Australia's Anne Street Garden Villas Show 1 Way We Can Fix the Suburbs

Social housing is hard, but Anna O'Gorman shows a new model that could work anywhere.

interior courtyard

Anna O'Gorman Architect

Many cities are suffering from a housing crisis. There is a shortage of supply of affordable units for young people and even for older people wanting to downsize but stay in their neighborhood. Meanwhile, there are vast subdivisions of suburban houses that are underutilized, taking up big properties that could do so much more.

House detial closeup

Anna O'Gorman Architect

Anne Street Garden Villas—designed by Anna O'Gorman Architect and located in Southport, Australia—is a set of seven social housing dwellings. O'Gorman writes on Bowerbird that workshops with current social housing tenants "revealed a clear desire for nesting and being part of a community, while still having the sense of autonomy we get from a traditional freestanding home." So she has designed a village of small-scale homes.

Fronts of houses

Anna O'Gorman

Anna O'Gorman Architect writes on its website:

"To guide our thinking, we thought of each residence as a small-scale home nestled within a village. This allowed us to integrate a series of subtle cues into the design that gives each home its own identity." Each building is a stand-alone, with private entrances facing the street.
Context plan
Context Plan.

Anna O'Gorman Architect

The most remarkable image of the whole project is this context plan, where the seven little houses back onto the rear of a cul-de-sac.

Google Maps

Google Maps

Looking on Google Maps, it appears the project replaced two detached houses in an area that is exclusively detached single-family dwellings: numbers 59 and 61 Anne Street.

zoning resstriction
1922 Seattle Planning Document.

Michael Eliason

Doing something like this is unheard of in North America, yet could and should be a precedent for intensifying and revitalizing low-density suburbs. It provides a mix of housing types and tenures right in the neighborhood. But after as architect Michael Eliason reminds us with this Seattle 1922 publication, this is not how people think in North America.

Site Plan
Site Plan.

Anna O'Gorman Architect

It's such an interesting site plan:

"These small-scale homes face the street, ensuring the development has a direct connection with the neighbourhood. Placing single-level homes at the front of the site and two-level residences to the rear ensures Anne Street Garden does not impose on its surroundings. This decision was important, because we want the development to make a positive contribution to its neighborhood. And the inviting street frontage will help to foster goodwill and connection between residents and the neighbourhood."
Interior looking out

Anna O'Gorman Architect

Another concern was adaptability: "As society changes, it is vital that social housing does too. Themes including working from home and the changing demographics of social housing residents emerged in the workshop, allowing us to better understand how these homes will be used both now and into the future."

walkway between units

Anna O'Gorman Architect

There is so much fine detail in this project, like the screen wall made out of concrete blocks turned on their sides.

Units from courtyard

Anna O'Gorman

It's hard to imagine a project like this being built in North America, where all the new development happens on noisy and polluted main streets and the only reason single-family houses get knocked down is to build bigger single-family houses. 'NIMBY' (Not In My Back Yard) resistance to building social housing in the midst of a developed residential area would be an anathema. But O'Grady shows us a model that is different, building little homes instead of bigger buildings.

The Brisbane-based architecture studio concludes in a post:

"When residents were asked to choose the qualities that would mean the most to them in a new development, there was a strong theme of connection with outdoors and the community. It emerged that in order for residents to feel a sense of belonging at home, they need to feel connected to their immediate surrounds and neighbours. Our visit to existing social housing revealed that simple everyday pleasures – like a small garden with sunlight and drainage, or somewhere to host a barbecue – are lacking. These insights illustrate how social housing can become so much more than a roof and four walls when designed with people in mind."
Interior looking out

Anna O'Gorman Architect

There's lots more to read on O'Gorman's website, where she lists eight key strategies that could be applied anywhere:

  • Ground-level homes with multiple shared entries; connecting the garden to the street.
  • A series of thresholds to mediate community interaction at ground level.
  • Dwellings with direct access to a series of clear public and private spaces.
  • Community streetscape with a village-like development of independent dwellings that are compact in scale.
  • Detached, lightweight one- and two-story buildings that respond to climate and can be built with simple, affordable construction systems.
  • Dwellings clustered around a central garden space with deep soil planting and large shady trees.
  • Central garden space overlooked by all units, providing amenity and security surveillance.
  • Pedestrian-orientated site achieved by placing cars at the site’s periphery.