In the Swiss city of Bern, the council ran a competition. The brief: to build a complex with around 100 units, for families and others with different needs at different stages of life. Very low rent and eco-friendly: a place where a community could grow.
The winning team was led by a not-for-profit developer, We are Stadtgarten, and included social planners, landscapers and the architectural firm GWJ.
The Huebergass apartment blocks are in two rows, with all units opening on to a wide central alley, a kind of linear courtyard. It's a safe place for kids to play, where people meet each other all the time.
The units have large, covered balconies. Sometimes people eat their meals there, hang washing, watch the world go by. Inside, everyone has their own privacy. Car parking is underground and not accessed through the alley.
On the ground floors there's a cafe, childcare, laundries and bike parking, along with common rooms for music, gym and dance classes, a workshop, "garden rooms", a library and meeting rooms. Flexible floor plans allow for changing use over time. Residents in the wider community are welcome.
Right next to the buildings there's a "wild oasis": a large park with a field, pond, play area, vegetable gardens and rows of plane trees.
It's so simple and it's such a model for New Zealand, now there's a political consensus that density should thrive in our cities.
But the key features of Huebergass are rarely used here. Balconies are small and there are few common rooms. "Parklets" are preferred to larger parks. Worst of all, even in Kāinga Ora projects, cars define the public spaces. That central courtyard where kids can play safely would probably be a road with car parks.
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Also, hanging washing on the balconies? That's usually a no-no in New Zealand too.
Design for Living is a regular series in Canvas magazine.