The irony of David Barr Architects winning award after award for their Gen Y Demonstration Housing Project is that it was, itself, the product of a competition.

David Barr Architects first conceived of the design in 2013 in response to the Gen Y Demonstration Housing competition, which invited young Western Australian architects to submit ideas that reflect the changing lifestyles – and property ownership dreams – of younger generations.

The outcome of the competition was proof that medium-density housing can provide the requisite “step up” to keep Gen Y from being priced out of the Australian dream. Not only that, but David Barr’s design proved that this could be done on a single plot and without sacrificing liveability.

In a feat of masterplanning, David Barr Architects eschewed the idea of a bigger multi-residential unit, instead managing to squeeze three single-bedroom apartments within a compact two-storey building on a 250-square-metre suburban block in the White Gum Valley precinct of Western Australia. The final design sits somewhere between a freestanding home and a ‘traditional’ apartment building. Not only does each residence within the Gen Y Demonstration Housing Project have generously high ceilings and plenty of clever storage, they also have access to both private and communal outdoors areas.


“A collection of small and affordable apartments, the project is based around a standardised core wet area and kitchen, with the three separate homes having a combined internal area that is less than the average Australian home,” explain the architects.

“Each unit is strata titled to contain private ownership of interior and exterior spaces and shared common property.”

Although the project is pointedly named after one generation, it was important to the architects that the homes be capable of growing with their residents. Wider doors, reduced thresholds and allowances for the future installation of accessibility aids cater for occupants and guests who might have disabilities, while ensuring the building will be able to meet the changing needs of ageing residents.


As the winner of two categories at the 2017 Sustainability Awards – Multi-Residential and Best of the Best – it goes without saying that the project incorporates myriad sustainability initiatives. Of particular note is the high thermal efficiency of Gen Y Demonstration Housing. Solar passive design principles have been incorporated throughout the climactically responsive layout and the use of ‘green concrete’ for thermal mass.

Natural light and cross-ventilation have been assured in each residence, which themselves are constructed with lightweight timber framing and pre-finished refrigerant roof panels. Larger than normal wall studs enhance the thermal insulation of the space and provide an air gap.


These individual, interior sustainability measures are coupled with bigger picture initiatives such as reduced car parking (supplemented by storage areas for bikes, kayaks and scooters) and “productive” gardens housed in recycled brick planters. Landscape design incorporates recycled materials and water-wise planting, a 10,000-litre underground tank harvests rainwater for re-use, and a 9kW PV system with battery storage is used for power generation.

Combined, these sustainability measures have resulted in a Gold Medal-level lifecycle analysis from E-tool. The project has also met the principles of the ‘One Planet Living’ sustainability framework.

"We would expect some great exemplar projects to arise from the White Gum Valley precinct, and Gen Y does not disappoint. It challenges some conventional notions of living space, without compromising liveability and utility,” the 2017 Sustainability Awards judges note.

"[Gen Y Housing Demonstration Project tackles] the hardest issues: social sustainability and land use. [It is] distinguished by taking on social sustainability: demographics and density."