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Delivering liveable high rise buildings: a challenge for Melbourne architects

Since the late 2000s there has been an exceptional rise in completions of high-rise apartments with most of them located in the CBD and inner city. To say that there has been a boom in apartment construction is to put it mildly; the number of skyscrapers and high rise buildings are changing the look of the Melbourne skyline.

According to a survey by City of Melbourne's “Future Living, City of Melbourne,” the City of Melbourne's residential population since 2001 has approximately doubled to over 100,000 residents who are attracted to its services, conveniences, lifestyle, education and work opportunities. By 2031, it is estimated that an additional 42,000 homes will be built within the municipality to house an additional 80,000 people.

Besides catering for the increasing number of residents, the positive side effect of the boom is without doubt the amount of new jobs that are generated. According to the study students made up 48% of the population in 2006 and 42% of the population in 2012.

Dr Wilson, senior economist of the Domain Group states that "Melbourne's inner suburbs have the best prospects of growth because of the shortage of property there; particularly higher-density property and the aspiration of living in those areas." He states further that despite the high unemployment figures, the undersupply of inner-suburban housing - a market that is relatively immune to underperformance of the local economy - is expected to push prices growth above the city average.

The number of overseas investors, in particular Asian investors, has made it possible to change the look of the city in terms of higher density developments and high rise towers in a short period of time.

With the increasing number of tower approvals and high rise approvals in the inner city, there have been some concerns about the size of apartments and the design quality expressed by planners and architects as well as the public. There has been a predominance of one and two bedroom apartments with the number of three bedroom apartments in the minority, with percentages as low as five per cent or less. This makes it difficult for families to find apartments in the inner city. Not only have the number of apartments raised concerns, but also the size of them in that they tend to be on the smaller side.

These concerns create a reasonable challenge for architects and planners to solve. The importance of a well-designed high density development calls out for creativity; creating affordable apartments that allow for diverse needs via a well thought of design. Creativity is not necessarily limited to something that looks good but also means planning with thought and passion with the aim to satisfy both the needs of the residents as well as developers.

People should have the right to high living standards. As Melbourne has ranked as the world’s most liveable city four years in a row, the boom of high rise apartments should not compromise that title.

We believe that it is our responsibility as architects not only to create beautiful architecture, but to satisfy the needs of the residents. It should also be something that different stake holders and key people in the process should aim to work together to achieve. This would include investors, developers, planners and varying Government bodies and authorities.

Developing guidelines that work for the benefit of the city as a whole as well as for the individual is, in our opinion, a step forward when it comes to Urban Planning Schemes in Melbourne. The growth of Melbourne needs to be encouraged and the housing needs of increasing number of population need to be met.

Some of the most basic needs of human beings are the feeling of safety, sense of being a part of a bigger picture or a community and having the option of privacy. Most humans also have a very similar sense of beauty and aesthetics.

These are all design objectives that need to be taken in to consideration when creating high density living.

Research from the United Kingdom indicates that density may be less significant to resident satisfaction than the type of dwelling, the characteristics of the neighbourhood and the facilities and services provided within easy access from the home (London School of Economics and Political Science, 2002).

This could mean that walkways, court yards, open spaces and the layout of the apartments could have far more significance than thought.

It's fair to say that Melbourne's landscape is changing with the associated change in population, a mixture of development types has become more in demand than ever before. Additionally factors such as public transport, proximity to amenities and activities are the factors that will increasingly determine how we want to live.

We believe that the diversity in apartment types and layouts, combined with attractive community amenities is the right approach. Enhanced life styles can be achieved by offering recreational areas such as gymnasiums and swimming pool as a part of the design. Basement or underground car parks are another way of effective and safe design. Inner city living does not need to mean cramped living and compact could be synonymous to clever.

The use of assorted construction materials is not only vital in the perspectives of the aesthetics but can help creating sustainable living. Double glazed windows and cross ventilation for energy efficiency is one example.

Good design incorporates all different aspects of the residents needs and allows for diversity. We at Architeria Architects are up for the challenge and excited to be a part of building Melbourne, our liveable city through the coming years.

Kate Gawi is the Co-Founder of Architeria Architects and will be a semi-regular contributor on Urban Melbourne. Along with Principal Architect Mel Gawi they lead the team at Architeria Architects which has a rapidly expanding workbook of Melbourne projects.

1 comment

Wink Brand Design's picture

It is most certainly a tough job for architects! Such a variety of wants and needs. Agree that diversity in apartment types and layouts, combined with attractive community amenities, is the right approach. Sustainability will also play a major role going forward. Great article!

Wink Brand Design

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