Contemporary Australian society has been built on successive waves of emigration. As yeast is to dough, emigrants have brought incremental change to society is all its aspects. Each wave brings its culture which permeates and enriches the established structures and customs. While the new influences bring change to most aspects of life, the greatest resistance to change is accommodation.

Existing housing stock is both an attraction and an inhibitor of social adjustment for the family structures of migrant communities. In contrast to the nuclear family of twentieth century Australia, the newcomers come with extended families. Traditional alternative living arrangements are forcibly adjusted to the new environment, whether by preference or economic necessity.

The suburban environment continues to be formed by the single family house. The quarter acre block determined the form of Sydney’s suburban structure. The suburban grid is predicated on the social goal of the single family home, which in turn predicates the successive forms of increased densities. Strategic goals for the housing of Sydney’s growing population require the provision of a wide range of dwelling types to provide greater levels of access to both rental and owned housing. In the western tradition, a wide range of utopian schemes to restructure society in terms of work and home have been proposed since Fourier’s Phalanstere.

However, pre-industrial societies have always found means of accommodating successive generations with cultural variants of the extended family in China, India, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and Islamic cultures and these means have informed contemporary practice. Australia now faces the challenge of moving from reluctant market led change to a positive adoption of alternative spatial models, of grasping the opportunity to harness the cultural capital of its contemporary society to reconstruct a generationally sustainable range of housing alternatives.

Peter Armstrong has a BA in archaeology and an honours degree in architecture and will welcome him as a speaker at the 6th International Urban Design Conference  being held from Monday the 9th to Wednesday 11th of September 2013 at the Novotel Sydney Olympic Park.  Click here to attend.

Peter Armstrong Architecture Design and Planning at the University of Sydney
Peter Armstrong Architecture Design and Planning at the University of Sydney

Peter gained his master’s degree at Waseda University under Yoshisaka Takamasa and worked in the office of Kikutake Kiyonori before returning to Australia where he practiced as an architect for 30 years. His Ph.D dealt with the formative period of the Japanese castle town between the years 1586 and 1650. In 2006 he was decorated by the Foreign Minister of Japan and was made an Honorary Research Fellow of the Korean Government’s National Gyeongju Research Institute of Cultural Heritage. He currently teaches in the Faculty of Architecture Design and Planning at the University of Sydney.