DKO's Koos de Keijzer talks Huntingdale

Following on from our piece on Sterling Global's plans for its Huntingdale site, comes our chat with DKO Architecture's regarding the firm's work on the masterplanning of the project in addition to their experiences working on similar projects throughout Melbourne.

Quite often the simple solution is to deliver a gated, homogeneous housing estate with no connection with the greater community of which it should form a part. Projects such as Huntingdale and their work with Cedar Woods on Banbury Village in Footscray and Jackson Green in Clayton South are a departure from the model of housing, featuring a mix of housing typologies aimed at a varied demographic on former brownfield sites within established suburbs.

Banbury Village. © DKO Architecture

Laurence Dragomir: DKO has built up a portfolio of masterplanned residential work in addition to the high rise projects of recent times. What do you enjoy about working on these less glitzy projects?

Koos De Keijzer: We're getting somewhat fatigued of doing projects like that (laughs). But seriously I believe from an architectural perspective the hardest challenge for architects out there is doing curated housing in the outer suburbs. Part of the real kind of issue with urbanity in Australia and a lot of the new world is the sense of our suburbs being incredibly similar and it's probably getting some higher density housing typologies in the suburbs that starts to make it kind of interesting.

What's been really interesting about the Huntingdale project is the site all up is 18.8ha and we've got about 1,000 dwellings, half of which are low-rise apartments and half of which are terraces, detached houses and attached houses. So straightaway it's nice that we've been able to provide a 50/50 mix.

Certainly up on Huntingdale Road we thought a mixture of 4-5 storeys was appropriate, poking above tree tops with views over the golf course towards the east. What we normally do is orientate these 'superlots' north-south so from a solar point of view, from an amenity point of view it becomes quite attractive.

We've also got a little commercial centre planned for the entrance as part of the superlot so it's a separate planning application with the intent of becoming a foca lpoint that will have a supermarket and further retail.

LD: What was the main overarching theme or design driver for the project?

KK: Our kind of big picture story, Laurence was about linking Davies Reserve which sits to the north and Talbot Park to the south-east of the site with a green band. I like the idea that if I lived here I could send my kids to an attractive recreational space and they'd only need to cross two roads at most to get there.

LD: I suppose the other added benefit of introducing additional green open space and then designing apartments with an outlook towards them is the opportunity it provides for passive surveillance of these public areas.

KK: Certainly, and the plan features a couple of east-west blocks which we normally place a couple of cores so we always get through-apartments. Part of our story that's really strong is the whole concept of practical sustainability and not having south facing apartments, which I think is criminal and should be outlawed.

Also it's not just sustainability but also also the fact that we've broken the site up into four precincts comprising two wetland precincts - a boulevard precinct and an urban precinct - which forms part of the story of taking a whole and breaking it into sections.

What we're always keen to push, Laurence, is a whole series of different typologies and what we don't want to do is have these 13m wide by 13m deep single storey monotonous dwellings. The other nice thing about the client group and Brandon and Neil from Sterling Global is that they were really keen to embrace contemporary architecture, and for us as contemporary architects it was about what a contemporary housing community might look like.

Put very simply we work the corners hard and if you get the corner right the remaineder tends to take care of itself. As we have higher densities some dwellings have underground car parks, some have laneways while others are just front loaded. The otherfactor that keeps us interested is how the built form addresses the public realm.

LD: I think one of the things that stands out most for me is the way materials have been employed.The use of timber and brick while nothing new, appears to have been given plenty of thought in how it is employed creating more rich and diverse streetscapes.

Huntingdale. © DKO Architecture

KK: I guess it's sometimes tough because housing is so personal but what we're always keen to do is find this new contemporary authenticity. We have this beautiful building in Brighton that was loosely based upon an old Schindler house that I saw in LA; it's got elements of timber and has this notion of trying to weave nature in through natural materials which is what makes it interesting.

LD: How far advanced are you with the designs of the buildings? Speaking with Brandon previously he indicated that the two-storey townhouses along the perimeter were the most advanced.

KK: Yes they were the most advanced largely by way of being neighbour driven as they're at the interface with existing dwellings. They present as courtyard homes with a two-storey portion at the front and single storey portion at the rear. We're big on zero lotting, Laurence, so we like to zero lot the southern boundary so that you maximise the northern space on those east-west dwellings.

Ultimately we really enjoy these kinds of jobs and there are few architects that work in the suburban setting, most prefer to work in more urban environs with the taller stuff. Here it's architectural tinkering. It's about trying to manage diversity and curating streets but not wanting them to look the same. We're very much creating an architecturally interesting setting with a sense of individuality.

LD: Thank you again for your time Koos, always a pleasure.

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