Made by Women for Women / Sophie Dyring Director Schored Projects  / 
Part 2: Designing for Women

story / Guest Post / March 31, 2019

We had brilliant feedback on Justine’s piece from last week. The figures are shocking and yet fact. Today we bring you Sophie Dyring’s talk from the Symposium. We hope you find both comfort and inspiration from the fact that people are taking notice and actively out there trying to make a difference to the lives of women. We thoroughly thanks Sophie for sharing this piece with us. J & D x

 

An individual’s personal domestic space should be a place of comfort and security, designed thoughtfully and with care. Too often this is not the case for women. A safe, secure, permanent and affordable home provides the stability women need in order to flourish. It is a catalyst for significant, positive social and economic change that can break the cycle of poverty.

In the financial year 2016-2017, 60% of Victorians needing help with homelessness were women, most often with children. Family violence is frequently a cause of homelessness for women and their children. Social housing is required specifically for women, because women are often financially disadvantaged due to casual or low paid employment, and the gender pay gap. They also frequently have lower superannuation and savings for a variety of reasons, including time out of the workforce.

I’d like to begin my presentation today with two quotes from incredible women as I couldn’t say it better myself. First Jeanette Large, CEO of Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI) wrote in a paper we presented together on this upcoming project,

“design gives control over the result and the inclusions that are important for the housing of women”

and secondly Truus Schroder, a liberated architecture client of the nineteenth century, said;

“one must construct an environment as one constructs a way of life, thoughtfully and deliberately”

At Schored Projects, we want to provide women with the best possible housing money can afford, while balancing the project budget and building as many livable homes as possible.

The Coburg Townhouse is a social housing project, which we were the architects and landscape architects for with our clients WPI. This is a project for women and their children and is ideally situated in Coburg close to amenities and infrastructure such as public transport, primary schools, shopping and park land.

 

The site has been planned to increase residents’ safety and security. The building abuts the western site boundary with a wall 1½ storeys high to prevent people accessing properties. The wall is masonry with minimal openings, which contributes to acoustic separation from the passing trains. All townhouses have an independent entry from the shared access way along the east section of the site, which is accessed through a secure front gate.

The shared landscape area is an important design feature of the project. It is a communal space to gather, to relax, to garden, to enjoy and it fosters a community on site. We designed this space beyond the function of access, aiming to facilitate connection and occupation. The space is generous in width, with bench seats sited individually and clustered in groups and under-cover bike storage. Lighting is designed to guide the resident’s home safely but be unobtrusive once they’re indoors. In the common space, residents have replaced native grasses and some productive planting with softer foliage and more colour to make the space their own.

There are seven townhouses comprising five 1 bedrooms and two 2 bedrooms for single women and women with one child. The townhouses are 10% larger than average Melbourne apartments. The architecture and landscape architecture have been fully integrated in consideration of the quantity and quality of the open spaces for residents. Each property has a private courtyard and service terrace, and the two bedroom properties have larger, child friendly courtyards, spaces which can help women nurture and guide their families within their homes.

Design can create a home for a person – a sanctuary and a retreat which individually caters to their needs, therefore livability is at the forefront of the design of these townhouses. Livable Housing Australia wrote the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, a set of practical, common sense guidelines to livability. Each guideline can achieve a silver, gold or platinum rating depending on effectiveness. During the early design stages, WPI established that elderly women could represent a portion of the future residents, so the design achieves most of the seven core livable housing design elements to a Silver Level.

The townhouses deliver;

  • a safe continuous and step-free path from the street to property entrance at the same level
  • comfortable and unimpeded movement between spaces
  • a toilet on ground level for easy access
  • a bathroom with a hobless shower recess
  • reinforced walls around the toilet and shower for safe installation of grab rails
  • a continuous handrail on one side of the staircase

In addition to achieving these core principles we have also:

  • provided Gold Level circulation in the kitchens
  • achieved Gold Level installation heights for switches, power points and door handles
  • and ensured stair lifts can be easily installed in the future

These simple initiatives ensure future-proof livability.

Passive design principles have been integrated into the townhouses to reduce ongoing costs for residents. On the first floor, east and north facing glazing is shaded by screening and at ground level by the cantilevering first floor above. West facing glazing is set well behind a deep eave to regulate sunlight in winter and summer. Operable windows on both the east and west façades ensures cross ventilation and passive cooling, and operable clerestory louvre windows above the stair allows summer night purging.

One reoccurring question in our social housing projects is how do we create individuality for residents when we don’t know the future occupants at the time we are designing? This question is at the forefront of our work as we’re acutely aware that no one wants to be identified as the same as everyone else. Design can embed flexibility and adaptability into the fabric of a building that residents can then author minor configuration changes to make a space their own. We also often use colour to create individuality within projects.

The internal material palette is an important design consideration. Though we don’t know the specific future residents at the time we are designing a material palette should not be generic and never institutional. We approach the material palette and colour selection for women with warmth and neutrality. The external material palette was selected with careful consideration of planning requirements, initial cost to build and ongoing maintenance. The ground level is constructed of face brickwork and the first floor façade uses a lightweight panel with little need for ongoing painting.

We’ve had great feedback from a resident living in one of the townhouses. Things we got right through a process of thoughtful design are; soft close drawers, maximum storage, walk in robe, the living room where she can entertain guests, toilet down stairs and low running costs. She called it a home because it provides a place for everything. From the resident’s insight, things we can improve upon in the future; better sound proofing between townhouses, low allergy materials, more robust materials/products and plant selection in softer foliage and more colour. Things suggested we consider in future projects were a welcome pack which could include a furniture plan to give residents suggested layouts and a condensed version of the operation manuals for appliance for ease of operation.

I’m are proud to say that this project was awarded leading housing development project Victoria at the 2017 Australasian Housing Institute Awards. To receive this award a project is an exemplar model to the sector for its outstanding quality or innovation.

Reflecting on my work for women clients and renovations of my own home my design objectives are to increase functionality with appealing aesthetics while delivering on budget.

 

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