Finalist 2022

RetroFit Kit: Design Tools for Making Our Homes Accessible

Monash Urban Lab / Australian Human Rights Commission

RetroFit Kit demonstrates how common housing types can be systematically modified to achieve accessible home environments for people with disability.

RetroFit Kit demonstrates design tools for how common house types can be systematically modified to achieve accessible home environments for people with disability, their families, carers and future residents. A practice-based research project led by Monash Urban Lab at Monash University in collaboration with the Australian Human Rights Commission Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett, the project advocates for better quality, dignified and inclusive homes though design enabled strategies. Developed through research-led education units, the project was communicated through a public exhibition and a toolkit catalogue published by the Human Rights Commission.

Design Brief:

In Australia there are 4.4 million people with disability, 96% of whom live in ‘general’ housing that is not accessible and may not be suited to their particular circumstances or needs. Accessible homes are also of benefit to many others in the community including seniors, intergenerational households and young families. Yet the availability of inclusive housing remains a significant challenge, with the vast majority of existing homes failing to meet minimum accessibility. The absence of structured solutions that address the complexities of working with existing built fabric, coupled with a lack of access to design professionals, results in adaptations for accessibility that are typically one-off, clinical in appearance and seen to devalue existing dwellings. Our research brief and goal were to address this through a strategic design approach.

This project was developed by:

  • Monash Urban Lab, Monash University.
    • Project Lead: Nigel Bertram, Maryam Gusheh, Catherine Murphy
    • Graphic Design: Warren Taylor
    • Industrial Design: Tahl Swieca, Rowan Page
    • Urban Mapping: Tom Morgan
    • Monash Architecture Students: Olivia Basile, Ashleigh Carp, Edward Chan, Chee-Song Chuah, Alexandria van Domburgh, Sylvanna Dong, Georgius Hindarko, Amanda Jap, Cheng Lee, Cyndy Li, Ca Kheng Lot, Annabelle Low, Georgia Rose, Scott Rowe, Taylar Stanton, John Tsitouridis, Lenore Whiteside
    • Monash Industrial Design Students: Kat Craine, Jules Kabore, Jo Hutchinson, Walt Liu, Qiuyi Peng, Mark Romei, Alexa Gower, Liam Ware
  • Australian Human Rights Commission
    • Dr Ben Gauntlett, Afton Fife, Clare Lawrence, Lisa Le Van

Design Process

Our process was informed by two key questions:

  • What if we leverage design knowledge and strategies to remake homes better environments for everyone?
  • What if we leverage small but systematic changes to homes for large-scale impact?

These goals were explored through a series of design principles, strategies and elements that combine as a toolkit for accessible conversions. Working in research-led education units, we took a typological approach to the problem and focused on common building types across Melbourne’s suburbs that are representative of the city’s development – 1950/60s freestanding houses, 1960/70s walk-up flats, 1980s/onwards town and row houses, 2000s/onwards garage houses. We considered the design implications of accessibility codes in terms aligned with positive spatial attributes: seamlessness, generosity, performance, sociability, flexibility, diversity, dignity and safety. With these in mind, we interrogated typological commonalities as the basis for systematic change.

Through iterative design exploration and case study design from the scale of the dwelling – e.g. garage house – to the components – e.g. garage door – we explored how standard buildings and their parts could be converted to create better quality and more inclusive environments. Considered across the diversity of the housing types, components and elements, we compiled a kit of architectural strategies that could combine generic and scale reconfiguration with user input and choice. This was communicated through a public exhibition and associated publications.

Design Excellence

RetroFit Kit exemplifies the Urban Lab applied research approach and working model. This models pursues design excellence through:

Retrofit Kit is developed through an integration of practice-based design and urban planning research that combines multi-scalar architectural design investigations with policy studies focused on transitioning to sustainable and equitable communities. It draws on its strengths across MADA with external partners to support and advocate for applied research solutions to human challenges facing cities and towns.

Urban Lab projects sit under interlinked themes, such as inclusive, compact and ecological. Projects focus on intensive, quality, human-centred and holistic development models for regeneration within established urban areas. Aiming to provide equitable living choices for all, RetroFit Kit exemplifies this emphasis with a focus on people with disability and ageing populations.

Urban Lab’s design strategies are developed through applied projects that offer both flexibility and specificity in relation to user’s needs. We study how people occupy and use space and propose design adjustments and improvements to that space to make it more human centred and enrich people’s everyday lives.

Urban Lab implements collaborative practice-based design research that brings together acclaimed design practitioners, topic experts, educators and students to tackle challenges in social, economic, cultural and community contexts. This model of applied research enables ongoing professional development and supports the education of the future generation of design professionals. The integration of research, teaching, advocacy and design application is a powerful framework for inclusive and impactful design practice.

Urban Lab includes academic researchers and graduate students from architecture, urban planning and urban design. The team works with state governments and government agencies, built environment professionals and organisations, communities of interest, and researchers and academics from multiple disciplines within Monash and other universities.

Design Innovation

There is extensive existing Australian research into supporting people with disability to live independently in suitable homes and neighbourhoods. RetroFit Kit builds on and complements this research through an emphasis on the role of design in enabling quality and dignified solutions for equitable housing utilising a repeatable and scalar approach. The project makes this contribution through the provision of:

  • A contextual design approach which integrates universal and generic accessibility principles, with a kit of parts approach that enables tailored retrofit solutions for common house types, rooms and elements in relation to the particular lived experience and needs of individuals with diverse disability. Such an approach allows for replicability of design strategies across these familiar types.
  • A holistic design approach that moves beyond the functional and accessibility aspects of regulations, to consider how design strategies can seamlessly integrate social, environmental and economic performance measures to create a dignity-enabling home environment that contributes to well-being and life choices.
  • A systematic design guide aimed at redirecting some of the large renovation spend in ways that would benefit people with disability, but also the whole community. The aim is to have an impact on the accessibility and quality of existing housing stock at scale.

Design Impact

The lack of available, accessible and dignified housing is a significant national challenge, with most existing houses or apartments failing to meet minimum accessibility and other standards like energy-efficiency. This has significant consequences for people needing to leave hospital or receive assistance in the community, and places pressure on the health, aged care and disability support systems. The Australian National Construction Code (NCC) mandatory accessibility standards for new domestic construction aims to address this issue. As one of only three Australian States to commit to the new standards, this is a strategic and opportune moment for Victoria to lead and use innovative approaches to provide accessible housing at scale.

RetroFit Kit complements progressive policies for new builds through investigating the regenerative potential of existing housing stock, the vast majority of which will be around for decades to come. Such at-scale approach could relieve pressure on the health, aged care and disability care systems (including the National Disability Insurance Scheme) by enabling people to live in the community with less assistance and facilitate economic and social participation for people with disability. It can promote holistic processes that can improve the building fabric, systems and appliances to achieve better environmental performance as more equitable domestic environments.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The approach of RetroFit Kit is strongly underpinned by sustainability and circular design through its core approach that involves an holistic, re-working of existing housing stock to extend its life, quality and inclusion.

Retrofit Kit sets out tools and strategies for inclusive reconfiguration of domestic homes. The example of a garage conversion illustrates our thinking. Our study found that homes with a garage offer significant opportunities for inclusive conversion. Typical garages, with standard dimensions, enable practical adaptation at low cost, with efficient and sustainable prefabricated and modular elements with potential for bespoke arrangements. Using few resources by working with what there is, garages can be converted to private, independent dwellings or semi-public rooms that are connected to the street.

RetroFit Kit applies intelligent design to elevate the quality and performance of existing homes at the scale of the city. The project works with the premise that small scale change if approached strategically and as a holistic system, can achieve large-scale social and environmental reform at the level of the city. Our ultimate aim is to improve access to dignified home environments for all, with significantly less-resources than is consumed by new builds.

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