Critique at University of Virginia
Critique at University of Virginia

Ephemeral Suburbia

This project was developed by Matthew Burnett as a student from University of New South Wales (UNSW) and was submited to the WAS awards 2017 under the Housing category.

Sydney, along with many other cities around the world, face a common thread of rapidly shifting challenges – housing affordability, densification, inequality, social isolation, demographic shifts. It is becoming clear that for cities to be sustainable, they need to be accommodating more temporary fluxes in their structure and broader ecology rather than being anchored solely to static material configurations.

So is it possible to build in the middle suburbs of Sydney at around three times the current dwelling density and provide good, healthy places for living?


The project, a small co-housing development in the middle suburbs of Sydney, re-examines the potential for architecture to exist within a transitionary framework. The three interconnected dwellings are designed for an elderly couple, a family and a rental property for a young professional couple – but also provides flexible opportunities for spatial manipulation.

Together, the project embodies an architecture of dynamic transitions and thresholds, that which might more closely reflect the subtleties of human psychology. Hinged spaces allow selective control of privacy between dwellings, communal spaces and their occupants, hence facilitating healthy interactions, sharing and community beyond simply the open and closed. Under-utilised suburban side setbacks are reconceived as a place for community and shared agriculture, with the opportunity to be closed off when privacy is desired.

Architecture and urbanism has traditionally been defined by permanence and absolutes as a default condition, but why should this be the case when change, adaptation and flexibility are now recognised as fundamental to balancing both the present and future needs of our modern society? It is clear that the notion of ephemerality emerges as an important condition in the life cycle of every built environment – perhaps the only constant.