WHAT COULD ARCHITECTURE CREATE?
Architecture can improve people’s living environment and provide an invitation for people to be together in the same place. Within the Parkway Avenue public housing estate, how can architecture create these possibilities ?
By adding private open space where people can relax and even yarn over the fence.
By adding balconies and garden rooms - all facing north.
And by bringing the kitchen forward, making windows into doors, adding dining with view, and widening bathrooms.
Still further, studio apartments can be introduced, increasing diversity of residents and providing more accommodation. Each six flat building can be increased to a 9-12 flat building. Ten existing single storey flats can be removed and one three-storey building added, with studio apartments making up the difference easily.
Social connection can be fostered by adding a place that is pleasant where people could read the paper in the sun and talk or smoke together, while their laundry is in the machine, or where they could just make a cuppa or sit and wait for someone. There is one communal laundry in every group of attached buildings taking the place of dingy joint laundries that are rarely used. on the ground floor of every building. Also a roof garden for growing vegetables can be added over each laundry, There is also room for a single central community space where all residents can meet and do things together, a place where the outside community could also visit.
Universal access can be created. There is no way anyone who finds it harder to get around could live here. These days we are working towards the stage where anyone no matter how they get around, can live anywhere, so they should be able to live anywhere here too. In the one or two places where steps are needed to the ground floor outdoor space, retractable wheelchair tracks would work.
Assisting an individualized living experience can occur by using variation in size of unit, colour and a balcony or garden room option. This building redesign is a prototype for what could be chosen by the residents across the whole estate.
Trees serve many purposes, including reinforcing socio-economic stratification, as they seem to do in Parkway Avenue. The whole avenue has a central median lawn with Norfolk Pines right to the ocean, except in front of this estate. There are two high end Art deco homes on the other side of Cottage Creek at each end of the estate with the estate residences the only ones in the whole Avenue that front the canal. There is great opportunity for management of the outlook of the flats on to Cottage Creek with landscape design.
Many young couples after the second world war, needed accommodation. And the Housing Commission of NSW needed to house them. Parkway Avenue still had undeveloped land.
The land available was in a prime location with well-off people already living there, who even back then just like now, did not want anyone spoiling their lifestyles.
High end residents objected to the then Greater Newcastle Council about people who could not afford their own houses or even to rent on the open market, coming to live in the same street. They were afraid the new housing would develop into a slum, as the Newcastle Herald reported.
The Council defended their constituents, arguing to the Housing Commission that in the plans, the buildings were too close to the perimeter and the bathrooms were too small. The Council even took the state housing department to court to try and stop the building progress; but they were unsuccessful, and the construction continued.
SOME STRENGTHS BUT NO INFRASTRUCTURE
The buildings are of brick and concrete and will last another 70 years. Original strengths inherent in the state government architect’s design are that the buildings were turned on an angle to better face the north, and they were raised around half a metre to mitigate the 1% chance a year of flooding.
Ever since the unwelcome beginning however, the estate has never been embellished, added to or provided with more amenity. Only the rooves have been replaced and the rooves and front central façades painted.
MORE AMENITY NEEDED
There has been a murder and a suicide within the estate that I know of and people living there report isolation, fear, hustling, drug abuse, anger and violence.
But there are also reports of camaraderie between the residents and you can see in my collage that people like expressing themselves and doing their own thing. Some people put a chair and sit at the front entrance and someone has put up an umbrella and table.
There are problems then with this estate–– barriers between people in the estate with little opportunity for interaction and outside living and barriers between the estate and the community, with pockets of different classes continuing. It is my argument that if social amenity could be increased, this could turn around some of the sadness and separateness and improve quality of living.
The estate in Parkway Ave has the potential to change forever. The people who live here could soon have the choice as to what level they want to live on, how big a space they want, whether they want an outdoor balcony, a garden room or both. There could also be a place where they can choose to sit around in a warm comfortable spot and talk. Or have a quick chat while waiting for the lift. This scheme has the potential to work – without too much change or cost.