Architect Chris Shields has a long standing commitment to using his skills to improve the social housing sector. He is immersed in the process of extracting efficient space and material usage within limited budgets.

Shields has a specialist expertise in crisis accommodation. While designing for tenants who need somewhere to live for the short-term (as in days and months), the functionality and materials need to be built for the long term. The accommodation needs to look fresh and inviting for the next decade by being robust and able to cope with wear and tear on a daily basis.

"We spend a lot of time in thinking about maintenance issues - walls and doors cannot be easily damaged, external walls have to be resistant to graffiti and malicious damage - and at the same time the place has to have the feel of a regular home," says Shields.

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The majority of the sites Shields has worked on are created in tight spaces, which is a function of the typical land allotments provided to welfare organisations. For example, the Salvation Army Crisis Centre in St.Kilda was a Shields project in which the land was bought from VicRoads and would have been difficult to develop in any other way.

In achieving the design objective of style and durability, Shields is always reviewing the latest materials and how they can be best applied to projects. Finding improved materials can also make a big difference to price.

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In a current Salvation Army project, the critical part of the brief is to develop accommodation that's flexible enough to deal with the many different needs of an individual or a family of six in crisis. Rather than a series of two bedroom units, Shields has designed a series of individual modules that can be connected and expanded accordingly

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From an aesthetic point of view, Shields is continuously exploring

designs that enable a sense of unification, while at the same time giving units their own identity. He is strongly opposed to the institutional environment where flats resemble boxes and visual appeal is not considered.

"The idea of a 'six-pack' dwelling should be dead and buried. We need to inject individuality. An example of this is to work with ceiling heights in order to capture additional sunlight," says Shields. "The additional volume of space has a very positive impact on tenants, and by using insulation and double glazing we can minimise temperature variations."

For a FREE discussion on a social housing design, contact CMS Architects

2012034930-05 Raglan St Unit 1 & Carports Upton Rd (23)