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VPELA seminar – is a better apartment better if you can’t afford it?

Last week Collie staff members attended a VPELA seminar that focused on the Better Apartments Draft Design Standards that were released recently by the Minister for Planning. Four guest speakers with different areas of expertise and from a range of companies including David Lock Associates, Ark Resources, MAA Architects and Grocon shared their thoughts on the draft design standards.

In relation to side and rear setbacks, a standard requires staggered setbacks for apartment buildings above four storeys in height with these setbacks increasing for taller buildings. Mark Sheppard from David Lock Associates pointed out that under this standard, a developer would require a lot width of at least 39 metres to construct a building above eight storeys in height.

If implemented, this standard would limit the height of buildings on narrower lots and is likely to encourage the amalgamation of sites to achieve higher built form. As the building setbacks only apply to balconies and habitable room windows, Mark mentioned that this could result in high ‘blank’ walls being constructed on the boundary, which would not be a great urban design outcome.

Jan Talacko from Ark Resources focused on the standards that relate to daylight. Jan was of the view that the maximum room depth requirement will generally ensure that adequate daylight is provided to a habitable room however, the standard is unclear on whether deeper rooms can be provided where there is more than one aspect.

Similarly, unlike other environmental assessment tools where living rooms require a higher level of daylight, this standard does not differentiate between living rooms and bedrooms. Another standard queried by Jan is that requiring a minimum size for light wells, which take up a considerable area, but surprisingly may not result in the lower levels receiving adequate daylight.

This raises the question should a room at a lower level be allowed to rely on a light well as a source of daylight?

Comment was made by a number of the guest speakers on the standard requiring a habitable room to have a window in an external wall that is visible from any point in the room, with this standard effectively prohibiting a ‘saddleback’ arrangement. In many cases a saddleback arrangement provides a poor level of amenity however, examples were given that illustrate that in some cases a saddleback room when designed properly, can provide more than adequate daylight.

Karen Alcock from MAA Architects used this example and stressed it is important that the standards should not be used to discourage innovative design solutions.

All speakers were supportive of the introduction of apartment standards aimed at improving the quality of apartments. While the introduction will increase the cost of apartments, the general view was that many apartments that have been built could be deemed to be unliveable.

This article appeared on Collie's website on September 9, 2016. Michael Collie is Director at Collie Pty Ltd, a multi-disciplinary Southbank-based firm with interests in strategic planning, development planning, urban design and landscape architecture.

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