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Japanese Garden Houses: Strategies for creating an interface with nature in New Zealand's urban dwellings

Erin Shillington
Published: 13 November 2021
Abstract: New Zealanders have a proud tradition of living close to nature (clean and green). This high interface with nature in traditional New Zealand dwellings is referred to as the “quarter-acre dream” by Mitchell (1972). However, the recent intensification of New Zealand cities has resulted in higher-density, multi-unit dwellings that have little interface with nature. As Auckland alone is expected to require an additional 400,000 homes within the next 30 years, a medium-density housing model that has a high nature-dwelling interface is potentially useful in reducing urban sprawl. In contrast, many Japanese houses are effectively integrated with nature. The number of case studies available through books, journals and on websites suggests that it is possible to group these dwellings under the heading “garden houses”. For the purpose of this research, the term “Japanese Garden House” refers to Japanese houses in which the garden is an integral part of the architecture, as opposed to a separate spatial entity. New Zealand walk-up apartments are analysed to show how this New Zealand housing model relates to nature in addition to revealing typical design elements. Thereafter, the adaptation of the Japanese Garden House for the New Zealand context is proposed as a mechanism to further connect urban dwellings with nature, thus increasing the interface between nature and inhabited space. The significant benefits this mechanism provides, including a positive effect on psychological and physiological wellbeing, are discussed. In order to adapt the features of Japanese Garden Houses to the New Zealand context, a detailed analysis of Japanese Garden Houses is undertaken to reveal design principles and strategies that characterise this type of dwelling. The analysis is limited to houses built in the last 15 years. An investigation, through design, is carried out to determine whether the Japanese Garden House models could be used to reconnect walk-up apartments with nature. The investigation is tested on a typical Auckland site. In a case study design, principles and strategies discovered through analysis of Japanese Garden Houses are applied and, adapted to fit walk-up apartments and the New Zealand context. The outcome is a valuable new New Zealand housing model and a set of guidelines presented as a matrix including key principles, strategies and a menu of solutions with the potential to be applied more broadly by other architects, developers and city councils.
Keywords: New Zealand / adapt / Auckland / Japanese / housing model / Garden Houses / Zealand housing

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