Design Philosophy

– Nigel Young


“good design is timeless…”

The Intent

My intent is to deliver to my clients a house that will stand the test of time. By this I
mean that good design is timeless, as Art Deco and the E-type Jag have clearly
demonstrated over the years.

How to achieve this

1.  I endeavour to deliver what I refer to as ‘stewardship of the site.’ By this, I mean that every site has its own aspects and characteristics, and these must be taken into account as part of the design process.

The site dictates the house; pre-designed houses from a building companies catalogue simply plonked on the site, is less than desirable. And while everyone has their own ideas of what they want – hence the sitting down with the client and discussing living and lifestyle preferences – it is the role of the designer to understand and achieve the best solution that suits both the site and the way the client lives.

The basic principle

maximum sun / light + maximum privacy = maximum equity

2.  Now the reason for this – apart from maximum comfort and the best contribution to life choices – is the final part of the equation: maximum equity. I define equity as the difference between cost and value, and the greater the difference, the greater the equity.

Because what must be understood, is that The client isn’t actually designing for themselves, they are designed for the next owner. Or to put it another way, equity is only actually established when the house is actually sold. The price paid by the new owner is the true reflection of value.

An example of this is the criteria for good design as listed by Lifemark™. With an ageing population and an increasing emphasis on independence and mobility, simple things such as door and hallway widths, a ‘wet-room’ bathroom and wheelchair turning circles can dictate much of the value.

3.  Design expectations have changed considerably over the last thirty years or so. One example is the size of windows that are specified – they are far bigger and let in far more light than three decades ago, but this, in turn, brings its own problems – our structures have been pushed to the limit by such demands. Or take heat distribution. We build doors that don’t go to the ceiling, which means that effectively – given that heat rises – we put a dam across the top, and then we wonder why the heat doesn’t go all the way down the house.

Another example is our preferred method of insulation – Pink Batts. Batts only fill in cavities, and then more often than not sag over time, thus reducing their effectiveness. Furthermore, their R rating is established in a laboratory, and the mere act of pushing them into the cavity compresses them and reduces that value in the process. My preference is for solid insulation systems that wrap the house properly, and any increase in cost here will be more than made up for with lower heating costs that don’t go up as the insulation becomes less efficient. This applies also to the roof space, with insulated roofing panels being used instead of the traditional batts directly on top of the ceiling. This allows heat to rise higher in summer, making the rooms more comfortable and becomes a reservoir of heat in the winter that can be drawn down into each room via a heat exchanger and ceiling fan as required. Combined with the full-height doors, both heating and ventilation become far more efficient and more evenly distributed throughout the house.

4.  Durability is also a major issue. Under current legislation, a house’s structure only has to last 50 years, its windows and cladding 15 years, and its internal joinery – think kitchens and bathroom fittings – only have to last 5 years. The use of mdf has risen because these limits are so low, yet to specify timber skirtings and architraves and birch ply kitchens and bathrooms, doesn’t actually add too much extra to the overall price. Yet the value that these better quality items add is greatly increased. Thus the basic principle stated above becomes:

maximum sun / light + maximum privacy + increased quality = maximum equity on steroids

5.  Concrete slabs failed badly during the earthquakes, with perfectly good buildings being written off because the slab had cracked and broken. So we’ve decided that the answer is to throw more concrete at them! What we have failed to realise is that the concept of building a platform and then putting a house on top that requires the platform for its structural integrity is no longer viable.

As long as a house is getting its strength from the ground, it is vulnerable. Houses need to be built now as independent structural units that are self-supporting and that can be placed on the site as opposed to being dug into the site. And the advantages of the latter are many – easier to prefabricate and deliver to site, easier to re-level after an earthquake, and easier to relocate should the need arise.

the conclusion

Cheap is not an option

6.  In conclusion then, everything needs to be looked at, discussed, and ultimately challenged. Cheap is no longer an option, but neither does that imply expensive. Well considered design solutions with an emphasis on better quality materials doesn’t make a huge difference to the cost, but makes a massive difference to the value. And given that in the years ahead house prices are likely to crash badly, those with the foresight to apply these principles now, will be in a much stronger position when it matters. Maximum equity through well thought out design and construction solutions will always be my bottom line – and will also contribute to yours. Let’s build something.

 Let’s build something.


Let’s Build Something

Nigel Young
Architectural Strategist

+64 29 777 2137

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