Around the World with Residential: Global Thinking, Local Relevance

“We are a reflection of the collisions of ideas that occur continuously across the world.”

Woods Bagot’s Credo

In this feature, Woods Bagot’s residential leaders demonstrate how our global studio uses its reach and collective expertise to draw inspiration from one another to create the best experience for our clients and end users.

We know that none of us is smarter than all of us. As a result, there is a meritocracy of ideas and sharing of knowledge. Across our 17 studios, lessons are learnt and shared. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

Travel through our global studio with some of our residential sector leaders  as they make predictions in their local markets and share project inspirations from across our physical borders.

North America

It is our responsibility as architects to meet our generation’s greatest challenges. To truly design with empathy we must engage with our clients and communities to provide equitable access to housing that is both sustainable and contextual.

We are seeing key trends here in California that have wider reaching impact on our North American region. Home prices and sales are increasing but, due to COVID-19, there has been a slowdown in construction. There’s a push in residents moving to suburban and rural areas because of affordability, the pandemic, and an increase in environmental disasters.

The inventory of housing will see a gradual increase now that the world is opening again, but these conditions will dramatically exacerbate the current housing crisis.

According to Bloomberg, California accounts for 12% of the US population and a quarter of its homeless population. This is a daunting figure when we consider the median home price in the state is $600,000 USD, due to outdated zoning laws and tax provisions (e.g., Proposition 13).

California is the most extreme, but the trend across the United States is unfortunately moving towards what is being seen here. Without picking up the pace of construction and providing millions of more homes there is no solution.

Affordable housing is a national problem. Middle class workers are getting locked out of the housing market and are moving to other parts of the country. A series of recent studies reported in The New York Times site a financial tipping point. We will see the number of homeless people rising sharply as soon as renters are spending more than a third of their income on housing. For California to attract talented individuals we cannot strangle our broad workforce.

Diversity, innovation, and access to quality of life are essential parts of our cities and communities. Architects and designers must focus on driving the housing and residential conversation towards a future that is aligned with:

  • Creating housing density and mixed-use around transit and job centres.
  • Designing a significant amount affordable housing to address the housing crisis and create equitable access to quality of life.
  • Driving a dramatic increase in sustainable building techniques to combat the climate crisis.
  • Fighting for flexibility – including allowing for a shifting working environment that extends the workspace to the home.
  •  Prioritising wellness by creating more outdoor spaces for natural light and air, and designs that reflect a sense of place.

Talk to Matt Ducharme about residential in North America

Collins Arch. Melbourne, Australia.

A project I find aspirational is 447 Collins Street or Collins Arch.

All cards on the table, I do have a connection to the project, leading it in its early stages while working with our collaborators, SHoP. Even without that experience this project embodies everything Woods Bagot aspires to achieve by:

  • Creating architecture as a civic gesture, fulfilling its intent to create a beacon in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD with a 2,000sm public park at its base.
  • Defining future sector – Collins Arch is Australia’s first true mixed-use project with 200 apartments, 300 hotel keys, and 50,000sm of commercial tenancy.
  • Delivering world-class architecture that can impact the cities in which we live and work.

Personally, Collins Arch represents an opportunity taken to meet my future colleagues. Its display of our collective vision of people architecture is inspiring.

Europe & UK

My predictions for the future of the residential sector in the UK/EU region are predominantly led by how I think people will react to a post-COVID-19 era. As such, I think there will be a focus on two types of residents – those who are nesting and those who are nomads. Nesting refers to those who will respond with a need for stability after an unstable time; nomads refers to those who might respond with a new approach to the work/life balance, one that will not tie them to one specific location for too long.

New Nesting

This is something we have been thinking about a lot recently, putting some of our thoughts down in the Tailored Models & AD-APT pieces. With many of us stuck at home in the last year we are seeing a rise in the expectation to personalise residential spaces, making them more appealing and focused on the resident’s personal needs. Some will want to have a space they can make their mark on and where they can feel safe and secure. We are also seeing a rise in the efforts to build and integrate real communities as residents look to make longer term connections and feel as a part of the place they live.

This, of course, will pose certain challenges for the developers of these large-scale residential schemes as they work out how to cost effectively and efficiently deliver these. As mentioned in our Tailored Models piece, we suggested they take a page from the automotive industry’s book.

Nomads Rerising

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think we are also going to see an increase in people who might not want to be tied down to one living space and this will certainly affect the standard residential model. Many of us have now adjusted to a new way of working – where work can be done effectively anywhere – and this can inspire demand for a different way of living, such as co-living or short-term accommodation. This might also come in the form of partial hotels and serviced apartments or shared communal living.

This increase in nomad-like living is a continuation of people wanting to take advantage of an open world and not having to relinquish travel by being more nomadic in their overall living/work approach. If you can work from anywhere, why be stuck in one place?

Talk to Simon Saint about residential in Europe and the UK

Tribecca Rogue. New York, USA.

I find our Tribeca Rogue project fascinating and a great exemplar project for our residential design work in the UK. It is a bold project with intense, urban residential design that is responding to its context effortlessly.

The contemporary façade fits in with the traditional New York streetscape, taking great cues from the rhythm and form of the neighbouring window reveals to seamlessly bring a wonderful modern look to the block.

The extreme urban setting also drives amazing use of space within the homes, creating special spaces that are also incredibly efficient. We are always looking to NY for new ideas on compact living that we can incorporate into our work in London. We are seeing a focus here on how we can make city centre living more attractive as we see the effects of the pandemic change the way our cities might be used going forward. Compact but high-quality homes are a part of that. It will be particularly important for the nomads as travel and remote working start changing the way people choose to live.

Middle East

There are three main changes that I can predict for the future of residential in the Middle East:

New Homes for a New Era

COVID-19 has proven to be the catalyst to accelerate profound change in the way we live our lives and use our homes. The residential sector is wrestling with the challenge of catering for new demands and pressures associated with workplaces, day cares, schools, and gyms – all encroaching on what, for many city dwellers, is already a limited living space. However, as with all challenges, there are opportunities for innovation and reinvention.

The Mixed-use Living Model

As designers navigate this shift to the mixed-use residential model, flexibility and multi-functional square footage will be key. Single-use spaces, like single-use plastics, will not be sustainable, and a preference will be given to dynamic changeable arrangements over traditionally fixed spaces. For those who do not have the luxury to upsize their residence, movable partitions and multi-use furniture will allow for efficient space allocation that can seamlessly transition single spaces and uses into multiple.

The Smart Home

As more time is spent in residences, we will see an increasing demand for smart homes that will be able to learn about the habits and daily rituals of their occupants, eventually anticipating their needs. Technology will change the way we interact with many of our residential spaces: robotics and automation will redefine kitchens, the letter box replaced with delivery drone infrastructure, and bathrooms fitted with sensors to track health and wellness.

Accelerations in sustainability technology will also become common place as end users react to rising utility bills caused by more time spent at home. As designers it will be our role to mediate and integrate these technologies and uses seamlessly into homes for a new era.

The Standard, Fish Lane. Brisbane, Australia.

A project I am keeping a close eye on as it progresses is The Standard, Fish Lane in Australia. It is a beautifully soft and sculptural residential tower that rises as a landmark to signify the transition from the cultural district of Brisbane to the West End.

In the Middle East we are often delicately balancing commercial realities, such as the maximization of apartment numbers, area efficiencies and return on investments (ROIs) with architectural aesthetics and elegance. We take inspiration by the novel way the design team of The Standard has optimized four cylindrical geometries at the corners to soften the architectural form which wraps 261 apartments and two levels of retail.

The soft form defines the identity of this tower, but it is the way the design team has articulated the podium level and streetscape, which creates this building’s character. We love how the podium peels away to reveal the extension of Fish Lane, defined through a retail experience celebrated with light, materiality, and nature. This truly is a human centric design exemplar that epitomizes our W-B people architecture philosophy.

China and South East Asia

Right now, China is building five times as many houses as the US and Europe combined. Add the booming markets of Southeast Asia to the equation and you have a residential sector that is brimming with possibility. I have four major predictions for the future of residential in China and Southeast Asia:

Housing the Masses

Accessible and affordable housing in Asia is a huge challenge that I predict will continue to impact the residential sector in China and Southeast Asia. The region holds over half of the world’s population but, contrastingly, has only just ticked past being 50% urbanised. This means that the future demand on the residential sector requires the design and build of approximately 20-50 million affordable houses over the next 20 years, and a chance that that figure will double itself as population steadily grows.

Housing the future masses will require some pivotal work to happen beyond the realm of architecture and design in economic policy and land security. As designers and architects we need to strive for influence in the sway of these decisions and use our expertise in design and delivery to pose solutions – like prefabrication, design for resilience and circular construction/economy – that can be readily applied across the spectrum of housing in the region. These solutions must reach all housing types – from premium to low-income.


In China we are starting to see the stratification of upper to mid-level housing. With the differentiation of housing assets being an important embodiment of wealth inequality and – by extension – social status, the arrangement into different categories at this level indicates opportunity a market redefined. Discerning buyers who are not as interested in the luxury upper market are beginning to find their voice, making room for high-grade condos and Build to Rent arrangements.

We are also seeing a new wave of high-quality, international level housing gathering momentum in Vietnam and Cambodia – like what we saw in Shanghai a decade ago – suggesting a maturing market.

Mixed-use Momentum

Mixed-use housing continues its rise. Homebuyers in China and Southeast Asia have moved on from wanting to live in gated communities to showing a preference for being a part of mixed-use, transit-orientated precincts.

When it comes to the residential sector in Asia, there is big and there is bigger. The most valued real estate is in mega-scale, mixed-use residential towers that are connected to Transit Orientated Communities (TOCs) that allow homeowners to travel from their apartments to a shopping mall and then to a train station for work across the city – all without leaving the precinct. Millionaires live stacked and side-by-side in residential towers with supreme amenities – lush gardens, running tracks, 360-degree observation decks, arcades, skate parks, swimming pools, night clubs and spas. With size comes status.

Solving the Multi-generational Puzzle

Multi-generational family living is a cultural ideal in China and Southeast Asia, with several generations often living under the same roof. Multifamily investments have accelerated throughout the COVID-19 crisis due to a growing appetite for defensive assets – meaning multifamily living will continue to be a staple residential arrangement in the region.

With the popularity of mixed-use residential towers on the rapid rise, architects, and designers of the future face a large degree of problem solving to the tune of creating cohesive yet private co-living arrangements vertically.

Families are buying three or four apartments across multiple storeys – giving architects and designers the challenge of creating vertical clusters that can accommodate the needs of Baby Boomers to Generation Z simultaneously. As we move forward, those of us in the design industry need to consider models of care for older generations, independence for younger, and flexibility on exit altogether. There is a lot of problem solving on the horizon.

It is important to note that the popularity of multi-generational living is not specific to Asia. In fact, in 2016, a record 20% of Americans lived in multi-generational housing arrangements. This year the percentage is at 15%. As the coronavirus recession continues to seep in worldwide this number looks set to remain or even rise, echoing the upsurge in co-living the West experienced during 2008s global financial crisis.

Etihad Eco Residence, Masdar City. Abu Dhabi, UAE.

There’s alot of inspiration to be found in the Etihad Eco Residence, Masdar City project in Abu Dhabi. Completed in 2018, the precinct signifies a new way forward for mid-market Emirati housing and poses wider solutions for sustainability.

Located within Masdar City, the project comprises 500 one- and two-bedroom apartments in a total of 11 buildings designed for commercially viable and sustainable corporate accommodation. Thanks to sustainable design features like an airtight building envelope, solar thermal water heaters and solar-reflective coatings that reflect light away from the surface of the building, the precinct has achieved an estimated 63 percent reduction in total energy consumption. Passive design principals, understanding of the climate and in-depth modelling of the precincts’ massing and form also contributed its impressive environmental credentials.

The project was built on an existing podium parking structure, modular pods reduced the cost of construction and maximised efficiency, while transport-related carbon emissions during the construction of the project were reduced by using a modular design, prefabricated systems and sourcing from local suppliers – with at least 20 per cent of the materials either sourced or manufactured within 800 kilometres. As economies move rapidly to recognise the need for zero emission cities this will be a major area of focus for all people and governments.


Australia’s changing housing dynamics have seen the number of rental households increasing due to housing affordability being a major issue in capital cities. Current trends in multi-housing and demographics indicate that Australia is moving towards a Build to Rent future where lifestyle prevails. There are many considerations for us but, above all, design quality and creating a sense of place will continue to be what entices people to choose a rental lifestyle. Ultimately, the focus on lifestyle will drive a holistic approach to design with larger multidisciplinary teams curating the user experience across architecture, brand, and technology.

As someone who is also chasing the Australian dream, I would like to think that our Build to Rent future is a firm lifestyle choice with some innovation yet to be realized. The rise of ‘Naked Housing’, where homes and apartments are offered stripped back to their bare necessities, could create a platform to grow into your home. This will make purchasing a home more affordable whilst appealing to the DIY Aussie Battler spirit.

Another interest is the return to the ’burbs. A high percentage of planning applications are for developments that increase density in our capital city suburbs. With the work from anywhere narrative taking hold, could we see aspects of multifamily living developing in the suburbs that extend beyond the traditional granny flat? Only time will tell.

The final trend is the evolution from retirement to Lifestyle First. It is remarkable that a large portion of the Australian population is living longer, living well and wanting to identify as vitally important to the society which they have contributed to building. The difference between this and other previous generations is the overwhelming desire for continuity; of career and good health, and engagement with community and the broader society. Supported living and retirement living models are evolving to seamlessly blend Lifestyle, Community, and Wellness driving us to think about residential as more of a layered ecosystem finely balanced to meet the needs of its users.

One of the key strategies that we have learnt through designing supported living models is to focus on creating the best quality residential and community by focusing on the “Lifestyle First’. This focus enables a culture of community that aligns with contemporary ‘retirement living’ practice. It will enable meaningful opportunities for broader collaboration between community, users and professionals from other disciplines such as education and technology providers in a model traditionally only supported by health care services. To build a community that people want to live and grow in, not simply a place to retire, requires a successful blend of Lifestyle, Community and Wellness, enhanced by the best in design.

Talk to Alex Hall about residential in Australia

Sunday Apartments. Melbourne, Australia.

We are lucky that we have many projects that genuinely seek the most inventive outcome and are inherently aspirational – both in and out of our great southern land. I particularly like our medium density residential projects coming out of Melbourne, Australia as a demonstration of this kind of company-wide invention.

Projects such as Elwood House and CF Row encapsulate aspiration through absolute commitment to local context and exquisite materiality. Having said that, the project I feel stands out is Sunday Apartments in Southbank, Melbourne. Completed in 2013, In my view this is really ahead of its time and redefines what can be achieved on a budget without sacrificing design or community impact.

New Zealand

Like the neighbouring Australian market, New Zealand has long experienced a housing supply shortage, particularly around the country’s denser urban centres. With continued population growth and a shortage of rental stock, these combined factors place increased demands on those seeking to purchase their first property or upscale to meet changing personal circumstances.

New Zealand residential sales have continued to strengthen in recent months; therefore, a high percentage of the existing rental market may find it difficult to purchase. Future homeowners are looking for affordable, desirable, and attractive alternatives. People are looking for more choices of locations that enable them to have a home that reflects their priorities and their flexible participation in the workplace, education, and local communities.

The current market is well-represented at the two extremities of the residential spectrum– typical privately funded multi-residential apartment developments built for owner occupiers on one end, and social housing on the other. I believe there is an undersupply of alternative options in this middle band. It is here that there is room for impactful growth.

I predict this gap will be, and should be, filled with innovative, sustainable, and well-designed housing that is integrated with convenient local amenities, such as food stores, and child and healthcare facilities – creating a way of life over just being a place to live. This demand for quality affordable housing has created a great opportunity for Build to Rent.

Recently, we have also experienced a desire from many single-use asset investors who are seeking to diversify their portfolios into vibrant, mixed-use precincts close to community amenity, transport, education, retail, and work. Build to Rent offers a great housing alternative, yet untapped in the New Zealand market and could add value to these mixed-use precincts.

With proven overseas successes in North America and the United Kingdom, Build to Rent offers opportunity in the New Zealand market for private corporate investors to participate in this arena. Corporate participation has a vested interest in longer term property maintenance and providing increased amenity, such as gyms, pools, and co-working offerings.

I do think that New Zealand has the empathy, vision, and design talent to achieve a world-first result.

Andy Gentry Portrait

Talk to Andy Gentry about residential in New Zealand

Soapworks. Bristol, UK.

I’ve been closely watching a project my London studio colleagues have been creating in Bristol, UK, which has recently received planning endorsement. Soapworks is a mixed-use development and is located on the edge of the city centre between Bristol’s CBD and cultural quarter at Old Market. The project includes the restoration of an 1860s Grade II-listed soap factory, the Soapworks.

Soapworks is an exciting urban regeneration mix of commercial, food and beverage, and creative retail offerings focused on local artisan makers, creating a modern, vibrant, and inclusive place to work and play. The new public realm also incorporates pedestrian and cycle links providing enhanced connections to existing public transport and surrounding residential neighbourhoods.

Of particular interest is the development of the next generation of Build to Rent and integration of affordable residential apartments. The project will create new jobs, homes, and community amenities supporting Bristol’s sustainable urban regeneration.

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