Design By Reduction: Enabling Affordable Housing in Perth

“How do you deliver something that’s sustainable and more spacious…. and how do you make that still affordable?”

That’s a quote from architect Jeremy McLeod in a TEDx talk in which he discussed his sustainable apartment design in Melbourne.[1] He then followed up by explaining that to achieve this goal he had to go through a process of ‘Architecture of Reduction’ in which he questioned and analysed what a housing unit actually needs.

A way to explain this process is that it’s like writing a large grocery list of what you ideally want to buy from the supermarket, then slowly and methodically working through each item and assessing it’s worth to you, how much it costs and if there is a suitable alternative that could be just as good but cheaper. This method of design is much more sustainable, economically viable and, will ultimately produce an outcome which is better aligned to the users current lifestyle.[1] It seems so obvious; to use less will cost less. However Perth is still building single story, double brick 4-bedroom homes 50km from the CBD and large apartments in the city which, for low-income earners, are very costly.

Perth’s seemingly infinite sea of 4-bedroom homes. Image via The West.

Reducing the development cost of a home or apartment suggests that the purchase price for the consumer can also reduce. Targeting our buildings budgets on the areas of the home that we spend more time in and spending less on the areas we don’t is a critical move. The below heat map, from the film Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things (2015), shows the results of a study around how a typical family uses a home. Obviously this isn’t the same for everyone, but generally speaking we spend the majority of our waking hours in the kitchen and living spaces and less in bedrooms and bathrooms.[2]

By focusing your costs on areas you spend more time in you can create a better space for less. Image via The Minimalists.

Land and construction fees make up only a small portion of a homes financial burden. Operating and maintenance costs make up a far larger chunk of the ‘whole-of-life’ cost of a home.[3] Increasing ceiling heights to allow more natural light penetration, effectively utilising cross-ventilation and having high thermal rated materials are just three simple concepts which can greatly reduce the running cost of a home. Homes will smaller footprints and open plan living spaces heat and cool quicker, making them cheaper to run.[3]

Affordable housing, and how to provide it, is a huge issue in Australia at the moment. Providing more minimalist, ‘less is more’, style homes is a step in the right direction however I believe there is another step we need to take. Using the same ‘Design by Reduction’ method we, as consumers, can question our individual spatial needs. Do I really need that second bathroom? Is having a big back yard important to me? Is there a way to make multi-functional spaces work for my lifestyle? For this to work in Perth, there needs to be a shift in the social mindset away from the ‘Australian Dream’; building a 4-bedroom 2-bathroom house on a 400sqm block. It’s 2017. Excessive urban sprawl is pushing us further and further away from the places we want to be. Small changes to our individual perception of what a house is can create a much more affordable climate for low-income earners to live.




  1. “Sustainable Apartments – A New Model for the Future | Jeremy McLeod | TEDxStKilda” filmed March 29 2015, YouTube Video, 18:05, posted by “TEDx Talks,” June 2015,
  2. Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things, directed by Matt D’Avella, 2016, Netflix.
  3. Trivess Moore, John Edward Morrissey and Steven Clune, “Want to cut your costs of living? Start with a smaller home,” The Conversation Blog, January 13, 2014,


Sami Joer

Sami Joer is a Masters of Architecture student at the University of Western Australia and Graduate Designer at Creative Design and Planning.

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