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A Special Issue of Design Review: Your New House

Your New House …

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Your New House

Ideas from The Housing Competition

The recent National Housing Competition was an attempt by the Government to foster interest in building good houses more cheaply.

It was unfortunate that the conditions neglected such important issues as prefabrication, pre-cutting, by-law revision and mass-production; perhaps it was thought that the Housing Conference would deal with these matters. The conditions in the design part of the competition related only to family houses built singly under present-day conditions. Thus it was largely a planning problem.

Design Review has inspected a number of entries, including the winning designs, and reports here some of the more interesting aspects of the plans.

A Cheaper House

Note the simple shape. No jigs outside or in—easy for the builder to lay out—no awkward angles for him to “fill in” or “patch up”. The square plan has the smallest perimeter—the least length of external wall. And the external wall is the expensive one with its foundation, weatherboarding, window joinery and the strength required to support the roof.

And it is easier and cheaper to build a simple roof.

Note “snug” retreat from general family activities.

(Patience and Gabites).

Note the small number of internal partitions in this plan.

Unless they are necessary to support the roof they have in most cases been left out—storage units do the necessary screening. These wardrobes and cupboards were required anyway—here they do a double job.

(D. E. Barry Martin, A. C. Vallenduuk and A. I. Van Melle).

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A House You Can Add to

Here is a compact two bedroom house of 700 square feet for a young family.

Here is a compact two bedroom house of 700 square feet for a young family.

As the family grows in number it needs more space—but not only sleeping space—it needs more space to live in and to play in. In this plan the addition is not just a bedroom stuck on; the enlarged house, by simple rearrangement gives more space to all the family activities affected. (James A. Beard).

As the family grows in number it needs more space—but not only sleeping space—it needs more space to live in and to play in. In this plan the addition is not just a bedroom stuck on; the enlarged house, by simple rearrangement gives more space to all the family activities affected.
(James A. Beard).

A House to Suit Your Site

Here is a house which lets the sun into the right rooms at the right time. No hot sun in the kitchen when you are cooking but plenty in the living portions and enough in the bedrooms. The road is shown at the northern end of the section.

Here is a house which lets the sun into the right rooms at the right time. No hot sun in the kitchen when you are cooking but plenty in the living portions and enough in the bedrooms.
The road is shown at the northern end of the section.

But if the section you own is around the corner and therefore the house runs east and west, by transposing the rooms from one side of the house to the other the sun can still adequately warm the rooms requiring it.

(Rigby and Mullen)

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Grouping plumbing together to keep costs low often makes an awkward house. Here, however, a better plan has come about through an imaginative placing of the plumbing unit. The pipes and drains are all together but the bathroom has been placed in the middle of the house. This gives spaces for the laundry and the entrance on either side, both being partially screened by the bathroom itself.

The kitchen is handy to the dining table and to the rest of the house. There is no need to hide this area completely, since nowadays the cook also looks after your children and the kitchen has become part of the liveable space.

(Brown and Fairhead).

A House Related to the Garden

A house need not stop at its external walls—its area can extend to take in the surroundings.

The garage and third bedroom here help to enclose an outdoor play space and the hedge has indicated a paved terrace for adult sitting in the sun.

(H. Einhorn)

The Return of the Verandah

In this plan, too, outdoor space has been considered. With the stoep or verandah you can shift chairs into the sun. A pleasant sheltered area of the house and garden in one.

(Rigby and Mullen)

Prospects from The Conference

The Government arranged the National Housing Conference to see what could be done about housing costs and the housing shortage. On the findings of the Conference future Government Policy is to be based. While the Government acted with courage and initiative in calling the Conference, its success will depend on the way those findings are acted upon.

The biggest hurdle for anyone wanting to build a house is money. There is a big gap between the amount you can borrow and the builder's price. The Conference made various suggestions:—

1. You can borrow up to 90% under the Government's mortgage guarantee scheme, with a limit of $2000. This figure is not high; the problem of bringing costs down to meet it remains.

2. You can get a cheaper section through subdivisions to be developed by Government and Local Bodies, sold at cost, and smaller than usual if you prefer.

3. You can lease a section and thus avoid a heavy drain on your available cash.

4. You can build it yourself, or perhaps just do the finishing work, and the Government will encourage lending institutions to help you save that way.

Now while these proposals will make it easier for you to finance the building of a low-cost house, where is the low cost house to come from? Various suggestions for reducing cost were put forward by the Conference, some good, some vague or inadequate, some likely to have more bad effects than good.

Planning Ideas

Smaller Houses—There was some suggestion of reducing the overall area of the house. We suggest that simply to subtract square feet from a house may be bad economics. The mere reduction in usable living space may not save much in initial cost and may seriously affect the value of the house. Careful planning to eliminate unnecessary space is a different matter, but again it is doubtful if this is the whole key to the problem of cost—it is however an essential starting point.

The Open Plan—From the effort to cut waste space some more adventurous architects have ben led to reconsider the way a family really uses a house. This has led to a freer relationship of rooms and the elimination of some expensive internal walls and corridors. But beware of ill-considered imitations! It is not sufficient merely to omit a piece of wall here and replace a door with a curtain there. It would be better to stick to the conventional rooms and corridors than turn the living spaces into pedestrian crossings through a misunderstanding of the principles of “open planning”. An example of such misunderstanding is the plan of the “Hammond” house.

Flexible Planning—Further planning ideas have resulted from the study of how a family uses and grows up in a house. One is to recognise that different parts of the house are increasingly used for several different purposes throughout the day, and that a dining

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room used on'y for meals or a bedroom planned only for sleeping with no provision for children playing, study, or just plain privacy, are uneconomical luxuries for most of us today. Similarly as the family grows up, its pattern of living changes and the house should be sufficiently flexible to provide for this.

Compactness and Simplicity—these are essentials for economical housing. They are also characteristic of the finest traditional houses of America and England. How different from the tortuously contrived assemblage of diminishing boxes that are so usual in New Zealand today!


Site Organisation—American methods of organisation of work on the site and delivery of materials as required, are probably the best in the world. The result is that a house costs the American artisan a much smaller proportion of his salary than a New Zealander has to pay. There is immense room for improvement here.

Modular Co-ordination—Most designs in the National Housing Competition together with the Hammond and Wilson houses, were planned to a 3ft. Oin. square grid which determined the position of the major walls and fittings. This 3ft. Oin. module is based on the maximum spacing of studs permitted under certain conditions by by-laws and is by no means ideal. It bears no relation, for example, to the 4ft. Oin. sheets of internal lining board commonly used. A positive step towards the reduction of site work and material wastage would be an investigation of manufacturer's sizes with a view to relating them to some common dimension or multiple of it. This is a job for the Building Research Organisation. Probable future developments would include extensive pre-cutting to suit the standard dimensions; the manufacture of structural panels using local materials and industrial production methods; prefabricated plumbing and electrical services and modular equipment, including windows, doors, storage units, etc.


The Conference discussed the much-needed co-ordination and revision of by-laws to facilitate improved building techniques. Many people have found that methods of construction in common use overseas (including the earthquake countries) are here disallowed by out-dated by-laws. We agree with delegates who suggested that by-laws should govern standards of performance and calculable strength rather than standards of practice. The latter could well be, as in England, the subject of a separate code.

Building Research

The Conference recommended that a building research station be set up to examine and disseminate information on new materials and techniques. Who then is going to devise these new materials and techniques in the first place? Such enterprise should not be left to “the Government” but should come from the co-ordinated efforts of the industries, trades, professions and individuals concerned; all of us, in fact.

There is plenty of scope for research in new ways of using our local materials. Pinus (what about it, Forest Products?), concrete block, brick and other clay products, stabilised earth, synthetic sheet materials and plywoods come to mind, and all are worth considering if their use is on a wide enough scale to lower costs, and provided they can pass a fair durability test

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We are very suspicious of the results of this suggestion. The Government proposes to encourage developers to build a large group of houses under a State Guarantee to buy back any left unsold. This simply seems to take the speculation (i.e., risk) out of spec. building. In order to avoid having dud houses left on its hands, the Government would naturally keep its eye on standards, and the resultant standards would be the same old obsolescent ones perpetrated by State Advances and the Housing Department. There would be little chance of competitive efforts to reduce costs by new planning and construction techniques leading to different but not inferior standards, if conformity to Government “standards” means certain profit and no risk.

Work Harder

There was a lot of talk about low output in man hours and the need, on the part of operatives, to “work harder”. The building industry is the least industrialised of all industries. This harping on “production” instead of “productivity” seems to be barking up the wrong tree.

The Housing Shortage

There are three major aspects of the housing shortage, each requiring the attention of Government policy.

  • 1.The answer is no doubt, to build more houses. But what sort of houses? Not everyone wants to live in a three-bedroomed house, and our national economy could not stand the consequent cost of transport and services and the loss of more and more of our arable land. And as the Public Service Journal said, “the Conference, obsessed with the idea that everyone “ought” to own their homes, was just impracticable.” Well, then,

  • 2.the housing units we have are not used to the best advantage (single elderly people in large houses, families in flats). One answer is to provide for the single elderly people and the like who can't afford to build or who are afraid to subdivide. For the former, small rental cottages, flats and terrace or row houses. For the latter, amend the Tenancy Act. We leave that one to the politicians.

  • 3.The available variety of types of dwelling does not correspond to the needs of the normal variety of people. For instance, over 40% of households in our cities consist of one or two persons. Few attempts have been made to provide for such people. The following figures speak for themselves (from “State Housing in N.Z.”).

Applicants for State Housing:

With no children 29.25% of total applicants
one child 32.25%
two children 14.25%
three children 14.5%
four children 3.5%
five children 2.8%
six or more children 2.6%

Types of State Housing Units built 1945–49:

Bed-sitting room
One bedroom 5% of total
Two bedroom 28%
Three bedroom 67%
Four bedroom 8%

We have gone into this question more fully elsewhere in this issue, but we were glad to see the Conference come out for a limited policy of flat building which may, we hope, lead ultimately to a more healthy diversification of our housing programme.

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