“Density done well is the catch cry of urban planners at the moment, and there are so many parts to getting this happening. This project succeeds beautifully at bringing a sense of character and identity to a newly formed neighbourhood, through cheerful use of terracotta tile and classic pops of colour.” — Caro Robertson, rōpū
Jerome Buckwell of Tāmaki Makaurau practice Crosson Architects has definite views about the standard of the housing which most home-seekers in Aotearoa aspire to inhabit. “Any person who lives in what the market deems ‘affordable’ housing should expect their new home to be well-designed and considered,” he says. “Yet I look at some of the housing that’s being built around the country, and it’s frustrating. All housing should have a level of skill and attention afforded to make it a piece of architecture. I’m proud that we as a practice apply the same level of design thinking to ‘affordable’ housing as we do to all our projects. ”
Crosson Architects have walked their talk at Kōtuitui Terraces, a housing development in Manukau, located close to the town centre, between State Highway 20 and the reserve surrounding Puhinui Creek. The evolving project, which was gifted its name – to “interlink” or “connect”, by Te Ākitai Waiohua, an iwi with a centuries-old local presence – is a deliberate exercise in community building that has, in the main, proceeded according to a Crosson Architects master plan. The initial stage of the development, completed in 2021, saw the construction of 61 two- and three-bedroom terrace houses. With prices starting at around $600,000, the houses sold well, encouraging the realisation of the next phase of the project, Kōtuitui Terraces Stage II: 18 houses on a rectangular lot at the development’s western edge.
“We’d like to think this project stands out as an exemplar of what affordable housing can be in Tāmaki Makaurau and Aotearoa,” Buckwell says. Kōtuitui Terraces Stage II is exemplary in other ways, too. Working in a part of the city and on a building type that often receive cursory architectural attention, if that, Crosson Architects have demonstrated their determination to get the most from a brief – one of the firm’s admirable traits, evidenced by its numerous design awards. “We don’t want to be showy, or showy for showy’s sake,” Buckwell says, “but I think it’s in our ethos to look for opportunities in every project we do.”
This principle was tested in the design of Kōtuitui Terraces Stage II. The original master plan envisaged this portion of the development as apartments. Such a composition, the architects believed, would provide the housing density appropriate to the site, and the building scale required to front the public realm at busy Tuaiwi Street. The planning vision, though, came up against the reality of the market: terrace houses are cheaper to build, and easier to sell than apartments.
So, terrace housing it was to be. The challenge for the architects was how to give the terrace houses in the second phase the scale and urban presence of a larger building appropriate for its position on Tuaiwi Steet, while integrating them into an established scale in the existing stage one. The second phase of Kōtuitui became two rows of terraces: 12 three-storey, three-bedroom houses facing west onto Tuaiwi Steet, and behind them, six two-storey, two-bedroom houses facing east towards the similarly scaled terrace houses in the existing Kōtuitui neighbourhood. Both types of houses have a 4.35-metre x 9-metre building footprint; in area, the three-storey houses are 96 square metres, the two-storey houses 76 square metres; all have a 6 Homestar rating. The rows of terraces are offset at 90 degrees to give everyone decent backyard space.
As well as scale, the terraces needed to hold their public position in other ways. “That’s what led us to the form being composed of one material that wraps up and over the building,” Buckwell says. “We wanted something with solidity, permanence, and mass. We initially investigated brick, and that led us to terracotta roofing tiles.” The three- and two-storey houses, timber-framed on a concrete slab, are all completely clad with these tiles. The three-storey terraces have been treated to an orange skin, even more “orangey” than The Orange, Crosson Architects’ commercial building on Tāmaki Makaurau’s Newton Road; in recessive counterpoint, the two-storey terraces are armoured in a black version of the same tile, though with cheerful front doors in primary colours.
The intentional staunchness of the fully tiled houses is abetted by the treatment of their windows, which Buckwell describes as “punches in the overall form”. The windows’ size and placement are carefully calibrated to reconcile the requirements for light and ventilation, and privacy and outlook (including “passive surveillance”). The most dramatic fenestration move is the three-metre-high dormer window set into the mansard level of the three-storey houses. (Two-storey terraces get their design excitement at ground level, courtesy of the bevelled doorways carved out of the front elevation.) In each of the houses, the largest glazed element is the sliding door to the rear courtyard, a welcome corrective to unfortunately common usage. “The worst situation in terrace home design is a ranchslider opening onto public space,” Buckwell says. “You just know people will have their curtains pulled all the time because there’s no privacy.”
A considerate planning strategy was the corralling of car parking and rubbish bins in a COAL (commonly owned access lot). The aggregation of parking allows the terrace houses to be sited closer to the street, with some room for common-area landscaping which is tended by a residents’ group. (Buckwell notes that landscape maintenance can have a make-or-break effect on the success of multi-unit housing projects.) The rest of the space saved at the front of the houses was invested in the rear courtyards.
In the design of terrace housing, especially in the “affordable” category, the consideration of gross floor area (GFA) is critical. Architects, good ones at least, are inclined to be GFA maximisers; private developers are more likely to be GFA minimisers. The to-and-fro over GFA is conducted in 100-millimetre increments. “Being generous is important,” Buckwell says, “but then there’s the reality of getting things built.” Here, Buckwell is generous in his praise of client Avant Group and Te Ākitai Waiohua for seeing the concept through – and this time, the balancing act seems to have paid off. All the houses in Kōtuitui Terraces Stage II have been sold, most of them, Buckwell believes, to owner-occupiers. In a gratifying coda to the project, one of the buyers contacted Crosson Architects. “He’s an architect himself, and he lives there,” Buckwell says. “He said he loves it – ‘it’s just fantastic’.”