An international housing exhibition for Melbourne

By Tom Alves

The Melbourne Housing Expo is part of a century old tradition of international building exhibitions that explore ideas about living, dwelling and building in cities and regions. It aims to affect lasting transformation of the everyday practices of housing provision through experiment and public engagement.

The Melbourne Housing Expo was instigated by MSD Director, Professor Alan Pert and Emeritus Professor David Yencken as a cross-institutional partnership led by The University of Melbourne, Monash, RMIT and Swinburne Universities, and with active support from the Victorian Government. At the core of the Expo is a dialogue between these disparate housing research groups, industry and government, making the project unique in its collaborative approach to housing research in Melbourne.

Sustainable and affordable?

For too long Melbourne has maintained its supply of ‘affordable’ housing and its high level of home ownership by continued expansion of the metropolitan region. This has long been understood to be an unsustainable approach, inhibiting the transition to regional sustainability and exacerbating the spatial dimension of social inequalities.

Meanwhile, new high density housing has been criticised for its poor design quality, and its development has been part of the process of declining affordability rather than its solution. A growing cohort of renter households is finding it increasingly difficult to access secure, appropriate and affordable housing, yet there has been no growth in the social housing sector, which is grappling with its own set of complex issues. How can we provide quality, affordable housing in Melbourne and at the same time make our urban region much more sustainable?

How do we intensify our city without losing the distinctiveness of the places that have made Melbourne a great place to live? And how do we manage redevelopment in the established residential areas whose character contributes so much to Melbourne’s prized liveability?

These are the questions that have been driving housing research and policy reform in Melbourne over the last several years. We have become better at articulating and quantifying the problems. We have even identified some possible ways forward. Yet we still seem a long way from implementing real solutions and continue with development practices that only seem to be making matters worse.

An international building exhibition with a focus on local housing issues is a way to break open these problems, engage the public in the discussion, experiment, stimulate innovation and provide the opportunities for practical collaboration between universities, governments, built environment professionals, not-for-profits and industry. Historic IBAs in Berlin and other parts of Germany have profoundly influenced the design of housing and impacted upon practices in the redevelopment of cities internationally, including here in Melbourne.

A current IBA—in Vienna—is also grappling with the question of how to sustainably house a growing population in an established city, and we are talking with them about how we can collaborate and learn from each other.

After a period of behind the scenes preparation at MSD, the Melbourne Housing Expo is about to launch publicly. Together with other leading universities we will be working with our partners across the city to run a series of events throughout the coming year, and to support the Government in policy development and implementation.

Identifying existing and future successful housing developments, and implementing the findings of housing research through experimental projects, the goal is to realise an exemplar urban residential precinct development by 2022 that can influence and transform housing provision in Melbourne and engage with national and international debate and practice.

Dr Tom Alves is the project coordinator of the Melbourne Housing Expo. He has been overseeing the submission of a business case to State Government and working with the Expo Board. At MSD Tom devised the Masters course on Housing (Markets/Policy/Planning) and leads architecture studios on housing design. He holds a PhD in Housing and Urban Studies and previously worked on housing design and planning policies in the Victorian Government.