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Is this the ‘Apartment of the Future’?

The prototype responds to a need for innovation in a changing housing industry.

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Researchers from the University of Sydney alongside developer Lendlease have released a prototype modular housing system for apartments that can be reconfigured based on residents’ needs.

Unveiled late last month, the Future Living System is an 80-square-metre prototype apartment that promotes adaptive living, using standardised elements that allow the living area, kitchen and bedrooms to be reconfigured. In addition to extra flexibility and increased functionality of space, the prefabricated elements, consisting mostly of timber, reduce the environmental footprint.

The University’s Innovation in Applied Design Lab and Lendlease collaborated in this multi-year project to research prefabricated multi-storey housing solutions under a Cooperative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) grant. The grant was awarded in 2016 to a value of $4.5 million—$7 million including in-kind contributions.

Designed by David Tapias-Monne, the prototype responds to a need for innovation in a housing industry that has remained largely unchanged for the past 100 years.

“We are looking at ways that design and new technologies can make our buildings more easy to change and transform, and durable at the same time,” said Tapias-Monne.

In the grant application, he raised challenges to the industry, including “the increasing uncertainty and diversity of our present and future communities.”

Modular housing accommodates changing cultural and societal needs for adaptability. Tapias-Monne points to three main factors facilitating these changes: diversity, uncertainty and affordability. Addressing these issues includes creating spaces that celebrates different needs and lifestyles and adapts to them; being flexible yet prepared for drastic changes in lifestyle, like having children or divorcing; and being able to rent an apartment customisable to an individual’s needs.

“In Australia, apartment or high-rise living is often seen as temporary,” said Professor Mathew Aitchison, Director of the Innovation in Applied Design Lab.

“[The project] approached the design from a functional perspective, to provide an environment for life—where residents can upsize or downsize, and where certain adaptations are possible.”

Research in the area of modular housing aims to use emerging technology to provide solutions to Australia’s housing affordability crisis, changing design needs, and sustainability concerns.

Daryl Patterson, Head of Operational Excellence at Lendlease said that emerging technology has already assisted greatly with these issues.

“Given that conventional concrete is one of the largest contributors to global carbon emissions in construction, the transformation achieved by the replacement with a renewable resource like timber is enormous,” he said.

Researchers are currently investigating ways to reduce energy and space used by plumbing as well as greater cost efficiency—in the last fifteen years, 35% of funding has gone to plumbing. The team is also looking at ideal living dimensions for optimal modular capacity and the possibility of modular plumbing.

The Future Living System was exhibited at the Tin Sheds Gallery during the University’s Innovation Week and will also be shown at the Sydney Ideas Event: The Future of Building on 16th August 6-8pm. This event includes a panel discussion lead by Professor Mathew Aitchison (USYD), Professor Anne Beim (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture), Professor Kerry London (Western Sydney University), Daryl Patterson (Lendlease) and Andrew Stevens (AMGC). There will also be the book launch of “Prefab Housing and the Future of Building: Product to Process.”