitable that homes continue to become less affordable and neighbourhoods become more sterile? Are there any design alternatives to terrace houses and high-rise blocks that can make housing socially better and affordable?

These are the questions that my colleagues and I have been occupied with for more than twenty years, in practice and in academia.  It started out with just a few people and a central idea: 

Providing homes with private and shared gardens in front of them can promote a better social environment, and this can be done in a cost-effective way (figure 2).

Figure 2 A private and a shared garden for every home.
I am a practising architect that sees architecture as a tool to solve problems. I also do research, adopting an empirical scientific approach to design. And I am eager to realize my ideas: the R&D work has not only resulted in papers but also patents and projects.

This book offers the optimistic prospect that courtyard homes - with private and shared gardens in front of them – can create an environment that is more community-friendly; that these courtyard neighbourhoods can be created in both low-rise as well as high-rise situations; that these houses and neighbourhoods can be designed in a cost-efficient way so that these courtyard homes can be affordable to as many as possible.

Several affordable low rise projects that have already been completed or are in the pipeline. We are now extending the ideas first developed for low-rise to various types of high-rise, and trying to commercialize them.

In the following chapters, these projects will be featured one by one. Interspersed with this catalogue will be a discussion of the ideas that make these new proposals different from conventional ones and reasons for them.

This book is written mainly for people in the housing industry in Malaysia who are interested in new ideas to improve the urban environment - developers, government officers, policy makers, consultants, academics and students. My hope is that the reader, after starting this book with a healthy dose of scepticism, would become enthusiastic about new possibilities.

In 20 chapters (37 blog posts) - I will share with you why I am confident that courtyard housing can alleviate many of the social defects of low and high-rise housing in a way that is cost-effective. I believe that improving the social quality of the design of our homes and neighbourhoods can positively help the Malaysian housing industry provide better homes to more people.

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1 comment:

Mazlin Ghazali said...

Dear JoAnn, thanks for your corrections. I owe you a copy of the book. I have not been able to finish it in February but I think the new work that I've just done is worth the wait.
I'm excited about it and a post about "high-density medium-rise Honeycomb apartment" will be ready anytime now. Thanks again.
Please email me your address.