Build to love

February 18, 2021: Perspectives

As Build-to-Rent emerges, what can we learn from local residential developments that are designed to attract and care for the people who live there?

7339 Waiparuru Hall 40

If there isn’t one already, there should be a proverb that says we have much to learn from both the young and the old. In the search for happiness, naivety and wisdom trump self-consciousness every time.

The same could be said about the places we live. There’s a lot to learn from the places that are designed to look after the young and the old.

Student hostels and retirement villages are designed to care for their residents. They offer security and facilities but more importantly, further up Maslow’s hierarchy, they offer community. In fact, this is fundamental to their commercial success and to understand why is to understand how we can change our housing for the better.

Summerset Parnell - Warren and Mahoney
Summerset Parnell - Warren and Mahoney

The societal benefits that hostels and villages offer, above and beyond a typical apartment, are the result of a different consumer behaviour. They’re not a product, sold to a consumer. They’re an experience. You don’t buy a student room, or an independent living unit; you pay for the opportunity to live there.

Importantly, the type of experience they offer shapes their reputation and the people who benefit from that reputation are the people who made key decisions about their design. The institutions who commission these buildings benefit directly from creating places that encourage successful communities, throughout the lifetime of the building.

That’s a different mindset to someone building an apartment for sale. When the people who make the decisions are unlikely to benefit financially from an outcome, we get different results. As long as the success of an apartment building is judged by the margin on its sale at completion, it will never foster the sort of communities we desire.

To build a community you need places where people can share experiences. Universities and retirement villages understand that shared experiences build a sense of belonging, and they foster it by giving people places where they can meet, learn, eat and drink. They invest in making memories.

Waiparuru Hall - Warren and Mahoney
Waiparuru Hall - Warren and Mahoney

Soon this sort of outcome will be available to many more people. We are beginning to see the emergence of build-to-rent apartments in New Zealand and Australia - apartments owned and managed by institutions who care about, and benefit from, their building’s long-term reputation as a place to live. These will drive a shift away from products, towards experiences, changing our expectations of apartment living.

As we design these places, we could do a lot worse than to learn from our student hostels and retirement villages - typologies already tuned to make successful communities.

We have much to learn from the young and the old.

Mat Brown is a Principal at Warren and Mahoney with over 25 years' experience working across a range of projects in Auckland and London. Mat specialises in residential design; particularly in multi-residential projects. Mat has an interest in architecture's relationship with the public, and hopes to encourage a greater understanding within New Zealand. He is a co-presenter of 76 Small Rooms, a podcast about architecture in Aotearoa.