It was heart warming to read in the latest BRANZ magazine article about Wellbeing in the design environment. ( aotearoa-new-zealand) These articles provide a discussion point for the industry but really, in my industry, wellbeing should be at the forefront of every designers intent and for the most part, it is. It’s how that designer executes that intent for the client and final occupants, that is of the utmost importance. The problem is, you need only to drive through the subdivisions of any city in Aotearoa to see that for the most part it is secondary to profit. When you have volume builders, who employ sales people as designers, you know where their priorities lie. The client, and end user, needs to have a certain level of knowledge about residential design before even embarking on site selection.

This problem is decades old, you only need to look back at the 1920’s when houses were positioned to face the street because it was all about presentation. Then the car arrived and in the 1950’s onwards driveways were required, and garages needed to be positioned at the rear of the section, and even today, when the double garage dominates the road frontage and it’s the garage that often get the best sun of the day. How many of these mid-century homes are now being re-modelled to provide indoor/outdoor flow and a liveable environment. And what will have to be done to the current housing stock to make them liveable.

A lot of these problems, actually starts with the planning of the subdivision. The design is a balance of how many sections we can fit into this space to guarantee the largest profit and get approval from the council’s planning department, without regard to the end user. No or very little thought for where will the outdoor living be placed, privacy, garage placement, etc. There is always a few prime spots in the subdivision, but the majority fall into the ‘they will be ok’ bin. A little bit of thought and maybe one or two less sections can make a world of difference.

Then it comes down to the skill of the designer to provide a plan that maximises an already compromised site. Only the problem is, 95% of the houses built in Aotearoa are built by volume build companies, with set plans and specifications to meet a required square metre rate. Sold by unskilled sales people, who look at a site, picks a plan from the catalog, they think will fit, and closes the deal, to move onto the next one. Then the home is built, at code minimum and repeat the process.

I’ve met many clients over the years that are lucky enough or brave enough, to be on their second or third build, it’s a very small amount of people but they are there. Often they built their first home with a volume builder, and you can understand that, it’s a scary business building a home, with out good professional support, things can go wrong quite quickly. They live in the home for 3 – 5 years and begin to realise the home they had built was no better than their old home. It costs a lot to keep heated, but then it is bigger than the last one. It doesn’t get the sun that the last home got, or the massive amounts of glass that was put in, overheats the living areas and bedrooms. And somehow the finish isn’t as good as the last house. Having had some experience of building, they realise that what they bought into was the volume builders marketing plan. The flashy show home, with all the ‘bells and whistles’, and the process was so easy, so, excitedly, they signed up. Little or no design consultation or process, no thought to how they will live their lives in this new home, and it’s going to meet the New Zealand Building Code.

This is going on everyday in New Zealand, but what if wellbeing was legislated as part of the New Zealand Building Code. That everyone who consulted on the design and construction of a residential new home or renovation had to consider more than just claddings, timber framing, roofing iron, painting, bracing, concrete foundations and what the final bench top is to be. What if the legislation talked about passive solar design, passive venting, biophilic responses, volatile off gasses, CO2 levels and acoustics in the enclosed environment. I wonder what our residential homes and subdivisions would look like then? Even if there was a code minimum for wellbeing. I wonder what positive change there would be to each and everyone of us. Would our medical centres have a drop in admissions, not only for physical health but mental health as well. Would our educational centres see an increase in child wellness and productivity. Would the work place see an increase in productivity and a decrease in health and safety issues. I suggest it would, given my last few years of living in a Homestar 10 home, I suggest that the sooner legislation is in place the better we all would be.