Ecological Affordable Housing Competition Entry – “i am green”

The competition brief called for an architectural response to a high density 32 social unit development on a 1200m² site in Whitmore Square Adelaide.

Our response challenged the brief on almost all the set requirements. Constraints such as “style, height, and buildabilty” were prescriptive, and, almost certainly drowned the eventual winner in banality. In hindsight, the competition was looking for a proposition that would “tick the boxes”, rather than challenge or provide the opportunity for something new.

Whilst our propositions do overlap in their individual connotations, this was an opportunity for a broader conversation into the typology that is social housing, within a political, cultural and social context framed in critical regionalism. All the thinking and ideas add layer upon layer of rhetoric. Our social propositions revolve around the testing of the history of the typology within an Australian context. More specifically, we tested the programmatic history and the generic nature of the plan. Why is the typical social housing planning generic? Why can’t individuals have an individual plan? Surely people then may find their own way to live. Do we need to reduce to the lowest common denominator, or give every plausible opportunity?

Hence our response provides 32 individual plans – one per occupant, placed into a traditional generic structural system. Each plan affects the one below through the embracement of service ducts and bulkheads within the ceiling space, yet retained is a sense of privacy and the unknown, where one doesn’t quite know what their neighbour may be up to…

Following on from this, the ground plane is treated as an extension of public open space. We don’t see this as an utopian type opportunity, rather an attempt to avoid a formal separation of site from the wider community. The placement of a community market garden on the most prominent street corner, free for all to use, further encourages community interaction and sustainability.

Cultural propositions highlighted both a sense of the local and also of the macro nation. Local football teams, our national game, are referenced in colour through each of the towers. How else does one choose a colour of a building? Memories of childhood, through backyard cricket, are embraced, with a sense of opportunity to sit on the “hill” and watch (micro and macro). Political connotations and commentaries are based around the history of the white Australian and the genocide of the historical indigenous Australians – the aboriginals, for which Australians are still politically unable to acknowledge. Australia is a very black and white country, the relevance of which stems from the adjacent Whitmore Square, a traditional aboriginal watering hole and meeting place. For this reason, the black tower (1 of 5) is taller than the white tower – a direct reference to our position on the debate. A moment where the real “Australians” may be allowed to stand tall. Cementing this racial discussion, the aboriginal flag of red black and yellow is embraced and referenced also in the individual towers as a collective, and the debate is brought forward through the representation. We are proud and acknowledge our real ancestors of this land.

Of little interest to ourselves was the idea that building should look “green”. What does an ESD building look like? To offset this absurd requirement, our proposition was to implant the text “i am green” into the very fabric of the building. We wanted a little more obvious reference rather than a stylistic approach, and maybe even a moment of fun. The text “i am green” now cut into the facade of the building in a giant solid/negative operation, informing the fenestration of the towers and leaving a giant green scar. Representation of an ideology, without the generic stylistic approach.

We were awarded a commendation for “wit and humour”. The only funny thing was, we were deadly serious.

Whitmore Square

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