Youth homelessness is an important topic that has relevance across the world. It is seen as a particularly affecting issue, with an understanding that children are particularly undeserving of such adversity. In response to this ever concerning challenge, Australia’s Kids Under Cover charity devised an annual project that aims to raise awareness and funds for the cause in an engaging and creative way.
Construction companies team up with design studios, to compete in the ‘Cubby House Challenge‘. A ‘cubby’ being the name used for the backyard playhouses common in the outdoor centred childhoods of suburban Australia. The resulting structures are exhibited to the public and ultimately auctioned at the annual Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show – the largest event of its kind in the southern hemisphere. The aim is to create exciting and innovative structures that generate as much money and exposure for the cause as possible.
Alongside the high quality aesthetic criteria, designers must accommodate a number of practical restrictions as outlined in the brief. The teams must design within a 2x3x3m area so that the cubbies can easily be transported multiple times before auction, and then on to their final home. There is also a need to balance big ideas with buildability and material usage, as the services and materials involved are generously donated by the respective design/build teams themselves.
The entries must therefore be as resourceful as possible, whilst seeking to create maximum impact. “It’s also a pertinent reminder to designers, architects and builders of what is really important when it comes to a house: the simplicity of security and shelter, and where possible, the flourish of clever and creative design”, said 2017 judge Alice Stolz, National Managing Editor at Domain.
The re-use of building materials is another interesting element of this project. Designers are encouraged to utilise any builders waste that their collaborating construction companies have at hand. Some companies may have excess of a particular product, such as decking or cement board, depending on their recent projects and circumstances. This material can then be used as a starting point for the designer, helping influence their approach to the design. The creativity required to deliver an exceptional project within such restrictions means the projects are always diverse; each exploring different paths in terms of viable yet effective possibilities.
Past submissions have varied from the quintessential house silhouette through to abstract architectural forms. Each successfully responds to the request that each team create a cubby that they themselves would have loved to play in as children. Alongside specially selected judges, the children themselves are invited to play and assess the designs over the weekend event. The 2017 award categories include; Australia’s Best Cubby, Best Architectural Cubby, Best Interior Designed Cubby, Most Imaginative Cubby and Kid’s Choice. The real winner is of course the cubby that fetches the highest price at auction, raising the most money for the worthy cause.
Last year’s winner (Porter Davis’s “The Relic”) saw a record price of $17,200 AUD, described as being “inspired by a shipwreck dive and has hidden elements to surprise and delight young explorers”. Altogether the 2016 cubby auction brought in $63,200 AUD (plus philanthropic donations), with an aim to raise $150,000 in 2017.
This project is an excellent example of how a well considered and multifaceted program can provide an effective way to engage a wide range of people. As a charity concerned with youth homelessness, it involves a variety of related industries and provides an accessible means for people to contribute. The play on the concept of ‘housing for children’ is not lost; instead, using this light hearted approach brings much needed awareness and engagement to a topic so worthy of attention.