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  Medium -density housing that meets the needs of New Zealanders


Medium-density housing (MDH) is already part of the New Zealand landscape. But looking ahead, we can see that the demand is continuing to increase, particularly in areas with high population growth. The Auckland Unitary plan will drive further activity in coming years.

This programme will give the industry the tools it needs to build high quality, affordable medium density housing. This housing will meet the needs of the people who live in it and be accepted by the wider community.

The critical success criteria for this programme includes: 

  • The building industry has the technical information to enable the design of quality, affordable and desirable medium density housing; 
  • The building industry has the skills needed to design and build quality, affordable and desirable medium density housing; 
  • Medium density housing buildings are maintained to sustain long term performance; 
  • Everyone has a shared understanding of how to optimise the journey through the building and consent process for medium density housing; and 
  • There is increased acceptance of medium density housing in communities.

To find out more about the Programme, please contact the Programme Leader, Anne Duncan.

Research under this programme includes:

The building industry has the technical information to enable the design of quality, affordable and desirable medium density housing

Defining medium-density housing for New Zealand

This work will provide important baseline information on medium density housing already being built in New Zealand. It will also provide definitions around what medium density housing means in the New Zealand context. It will explore who is living in these homes, who is building it, how they are being built. It will also explore known issues. The project will also look at occupant behaviour associated with medium density housing. 

The new medium density housing market - supply-side and demand-side analysis

We need to have a better understanding of the future demand for medium density housing and of the industry's (including the finance and insurance industries') ability and appetite to supply it in New Zealand. This project will use information from existing residential preference surveys, Statistics New Zealand, and discussion with developers to establish demand for medium density housing and to estimate costs of different types. It will also address supply-side questions such as number and type of medium density housing being built; scaling-up opportunities; and the roles of various skills including management, design, labour, financing and other business services. 

Medium density housing construction quality survey

A key concern identified during the scoping of this programme of work was the risks for owners, occupiers and society more widely of poor quality housing. While medium density housing construction has a track-record, it isnt great. We are keen to understand where the problems currently lie so we can help tackle these for future developments.

This project will carry out onsite surveys to identify the potential construction problems associated with designing and building medium density housing. It will explore the kinds of design features needed to make it easy to maintain these homes. It will also identify possible skills gaps in the building industry which may be contributing to quality issues.

Testing claddings for performance in medium-rise buildings, in particular multi-unit residential apartments

There are some gaps in our knowledge around how cladding systems are likely to perform when used in medium density developments. This issue was identified as a concern that should be fast-tracked in order that we can get early insight around this key area of potential risk. The research will take claddings that are likely to be used on medium-rise buildings then test them at our facility. The key areas of focus are around how weathertight they are, and also how they are likely to perform during an earthquake. The purpose of the tests is to identify any potential weak spots and the factors that may limit the performance of different claddings when used in medium density housing.

Medium-density housing fact sheets

Getting information about to the industry is essential if we are to take research insights and see them translated in to practice. Drawing on BRANZ's expertise at knowledge transfer to industry, this work will target architects and designers. It will provide them with the technical information they need to design quality, affordable, desirable and easily maintained medium density housing. The project will produce at least 12 easy-to-read fact sheets covering specific areas of design and construction.

Medium density housing information resource 

A key issue that was flagged early in the programme development was the duplication of effort that was taking place in accessing key information. Businesses and organisations interested in delivering medium density housing were having to source important information from multiple locations with a lack of co-ordination. This element of the programme addresses this problem. It will provide a focused, tailored online resource that acts as a one-stop shop for people interested in medium density housing. The resource will include relevant local and overseas information about the design and construction of quality medium density housing.

Medium-density housing web resource  

Fire spread from lower roofs

The distinct risks around fire presented by medium density developments have been highlighted as an important area of focus for the programme. A first piece of work in this space is looking at risk of fire spread in medium density housing projects where there are different roof heights in the same building. This is a common design element of medium density housing. The challenge is around the risk of fire spreading from the lower roof onto the higher wall above it. At present these higher walls must be protected to prevent the spread of fire, which is both onerous and expensive. This project will identify more efficient, lower-cost ways of preventing fire spreading from lower roofs which allow greater architectural freedom while meeting Building Code requirements.

Market research for medium density housing projects

Research is needed to help develop the picture of who is likely to be involved in designing and building medium density housing in the future. This project looks at how these parts of the industry can be supported to deliver better homes. Specifically it considers:

  • the information those involved in medium density housing currently access; 
  • the information that could be useful in the future; and 
  • how best to deliver that information.

The findings of this project will be used to develop subsequent projects to provide the industry with the information and tools it needs to build medium density housing.

Acoustic design of medium density housing

Acoustic performance has been identified as a key area of concern for medium density living. This project aims to make a concerted push to identify what needs to be done to develop solutions around external and internal noise. It will look at domestic and international practice and will also look at how best to get information out to the industry.

Developing tools to measure and improve the quality and liveability of medium density housing developments

The aim of this research is to provide the development community with a means to better understand and measure the quality and liveability of the homes they are building. This will help with the improvement of future designs. This work is about insight to improve the acceptability of medium density living for both future residents and surrounding neighbourhoods. Tools to help with this will be developed and applied in two case studies.

The building industry has the skills needed to design and build quality, affordable and desirable medium density housing

Work on projects to address this critical success criteria are being developed and will begin in 17/18. 

Medium density housing buildings are maintained to sustain long term performance

Knowing enough to maintain: Understanding the gaps in the knowledge of owners and residents around the maintenance requirements for medium density housing 

Medium density housing presents particular maintenance challenges. It tends to be multi-storey and is often governed by a body corporate. Maintenance and upkeep costs and requirements can be a barrier to acceptance of medium density housing as an option. Maintenance of stand-alone housing is an issue for New Zealand. Medium density housing is likely to present a greater challenge. This project will identify what the residents and owners of medium density housing already know about maintaining their homes. It will then produce information and advice to fill any gaps in their knowledge. This will support improved long term performance of the homes.

Everyone has a shared understanding of how to optimise the journey through the building and consent process for medium density housing

Perceived barriers to getting resources and building consents for medium-density housing

This project will look at the current experience of those already building medium density housing as they go through the resource and building-consent process. It will identify the barriers and constraints they experience, and the impact of these barriers. The project will also identify ways in which the consent process for medium density housing can be made easier, more responsive, more effective and more efficient.


There is increased acceptance of medium density housing in communities.

The New Zealand Housing Preferences Survey: Attitudes towards medium-density housing

The acceptance of medium density housing as a legitimate, healthy and desirable housing option is critical to its success as a solution to housing pressure. Current acceptance is limited, both amongst occupants and those who live in neighbourhoods surrounding this type of housing. The purpose of this project is to understand how to increase community acceptance of medium density housing by exploring current attitudes and perceptions in communities across New Zealand. This research will inform future educational and attitudinal change programmes.