Melbourne Shouldn't Fear Density

Melbourne Shouldn't Fear Density

Recent residential zones introduced as part of Plan Melbourne have heavily restricted the development of low to high density living in several Melbourne suburbs that boast high amenities. 

While the zones appear to benefit Melbourne’s landscape in helping to maintain the character of existing neighbourhoods, such restrictions are one of the factors that make desirable suburbs virtually unattainable to renters and new homeowners.

In the case of Stonnington Council for example, a mere five per cent of land has been allocated to medium and high density living, and 37.5 per cent of the land is heavily restrained by any developmental activity until 2031.

According to architects at ClarkeHopkinsClarke (CHC), the architects behind developments such as PICA Richmond, further low and medium density apartment buildings are required to accommodate Melbourne’s rapid population growth.

A continued supply of well-designed, modest apartment developments will provide an increased diversity of housing typologies and assist in maintaining the affordability of the city’s real estate.

“It makes sense that councils prefer to have the apartment typology around retail centres, however, this practice is locking up large swaths of areas within desirable suburbs, that are close to amenities and could cater for medium density living,” says CHC Associate Fei Chau. 

According to Chau, the premise that medium density living will “destroy” the neighourhood character of established suburbs is not a black and white issue. 

“A well-designed apartment building can sit comfortably within a neighbourhood that may be characterised primarily of single detached housing,” Chau says.  

“Character is built over time and is constantly evolving.”

According to Chau, many of Melbourne’s inner-ring suburbs would benefit from increased apartment living, but are too tightly held by laws surrounding neighbourhood character and heritage character.  

“The character of these areas has been built up over time and in some pockets it’s the eclectic nature of the area that makes them so vibrant and attractive,” Chau says.

“Responsive apartment design could add to this rather than be seen as a detriment.”

Despite media criticism of increased apartment developments detracting from Melbourne’s infrastructure and celebrated urban design, there is plenty of evidence to suggest growing demand for apartments in the CBD and beyond. 

“Unprecedented levels of medium-high density development are being driven by strong demand,” says Toby Lauchlan, Partner at CHC.

“Most municipalities are aiming for improved housing diversity to cater for single households, young couples, single parent households and the elderly, for example.”

CHC has been working with developers to introduce greater housing diversity in inner-suburbs such as Richmond and Brunswick, middle ring suburbs such as Highett and Bundoora and outer suburbs such as Point Cook, Armstrong Creek and Clyde North. 

Such developments have been a resounding success, with Soho Village in Point Cook and the Polaris development in Bundoora both selling strongly off the plan. 

While traditionally houses have generally appealed to buyers over apartments due to their larger size, Chau argues a well designed apartment may be equally, if not more attractive to prospective homeowners. 

He argues the implementation of minimum size standards for apartments (as have been proposed) should not be seen as “the solution to everything,” and a performance-based approach would be more effective.

“A well-designed 45 square metre property apartment can be much more functional then a say the proposed minimum of 50 square metres which is not well-designed, with areas consumed by hallway space or with a narrow plan,” Chau says.

“Usability and space planning should be judged on their own merits and should respond to the conditions of the site which can help affordability.”

Lauchlan and Chau point to international cities Barcelona, Paris, Berlin and Stockholm as prime examples of high functioning, dense cities. 

“All these cities have high densities at four, six, and eight storeys in urban areas that still manage to be extremely liveable,” Chau says.