Unique Homes - Influential Apartments and Townhouses, Melbourne

Some of Melbourne's unique apartments and townhouses have shaped the way in which we think about housing, and the Robin Boyd Foundation's open day on Sunday 22 May 2016, provided access to a handful of interesting residences. Photography was not permitted inside the private residences, so to share a glimpse into the design of a few of the places I entered, I have included some exterior images of some of the highlights.

In observing the diverse residential projects I felt that landscaping, particularly the way the design of buildings and each home, facilitated a physical and visual connection between indoor and outdoor, as well as natural light and ventilation, contributed significantly to my sense of the quality of each building. Residences with beautiful landscaping or outlook were inspiring and instilled a stronger sense of each building's community to me. I felt that buildings which integrated car parking at ground level, missed significant opportunities to provide residents with a physical and visual connection to landscaping, and create highly usable, interesting, activated and multifunctional space, at the ground plane. Although I understand the many practicalities and demands in providing car parking, it made me wonder, how car parking could be integrated better to optimise the ground plane in small sites where provision is required. 

Glenunga Flats, 1940 - Frederick Romberg

The Glenunga Flats is a striking modernist building, with flat roof and rubble rock chimney seen from the street. The building originally housing four apartments across two-storeys and a communal courtyard. Although the interior has been reconfigured, with the two ground floor apartments now amalgamated, the building has been oriented to provide a special relationship with the courtyard, with angular box windows along the western facade optimising natural light. 

Clendon, 1939-1940 - Sir Roy Grounds

Featuring 8 identical apartments, the original building was designed to be compact and adaptable, featuring retractable beds, desks and ironing boards, allowing for the small spaces to be used for multiple purposes. The studio apartments, with wide balconies, are arranged in a U-shape, framing a north facing communal courtyard. 

Moonbria, 1941 - Sir Roy Grounds

The modest studio apartments in Moonbria are accessed from the street from a dramatic spiral stair. The U-shaped arrangement surrounds the central north-facing communal courtyard, with long balconies providing circulation space and semi-private outdoor space for inhabitants.

Wynnstay Apartments, 2001 - McBride Charles Ryan
10 townhouses were developed as part of a co-operative project, along the length of the block, with a side driveway featuring gum trees and providing access to ground level garages. 

Bedford Street Townhouses, 2015 - DKO

Five townhouses are integrated across five levels on this narrow site, with spaces stacked vertically. Each townhouse features a rooftop terrace with views over the neighbourhood, to the city and distant hills. The project achieves a 6 star energy rating. 

Ideas on High Density Happiness from MPavilion

On 20 January 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the third and final discussion in a series on 'High Density Happiness.' The discussion was part of MPavilion, a four-month architecture and design event in Melbourne, Australia. Since its inception in 2014, a notable architect has been commissioned to design a pavilion for the Queen Victoria Gardens, which serves as a meeting place for a free program of talks, workshops and performances. 

People listening to the panel discussion underneath and beside the MPavilion 2015, designed by  AL_A , studio of Amanda Levete.

People listening to the panel discussion underneath and beside the MPavilion 2015, designed by AL_A, studio of Amanda Levete.

The interesting discussion, High Density Happiness: Urban Placemaking, focused on what makes a neighbourhood or city an appealing and attractive place to live, and how Melbourne can retain its status as the world's most liveable city. The panel included Laura Phillips, editor of Open Journal, Jeff Provan, founder and design director of Neometro, Simon Knott, of BKK Architects and Rachel Elliot-Jones of Assemble. The panelists, as well as a few audience members, raised some interesting ideas and questions which resonated, so I thought I would share, prior to the audio recording being made available on the MPavilion website. You can listen to the audio recording of the first panel discussion as part of this series, High Density Happiness: Building Communities.

High Density Happiness: Urban Placemaking

Placemaking imperatives

  • Residential developments must address and contribute to the public realm, however it is important that we mediate levels of privacy, designing housing as a private retreat from the city, to allow people to engage and dis-engage with public life.

  • Promoting a diversity of housing types allows for a greater assortment of people to enjoy a building and neighbourhood.

  • Developers, planners and architects need to ask: Would I be prepared to live in this development? Would I let my family member live here?

  • Considerations need to be broader than size and focus on the bigger picture feelings of quality and design. We need to raise living standards as many resident concerns are not size, but quality related.

  • The more a development gives back to the community, the more it gets back. Developments can exhibit generosity through small moves.

  • Apartments should be an oasis - welcoming their inhabitants and making them feel glad to be home

  • Discussions about apartment building design should be less focused on height and more about street level interaction. The street facade and treatment of streetscape is often an afterthought, left to the last minute. But how the ground floor activity and design fits with what building residents and the local community want or need is incredibly important. 

  • Developments should respond and contribute to local context. You can't just plonk a design anywhere. It is vital that the needs of the current and future demographic is considered.

A new development model

  • We need to change the approach to development which covers the site and maximises yield. There are some great examples of models that give back to the community, such as the Commons.

  • The majority of multi-storey developments in Victoria are not designed by architects. We have witnessed non-designers having the power over design elements which they are not trained or equipped to deal with. Such an approach has been more concerned with market issues rather than the longevity of living spaces. 

  • We need to better consider the implications of gentrification and displacement. Sometimes the diverse, artistic community which has made an area appealing is pushed out when they become 'trendy'. 

  • We need to consider the finished construction as the start of the development process, not the end, as this is where we see its actual contribution to the residents, street, neighbourhood and city. 

  • We have opportunities to incentivise new approaches to development, such as collective and affordable housing.

  • Car parking policy needs to be revitalised to reflect changing needs and attitudes. Reduced car parking is cost-effective to developers, reduces housing cost and contributes greater housing choice in market. There is opportunity for better bike storage and maintenance facilities in apartments. 

  • It is important to shift the role of government from an 'umpire' to leading good development outcomes. To aid this political donations from developers should be banned so that the State Government isn't subject to difficult pressures. To protect our assets (public transportation, public spaces, etc), we need good legislation and policy. Independent design review processes is beneficial as no sites are the same. Architects, landscape architects and designers should involved in large scale development and public participation must be encouraged to allow for community discussion and debate. 

MPavilion offers a great opportunity to engage the public in discussions on urban planning policy.

MPavilion offers a great opportunity to engage the public in discussions on urban planning policy.

The gift of the ever growing garden

Melbourne Garden by drawntocities.com

When I was a child, my mum would see through our window, our old neighbour Nat cut one of his stunning roses and present it to his wife Nita. Although no one has cared for his garden since he passed away years ago and Nita moved away (other than mum over the fence), many of his flowers still bloom. Tonight my mum salvaged some of his flowers before Nat and Nita's house is demolished this week and his garden is lost. We have been so lucky to experience Nat's pride for his garden and his legacy. Mum will do her best to regrow these rose and lassiandra cuttings so this beauty lives on in our little part of Melbourne.