Refitting the Sheets: Home in Transience

Valerie Wong

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Over the next five years, nine motels along Fenton Street, Rotorua remain contracted by the New Zealand government for emergency housing.[1] Making national headlines since 2021, the story was disseminated as an anomaly of pandemic conditions but was revealed to be an escalated housing relief scheme.[2] The emergency housing tenants collected in these motels face a mismatch between transient space and domestic living. Due to the unfitting presence of motels as homes, the thesis critiques the motel typology for its ‘ambiguous imagery’ and ‘absence of a sense of place’.[3] News coverage unravels a timeline of disputes highlighting the inappropriateness of motels as housing. In response, the thesis explores adapting motels to fulfil their incomplete domesticity and provide for housing needs.

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The design process develops from the adaptive reuse strategists of Lacaton & Vassal, Françoise Bollack, and Balkrishna Doshi, which provide tools for working a framework that improves on the existing fabric of motels. The methods are translated through the refitting architectural practice of trace.[4] Trace is adaptive making that iterates on top of the existing by drawing on translucent sheets, remobilising static infrastructure.

The design project mutates from an unstable housing shortage epidemic, phasing into an intricate study of collective reclaimed space. Emergency housing tenants with straitened circumstances cannot afford to support themselves in individualised housing. Therefore, the project invests in a co-housing model that allows tenants to share responsibility and have wrap-around support. The current approach to increasing housing supply does not cater for the support that emergency housing tenants need. By learning from the emergency housing crisis, the thesis provides an alternative solution that works with the existing limited constraints and provides grounds for social improvement. Refitting the Sheets: Home in Transience is a design proposition that applies architectural design as a placemaking device that provides the essentials of domestication and community in transient space.

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[1] Ministry of Housing and Urban Development . “13 Applications to Rotorua Lakes District Council under Section 88 of the Resource Management Act 1991 for Resource Consent for Contracted Emergency Housing .” December 15, 2022.

[2] Laing, Steven, and Nissanka, “Emergency Housing Exploratory Study, January-February 2017”

[3] Treadwell, Sarah. “The Motel: An Image of Elsewhere.” Space and culture 8, no. 2 (2005): 214–224.

[4] Lucas, Raymond. “The Discipline of Tracing in Architectural Drawing.” In The Materiality of Writing: A Trace-Making Perspective, 116–137, 2018.