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Shane Rothe on the vertical mixed-use solution

As the cost of land in premium suburbs continues to rise and planning controls limit development heights, providing high quality housing and retail spaces at an affordable price is an increasingly common problem for councils. Concurrently we are witnessing an increased need for greater density projects driven by the population growth and the rising demand for inner city and middle-ring living.

The response from architects and developers to this situation involves mixing residences and retail in low-rise integrated developments, which see residential apartments built over retail precincts. These mixed-use developments are providing positive outcomes for councils, residents, planners, developers and retailers alike.

Mixed-use projects are actively driving an urban model that delivers economic, social and environmental sustainability. This vertical mixed-use development trend may not be new, but the emphasis on residential quality of living and advancement in apartment standards is.

Previously, designs of this nature centred on the retail aspect and saw the addition of apartments merely as a means of off setting the cost of the space below. Now vertical mixed-use is a deliberate exercise in strategic planning, the apartments are considered and the retail mix chosen to reflect the needs of residents and selected in response to the needs of the broader community.

Higher-density living is becoming both more popular with residents and more necessary for planners who anticipate the pressure a growing population will put on their communities. There is also a noticeable change in buyer behaviour and the opinion of apartment living. We are moving away from the belief that apartments are merely an alternative to a block of land or a house; instead they are emerging as a favoured housing model.

The renaissance of this trend has come as a variety of residents reconsider the maintenance requirements and logistics of their current living arrangements and instead opt for mixed-use living. In both capital cities and regional centres, downsizers are more frequently surrendering their backyard in suburbia in favour of an apartment closer to amenities. This is also true of young singles, couples and families who are also realising that they do not need as much space as once thought and settle on smaller, well-located apartments instead of freestanding homes.

Now developers and architects are taking the vertical mixed-use concept a step further with their evolution of “super basements”, which allow for the extension of retail and amenities deep underneath new residences.

ROTHELOWMAN's design for the 380 Degrees project in Bay Street, Brighton, is a case in point. Completed in December last year, the development includes 95 six-star apartments above a ground floor retail precinct, which features a full-line 4,200 square meter Coles supermarket. Four levels down are all the amenities that the supermarket needs to run smoothly – storage, air-conditioning, loading and delivery bays as well as accommodating car parking for residents.

These are interesting developments both in terms of their design and functional complexity. From a practical perspective, the application of vertical mixed-use models is dependent on the separation of its mixed uses and the division of access points, exits and servicing features. Simply put, facilities in vertical mixed-use projects need to be designed in a manner that ensures retailers and residents don't get in each other's way.

380 Degrees has achieved harmony with its creation of a symbiotic relationship between the retail and the residential in which each has its own place. The development is indicative of well-designed, low-rise residential developments with ground floor retail and amenities delivering viable solutions for local councils, retailers and developers. The appeal of this design is evident, with all apartments at 380 Degrees having sold prior to construction.

Thus the success of vertical mixed-use projects can be understood as contingent upon the quality of their design and their ability to deliver convenience and value. Consumers, whether they are retail tenants, customers or potential apartment owners, will make their choice based on these attributes.

Ultimately it can be said that vertical mixed-use projects allow for increased population density, while keeping building heights to acceptable levels and improving amenity for existing residents. As of yet, there is little data on this trend; however, I suspect there soon will be.

We are seeing interest in this urban development strategy peak amongst town planners and councils, who are tasked with intensifying development around activity centres. I believe this need for density is elevating vertical mixed-use as a viable solution that is sensitive and respectful of council and community opinions.

Shane Rothe is a founding partner and managing principal of ROTHELOWMAN.

Benefiting buyers and developers

Vertical mixed-use developments are a win-win proposition for developers and buyers, says Adam Brick of Gillon Group, the firm behind Brighton's 380 Degrees project. The inclusion of retail space in an otherwise residential tower means buyers get the convenience of shopping facilities on their doorstep and developers have a hand in getting their projects off the ground.

"From the developer's point of view, often the value of these sites makes it cost prohibitive to do stand alone retail or residential developments," Brick says. "By bringing the two uses together often makes the development more financially viable."

Buyers at 380 Degrees, in Brighton, were a mix of downsizers, singles, investors and residents from elsewhere in Victoria who were looking for a city base. Buyers were attracted to the Bay Street location, its proximity to transport and the convenience of having the full-service ground-floor supermarket, he says.

"The majority of buyers were attracted to the mixed-use element, rather than put off by it. Buyers tastes are definitely changing, as well as a functional well designed apartment and residential building buyers want the convenience of shops and services on their doorstep."

The one, two and three bedroom apartments range from 55 square metres to 125 square metres and were all sold off the plan. This is an attractive result and one that has prompted the Gillon Group to consider repeating this vertical mixed-use strategy elsewhere.

Downsizing in the City

Project manager Peter Gascard, 58, and his wife bought at 380 Degrees as a means to downsizing from their former residence. The apartment lifestyle is a big shift from their former five-bedroom home on an acre of land at Devon Meadows, 50km from Melbourne's CBD.

The absence of their two children from the family home and the increased burden of maintaining a house that size, saw the pair contemplating apartment living. The initially hesitant couple did not hesitate to dive upon viewing 380 Degrees, looking at only one other development before buying their new home in Brighton. The convenience, size and location of the development were all factors in their choice.

Concerned that living so close to the city would prove noisy, busy and hectic, Gascard now reflects on his relocation to Bay Street as a solution that has positively influenced his lifestyle. The full-service Coles downstairs at 380 Degrees was a drawcard for Gascard, who says it is like "having a giant pantry downstairs”. The work commute has been dramatically reduced and the proximity to North Brighton station has caused Peter to consider relinquishing his car once he retires.

With shops, restaurants, cinemas and other amenities close at hand he need look no further than his new backyard for entertainment. A drastic change from country living, Bay Street is providing Peter with an atmosphere and sense of community in a way his previous home could not. He believes more people will embrace apartment living as they too, realise the benefits of a lower-upkeep lifestyle.

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