With Australia’s Baby Boomer generation beginning to hit retirement age, approvals for secondary dwellings, such as granny flats, have increased more than 200% over the last six years, highlighting a major trend away from the typical practice of home extension toward a more harmonious multi-generational existence.
The family home of the future may not be a single, monolithic structure, but a collection of interdependent units that together function as a modular whole. This is already a common practice in Southeast Asia, where a collectivist culture means it is not unusual to subdivide property and construct a series of annexes to the primary family home – independent dwellings for offspring and extended family, as well as grandparents. The result is often a supple family compound that expands and contracts according to the shifting configurations within. The Chinese call this a siheyuan and they are often of noble standing; the Balinese call it a karang and conceive it as a microcosm of the universe.
Architect Andrew Maynard’s 2015 Tower House project for an expanding family in Alphington, in Melbourne’s inner north-east, is a wonderful example of innovative adaptive reuse of a suburban dwelling. Rather than simply append an extra room or two to the primary volume (the standard practice of suburban architect/builders for over a century), Maynard has created a mini village of smaller volumes scattered across the property.
“Any situation where you have grandparents living with grandchildren is a positive one,” says Maynard. “If you can facilitate a harmonious multigenerational existence through good design – and you can – then that’s an outcome worth pursuing.” While Maynard’s solution may be radical for some, there is a simpler – and very familiar – answer to expanding and contracting families: the granny flat.
In the past, more often than not a humble, single-storey fibro sheet bungalow that ended up as storage or a band practice room, the genre has undergone something of a renaissance thanks to the small house movement.
Japanese homewares brand, Muji, recently unveiled three remakes of the traditional kyosho jutaku, or ‘lucky drops’ – micro homes conceived to fit on a standard city parking allotment. The three huts are called the hut of cork, the hut of aluminium and the hut of wood and, together, they illuminate a debate about small dwellings that are not only feasible but entirely credible. At 3 by 3.3 by 4.5 metres, the two-storey hut of aluminium is constructed from a composite wall system of an outer aluminium and inner plywood layer with an insulating layer in between. The ground floor is for reading/lounging, the upper floor for sleeping. The Muji range of kyosho jutaku are priced from $US25,000 to $US40,000 and were released in Japan in 2016.