Balancing Privacy and Community in Design: Competing Tensions in Multi-Unit Housing for People with Mental Health Challenges

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Lynda CHESHIRE, The University of Queensland, Australia
Kelly GREENOP, The University of Queensland, Australia
Laura COX, The University of Queensland, Australia
Lynda SHEVELLAR, The University of Queensland, Australia
While architects and planners have long sought to enhance community through neighbourhood design, individual buildings can also have an influence on local community relations, as in apartment and other multi-unit dwellings. At a broad level, multi-unit living is becoming more prevalent across cities, but it is also used to accommodate some of society’s most vulnerable and hard to house populations, including people with severe and persistent mental health challenges. In such cases, the creation of living spaces that allow for community interaction and incidental encounters between residents are important for facilitating social inclusion, reducing loneliness and providing peer-support. At the same time, however, the need for private and safe spaces into which residents can retreat from the world; the desire to avoid any appearance of congregation or institutionalisation of disadvantaged people; and the requirement to keep building costs low by reducing communal spaces creates tensions in the realisation of this community ideal. These tensions are illustrated through a case study of a new multi-unit housing project for people with severe and persistent mental health challenges in Brisbane, Australia, known as Clear Breeze Apartments. A co-design process that encouraged tenant input into the architectural design of the project led to an emphasis on embracing community, promoting well-being, providing safe and secure homes, and encouraging independence as key design principles that sought to balance tenants’ needs for both privacy and community. Drawing on architectural plans of the complex, records of co-design workshops and tenant interviews before and after their move into the complex, this paper reports on the way this balance – and tension – of privacy and community is experienced and managed by tenants and the compromises that are made when one component takes priority over the other.