The new plan to turn Canberra's McMansions into mini unit complexes
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The new plan to turn Canberra's McMansions into mini unit complexes

It's a common problem. The kids are all grown up and have moved out, and while the parents want to downsize, they also don't want to leave the family home.

A Canberra architectural firm has come up with an innovative way to achieve both.

Architects James Gaughwin and Allan Spira discussing plans to transform a Farrer home. They are searching for people who want to convert their McMansions into two or three apartments under the same roof.

Architects James Gaughwin and Allan Spira discussing plans to transform a Farrer home. They are searching for people who want to convert their McMansions into two or three apartments under the same roof. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

Allan Spira and graduate architect James Gaughwin of Allan Spira Architects want to "re-imagine existing housing stock". Put simply, they want to turn some of Canberra's big houses — often dubbed McMansions — effectively into mini unit complexes.

It's their part in a government initiative designed to tackle Canberra's affordable housing shortage.

"We thought that given new homes and infills are always going to be a very small contribution to changing the housing situation, we thought we should look at the existing housing stock," Mr Spira said.

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"There has been a tradition for building very large family homes for about 30 years and it seems things are slowly turning around and people are living in smaller and smarter homes and we thought we should look at the existing housing stock given the changing demographics of households.

"A large McMansion can be converted into two or three units and then people can downsize on their own block rather than having to find something in the neighborhood and then other people can buy in to middle or an inner suburb at a smaller price because they’re not having to pay for the land, so that’s the kind of thinking."

While they have yet to convert any Canberra McMansions into multiple units, they gave an example of what they could do to a home by looking at one on the market.

They "re-imagined" the four-bedroom, three-bathroom and two-car space red-brick house at 38 Lambrigg Street in Farrer, into three units.

BEFORE: As an example, the pair experimented with a property, 38 Lambrigg Street in Farrer, currently on the market.

BEFORE: As an example, the pair experimented with a property, 38 Lambrigg Street in Farrer, currently on the market.

"We’ve looked at a couple of houses listed and started a concept plan," he said.

"It’s not that difficult to convert homes if you can build an extra few kitchens, put in a bathroom here or there, you can create separate entries."

In the Lambrigg Street house, they would separate the top floor of the house into two apartments, creating new entries off the existing front steps and porch. A new bathroom and kitchen are added to one. Each apartment has two bedrooms.

AFTER: The "re-imagined" McMansion transformed into three-units.

AFTER: The "re-imagined" McMansion transformed into three-units.

The ground level apartment would go from a rumpus room and laundry into a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, bathroom and laundry added. Additional car space is included.

But there remains one big catch to seeing their vision realised: Canberra's planning laws.

The Farrer house is RZ2 zoned and sits on a less than 700 square metre block, which means units are not allowed.

"Three separate units as we are proposing would require a minimum block size of 1050 square metres, this block is 686 square metres," he said.

"In any case, we’d like to see this type of development in all zones, including RZ1 standard residential zones, which includes over 80 per cent of the total residential area."

Anyone who would like to assist should email Allan allan@allanspiraarchitects.com.au.

Han Nguyen reports on property for The Canberra Times. She joined the Times in 2017 after working as a breaking news reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.