Directors from Plus Architecture recently toured standout examples of the Scandinavian housing model. The region punches above its weight when it comes to urban design and housing innovation. Cities such as Copenhagen and Oslo have transformed rapidly in the past decade and are responding to current challenges in their own unique way, creating enhanced quality of life and community connections for residents across a broad range of social and cultural demographics.

As Australian cities tackle their own challenges, the Scandinavian housing model offers several learning points. It embodies a future direction of holistic housing design based on sociological and anthropological considerations, not just architectural rigour – showing us how community-driven, liveable and sustainable design can help us build more connected communities and a healthier future for all Australians.

Plus Architecture comment: What inspired us about the  Scandinavian housing model and what we can learn from it
Patric Przeradzki.

1. Incorporating design into project master planning

We met with designers from a group of leading Danish and Norwegian design firms including Nordic, CF Moller, Arkitema, Cobe and ADEPT, who reflected on the importance of incorporating design into the development and master planning stages of a housing or community project, as opposed to after the brief has already been set.

Touring the community developments designed by these firms across Copenhagen and Oslo, we observed that they had all been designed as part of an integrated vision to ‘create communities’ with a full scope of amenities promoting liveability and connection between residents, rather than simply creating buildings. This also allows us to have conversations at a policy level that enable bolder outcomes such as giving land such as shared parks and laneway spaces back for public use.

Plus Architecture’s vision for a 13,000-square-metre site in West Leederville, West Perth, was master planned in line with some of the key principles we observed in the Scandinavian design model, which includes a newly activated pedestrian public laneway to the local train station. Incorporating community benefit initiatives frequently seen in Danish and Norwegian projects, plans for the site include an activated shared streetscape supporting a diversity of uses; traffic calming zones for enhanced pedestrian accessibility and safety; and strategically located ground floor tenancies and balconies that support passive community surveillance.

Plus Architecture - Scandinavian housing model

2. Designing for ‘inside-out’ permeability

One of the most interesting observations from our time in Copenhagen was the idea of reclaiming the street as a communal space. Unlike the Australian housing design model which relies on fenced lot boundaries and gates to provide privacy and security for residents, the Scandinavian model is based on permeability – the freedom to move within urban spaces without barriers.

This absence of physical ‘security’ in the Scandinavian housing model actually serves to provide a security of its own through the creation of community. Take away the fences and relationships between community members start to strengthen. With these relationships comes a renewed sense of social security and responsibility. This is what Scandinavian designers reflected on as achieving ‘active security’ through design.

When you walk down a residential street or area in Copenhagen you can see straight into people’s dining rooms, living rooms and kitchens. The footpath is almost claimed by local residents and creates a strong sense of passive surveillance. Quite often you are even walking on a ‘footpath’ that is actually part of their front yard. The same goes for schools and community facilities, which are accessible to anyone. This means that children grow up with a far more tangible sense of community and social safety in both the home and learning environments.

While Copenhagen is not a car-free city, there is certainly a shift away from individual vehicles, and designers are considering ways to help minimise the presence of cars on streets. This includes solutions like creating more underground carparks in proximity to both dense residential areas and community facilities and amenities. Riding a bicycle is more convenient than driving in most cases, which is why cycling is the dominant form of transport. In Copenhagen, the street is a place for the family.

Related: The ‘missing middle’ in Australia’s urban density with SJB

Plus Architecture - Scandinavian housing model

3. An anthropology-focused design lens

The Scandinavian housing design model also considers the importance of designing for diverse family types across different social and cultural demographics, as informed by anthropological research. How can we ensure that the housing we design is just as diverse as the community it serves? We discovered highly bespoke apartments and retirement living typologies that currently do not exist in Australia.

Part of our responsibility as designers is to consider how we can maximise opportunities for social and cultural connection and interaction across a residential site or community. We were inspired by the volume of social and cultural research that was undertaken by Scandinavian design firms before commencing a design and planning journey.

Plus Architecture is currently applying a similar social and culturally-informed research approach in planning in the design of both medium-density and apartment buildings in Perth. Following research on the diverse cultural heritage and social demographics of families living in the area, we considered how our work could nurture community interaction through features such as inviting civic spaces, shared leisure amenities and community programs.

Plus Architecture comment: What inspired us about the  Scandinavian housing model and what we can learn from it

4. Lifecycle assessments in design and construction

Sustainability was a primary topic of discussion among the sector-leading Scandinavian firms we visited. Innovative solutions for the efficient resourcing of materials, reducing embodied carbon levels, recycling stormwater and the creation of more environmentally conscious construction sites were key objectives in every housing and community design project we explored. All apartment buildings we viewed on site used modern methods of construction (MMC) – also known as modular manufacturing – which included off-site manufacturing of pre-cast concrete components that were craned into place, helping to reduce construction times and minimise build costs.

While we do of course consider these elements when designing housing and community projects across Australia, we need to keep pushing the envelope in these lifecycle assessments and construction methodologies to ensure we keep up with European standards of innovation.

We understand that it is our responsibility as designers to prioritise these environmental considerations part of the design journey. The ideas that inspired us might not be new in the industry, but our study tour in Copenhagen showcased their impact ‘in practice,’ revealing the positive impact they have in creating healthier, safer and more connected communities.

This comment piece was written by Patric Przeradzki, director at Plus Architecture.

Plus Architecture - Scandinavian housing model

Plus Architecture

Courtesy of Plus Architecture

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