Build-to-rent can mitigate our housing crisis with creative, sustainable design and holistic placemaking strategies for resident wellbeing and improved developer outcomes.
Highly urbanised with a growing population, and some of the lowest vacancy rates in the developed world, Australia needs many more dwellings – and quickly. As our borders reopen to migrants and international students, and Airbnb and Stayz apartments are once more removed from the long-term rental pool, vacancy rates will plummet and rents will rise to unsustainable levels. Housing affordability constraints, looming interest rate rises and a growing acceptance of renting for life mean the time is ripe for quality affordable housing that offers residents security of tenure.
In his forward to the recently released report, Inquiry into housing affordability and supply in Australia, committee chair, Jason Falinski MP of The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue notes that there is no one solution. The report offers a range of recommendations, two of which are pertinent to this discussion.
- That State and Local Governments increase urban density in “appropriate locations”.
- That the Australian Government conduct a review into the build-to-rent housing market and how it is affected by current regulations and tax policies.
Australians are looking for quality accommodation that offers lifestyle benefits and a sense of community without the weight of a hefty mortgage.
We’re betting on a rush back to the city fringes, traditionally the buzzy areas, where demand will exceed supply.
Enter Build-to-Rent (BtR), what is now being dubbed a new asset class.
While the Australian Government is being called to review the BtR market, developers have hit the ground running, anticipating a housing squeeze that could strike within as few as nine months. However, to ensure they can realise a complex’s potential over the life of the project, and successfully create the bespoke communities desired by the residents, developers need carefully considered design from the outset.
Sustainable design for life
Photography by Scott Burrows
Our role as designers in BtR projects is to envisage the long-term potential and protect client interests by considering building longevity and purpose, and ensuring the building can respond rapidly to market forces.
To achieve such endurance, Institutional developers need to consider efficient management, higher-quality building products and appliances, lower maintenance and a great resident experience. For us as architects who view projects through a strategic lens – and plan for longevity – it makes sense to incorporate central services such as a loading dock, goods lift, concierge desk, water filtration system or even a dog run and mud room.
In build-to-rent, flexibility and adaptability are critical so the complex can respond quickly to changes in demand. We design all assets with no structure and services through party walls. Most build-to-rent complexes have a high ratio of studio apartments. However, should demand shift, the ratio can be changed easily with, for example, two-bedroom apartments reconfigured to create more one-bedroom apartments or vice versa.
We might design in three different ways, considering different floorplate and typologies, and developers can choose how they want to build now, with the flexibility of future changes to adjust to residents’ needs.
Car parking is designed to be convertible for alternative uses in the future. Spaces that in build to sell might be fixed – a gym, a bar – we design as one bookable multipurpose space; a yoga room in the morning, a beanbag cinema in the evening.
With sustainability an increasingly important consideration for both developers and consumers, we incorporate environmentally friendly features in our design that include cross ventilation, passive heating, LED lighting, a solar array to power common areas and, if the complex has space, water tanks to mitigate stormwater runoff. All mechanics and technology can be controlled through a central Building Information Management (BIM) system. Not only are these features more appealing to our potential tenants, but also, A-grade green buildings attract an 18% premium in Australian capital cities. To ensure sustainable communities, our designs aim to enhance a sense of belonging with activity spaces that enable residents to interact as much or as little as they need. Research indicates that tenure increases by 50% when a resident makes three friends within the complex.
Enhancing the customer experience
In established markets around the world, build-to-rent has no one type. There are high end, mid-market and affording housing solutions. Build-to-rent is, however, becoming a popular option for quality accommodation that offers lifestyle benefits and a sense of community. Successful complexes respond to the surrounding urban context and are designed for lifestyle and wellness, both physical and mental.
We believe build-to-rent designs should offer residents all the lifestyle attributes and level of management of a luxury hotel but with security of tenure – a home for life.
For example, digital natives, who welcome amenities like reliable Wi-Fi, a comfortable space in which to work, and somewhere like a lobby café or rooftop bar to meet like-minded people, is a key market for inner-city or city fringe build-to-rent projects. Central operations management enable the customer experience to be curated and the building made to work harder for longer. Our building designs boost connections between residents, enable residents and the surrounding community to connect with building services, and promote vibrant communities where residents and neighbours want to spend time.
Central to Rothelowman design is drawing from local stories and history. As architects who believe in amplifying a sense of place, we incorporate unique characteristics of the surrounding neighbourhood and customise the building to appeal to our audience who are drawn to specific neighbourhoods based on architecture, and proximity to services, amenities and lifestyle.
Branding and potential
Our vision for build-to-rent, regardless of owner, is a network of beautifully designed, easy living buildings in which residents can spend their lives from young singles to mature families – however that might look. Our success as designer is to have a deep understanding of our client’s brand. We believe our building design should amplify the brand and the surrounding urban context. Should a tenant move to another city or area, they will have the comfort of being able to find another building under a recognised brand that offers the same level of service and overall feel – better community in better locations with improved amenities and exceptional property management and customer service.
That’s the power of a great brand. A strong recognisable brand is key to ongoing occupancy and easy transition by devotees between suburbs and cities.
While many developers start with their own brand standards, Rothelowman has extensive experience in developing brands and interpreting and reinforcing those brands through intelligent design.
The future of build-to-rent
Build-to-rent projects offer one solution to the developing housing crisis in Australia. Intelligent design of this new asset class can provide benefits for owners, cities, communities and individuals alike.
About the Authors:
Stuart Marsland is a Principal of Rothelowman. With experience in both London and Australia, Stuart constantly pushes the boundaries in design and detailing, creating cleaner, more efficient, rigorous and elegant solutions on challenging sites.
Shane Rothe is a founding Principal of Rothelowman. While involved in all aspects of the practice, Shane is continually inspired to accomplish excellence in architecture and ensures all Rothelowman designs achieve the highest possible standards.