Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) design – Robust Housing

A collaborative design response to create a forever home for two young adults living with Prader-Willi Syndrome

Robust housing is designed to incorporate a reasonable level of physical access provision and be very resilient, reducing the likelihood of reactive maintenance and reducing the risk to the participant and the community.

The two families that we are working with are focusing on stabilising the home environment for their two young adults by taking on the role of investor and working towards tenancy for life. One of them contextualised the importance of this, saying: “One of the unexpected consequences of Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme is that the respective State Governments are no longer the ‘provider of last resort’. Our clients recognised this role now rests with private or charitable investors who provide the homes in which the individuals live. Some individuals living with challenging Behaviours of Concern need accommodation built to a Robust standard, designed to maximise suitability and minimise structural damage. Development of Robust homes has been slow as the new wave of investor owners are often reluctant to take on challenging tenants and evictions are common.”

Architecture & Access is committed to a People First Approach involving close collaboration with the families and a design review process with the specialist support staff. The People First design process resulted in a home that is nuanced in the way it meets some of the unique and specific functional requirements for the residents. It takes into consideration behavioural challenges and the fact they are unrelated individuals sharing a home. A key goal was to make the home a safe workplace for carers without losing sight that it was firstly a home to provide warmth and comfort for the young adults.

The families are the experts in the needs of their children and had undertaken international research on home design for people living with PWS, this in turn was fundamental to informing the design. Our collaboration resulted in a zoned layout, considering the need for privacy and separation with two resident private zones each with an ensuite bedroom and breakout room. Indoor and outdoor living spaces, kitchen and dining area are shared, and a staff zone includes the On-site Overnight Assistance (OOA) with office and store. If need arises the home can easily be partitioned into two halves.

Designing Robust SDA often involves introducing restrictive practices in the design response. The electronic access system is central, controlling access to the kitchen, including all cupboards and fridge with a single swipe. Many other spaces in the house including cupboards, laundry and private areas are also controlled. All Regulated Restrictive Practices must be registered with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, and a design review process developed with the specialist treating team ensured that the restrictions can be easily modified over time, giving the residents more choice and control where possible.

The staff room provides direct lines of sight into living spaces to ensure that support staff can always be ready to assist without unnecessarily imposing themselves. This room can serve as a retreat with a secondary direct egress to the front yard if needed. Fixtures in the individual ensuites have been carefully selected in close consultation with the families and support staff to ensure they are appropriately robust and meet individual requirements.

Architecture & Access have designed this Robust SDA to be tough without looking it. Internal walls are clad in fire resistant MDF. The joints are to be expressed architecturally and painted in a range of calm colours. Acoustic insulation separates shared living areas and private spaces where behaviour can be self-regulated. Light fittings are recessed, and most glazing is located above a height of 950mm.

As a home for two individuals with disabilities and a workplace for their carer’s, the dwelling is designated as Class 3 under the National Construction Code. This triggers a range of conditions around construction materials and fire separation. There are fire sprinklers throughout, and compliance with AS1428.1 Design for Mobility and Access as well as SDA Design Standards is achieved. This means step free access from the street through all parts of the home and circulation space for wheelchair users maximising the home’s long-term use for different types of Specialist Disability Accommodation.

We have sought to design a home that doesn’t only meet functional requirements but makes the most of a site wedged between an epic lemon scented gum tree and a public park. The living room pushes forward of the north facing façade to capture views east and west of these two natural anchors. It’s clerestory windows pull sunlight deeper into the space. All other shared spaces are oriented to the north to maximise passive solar gain and are appropriately shaded for summer. Bedrooms are oriented east and west, with breakout rooms and utilities to the south.

Where possible we have sought to extend our environmental responsibility to the fabric of the building too. Bricks (which are high in embodied energy), are to be recycled from the existing house on the site and other local sources, sheet metal roofing is light in colour to reflect heat and a large solar array is connected to a battery to provide power. All windows are double glazed, and high-performance insulation and timber from sustainable sources are specified. External permeable paving carefully circumvents the gum tree and reduces run-off.

The result, we hope, will be a fantastic forever home for the two residents and a terrific investment for their families. Now the next chapter begins with construction due to start on site soon.

Aaron Stowe, Manager Architecture & Project Management and Tim Randall, Lead Architect


Architecture-SDA ‘Robust’




Melbourne, VIC

Engaged by

Private Client


Architecture & Access render

Architecture & Access


Level 5, 369 Royal Parade
Parkville VIC Australia 3052

T 1300 715 866
E info@archaccess.com.au


Bowman House, Level 4,
Suite 41B, 276 Edward Street
Brisbane QLD 4000 Australia

T 1300 715 866
E info@archaccess.com.au