Dec 5, 2022

Medium Density Housing: New Zealand's New Way of Living?

In New Zealand, in recent years there has been a shift in thinking about the value of medium-density housing both economically and as a means to cater to the continual increase in housing demand across our main centres – a problem that has long been understood by European architects, developers and urban designers. Across Europe the attention to developing individual, standalone houses is far less of a focus than it is here due to their motivations for using architecture and its design capability to deliver housing that has better liveability, is more sustainable and caters to the mass populations, as well as creating more democratic, connected societies.

The number of medium-density housing schemes throughout New Zealand has historically been low, with our focus leaning towards semi-rural or suburban fields. Locally, our definition of medium density is developments with four or more dwellings with an average density of less than 350m2 per unit. It can include stand-alone dwellings, and semi detached dwellings, terraced housing or apartments, each providing more economical living solutions compared to the baby boomer generations ¼ acre dream style housing, which has been the focus in the past.

Medium Density is recognized as a way of addressing priorities around key issues such as liveability and sustainability in housing, as well as providing more affordable options to a wider demographic. Overseas, there are large amounts of established research into growing populations, and the relationship between social life and physical forms such as neighbourhood-based environments, paving the way for the potential benefits and practicality of how this can work locally to help solve our housing issues.

In New Zealand, it is already being recognized by developers in overpopulated cities and by local councils, with things like District Plans being amended to allow for local growth plans that cater to these more dense housing models. To maximise the benefits of this new type of housing, it’s important that our construction industry is utilizing technology to build efficiently in order to realize the economic benefits. It also critical architects are designing in modern, well thought out ways to help increase desirability for this new style of living as an attractive alternative to New Zealanders, who are accustomed to stand-alone housing.

First-home buyers, young professionals, students and young families are all potential residents who are likely to be interested in medium-density developments as it is a mechanism to assist with housing affordability. Higher density living also aligns with residents who are retirees or empty nesters, who want to make a shift from larger family homes to smaller, more modern, dwellings. The design methodology is also recognized as a way to increase the ratio of people to land area, while still maintaining the quality of the urban lifestyle, intensifying existing neighbourhood communities and connectivity between residents.

An additional benefit is reduced reliance on private cars and their negative impact on the environment. Public transport can cater to the increase of residents in urban centres, minimizing pollution produced through privately commuting. The flow on effect of this also means land can be further optimized to be accessible for non-drivers, with less parking spaces required, encouraging urban areas to be more pedestrian orientated, building more connected communities within urban spaces.

New Zealand’s growing recognition for innovations in traditional housing, to meet the needs of our increasing population, is resulting in the rise of medium density housing developments. As more new builds of different typologies and spatial configurations are delivered to the market, medium-density living looks like it’s here to stay, providing diverse and modern living solutions to kiwis across a range of lifestyles.

If you’d like to learn more about how Voxell can help with the design, resource consent, or delivery of your property development projects, contact us at