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How Multi-generational Housing is Changing the Ideal of the Great Australian Dream

How can designers of the next generation of housing meet competing and changing needs?

Australians have long been emphatic about each generation acquiring a ‘home of our own’. Parents remained in the family home as long as they are able and children leave to study, travel, work, and finally to have a family and get their own mortgaged home.

Today’s economy has changed that picture. A home in the city is beyond the reach of many, even middle class professionals. People are living longer and don’t want to see out their days in a beige estate on the edge of town, away from the life they have known. They seek access, convenience, interaction and activity. They want to keep learning and be included, and most of all to enjoy time with their families.

For many families within Australia, multi-generational living is already the norm, and looks set to become more so. Decisions for how the generations can or should live touch everyone.

With more apartment developments than ever before in our cities and large towns, how can projects align with the changing needs and desires of families?

Multi-generational living may not be the answer for everyone, however it will be the answer for many. Thoughtful apartment design makes it possible for families to live in their location of choice with the people they care for most.

Multi-generational living requires creative, as well as unemotional thinking. Privacy is as precious as freedom and independence. Families must define their own privacy and understand what it means to everyone in the group; constant proximity to people may be a source of stress, even when love is mutual. Financial, legal and contractual aspects must be clear to all. They must be formal and meet all practical needs.

However, managed well, multi-generational living offers a practical response to the demands of modern life. It can provide a solution to many challenges surrounding care or the oldest and youngest family members; busy people have the chance to enjoy close links with their family; grandparents can care for grandchildren and someone is always likely to be on hand to provide a watchful and loving eye where needed. It can strengthen bonds to maintain relationships and offers a way of banding together to meet the needs of elderly members of the household. And, as offspring come into adulthood, it provides a smoother transition into home ownership. With the right apartment design, family can support all members within an environment adapted to immediate needs.

The age of multiple generational living is upon us.  Yet designers and developers are taking time to catch on with their projects.  The elderly don’t want to live in outmoded places, they seek functional modernity and proximity. As do the young, and those in the middle. We need exploration of new models for social and environmental sustainability.

Some apartment developers are starting to engage. In Adelaide, developments for multi-generational living are underway in the heart of the city. Our projects have been designed with flexible multi-generational living in mind and has have the potential for the linking of apartments on private floors.

How would you like to live, and how would you like your children and parents to live?

We need to look at ways to allow for similarities with differences. Apartments should be designed as multi-unit co-housing that cater for multi-generational families as well as co-living peer groups, friends or people with shared interests. With built-in flexibility, apartments can offer independence with the benefits of co-living. This may include large common living areas, or as little as shared storage spaces. Some people will share the table every night, others will only come together for parties or agreed communal occasions.

What happens when it is time to move on? Developments need to be adaptable and relevant to the generations that follow. If designed with flexibility in mind from the outset, multi-generational housing can be easy to revert between multi-generational and single dwellings.

We must design to expand and adapt apartments in as many different ways as people live, and though the generations. In doing so we will give people the greatest freedom of choice in how and where they live, both apart and together.