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Creating 'Vertical Forests' in high density residential developments

Possible solution to join the CBD and Docklands?

By Danielle Cull.

When you look at the recent built form emerging on both the western edge of the Hoddle Grid and in Docklands, it is clear that there is a ‘hole’ (or a missing link) between the two. The opportunity to repair this is often the subject of numerous reports by State Government and anyone who wanders over to Etihad Stadium from Southern Cross Station, and one potential opportunity is to develop the land over the railway tracks.

Already there are examples of ‘rail capping’ development in Melbourne. For example, one walking back to Southern Cross form Etihad Stadium is greeted by the commercial office space by Grimshaw at 699 Bourke Street built directly over the roof structure at Southern Cross Station. And further afield in Stonnington, two apartment buildings have recently been revealed that are proposed to be built over the railway tracks at both Windsor Station and Commercial Road. And who can forget the remarkable difference Federation Square has had on the city since its development in 2002?

So why then aren’t we further developing over the tracks between Spencer Street and Etihad Stadium? Perhaps there’s light at the end of the railway tunnel!

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) have recently established an initiative for the ‘Fast Track Government Land Service,’ which charges DELWP with the responsibility of rezoning disused government land sites which are suitable for reuse and redevelopment.

Similarly, the Access Docklands Strategy (2013) proposes the expansion of the city grid with continued staged development over Wurundjeri Way and the rail corridor, to stitch Docklands and Etihad stadium back into the traditional CBD and complete the extension of the Hoddle Grid into Docklands[1]

This is also in addition to high profile commentators such as Eddie McGuire, whose commentary about the sale of Etihad Stadium and it’s relocation within the broader MCG sporting precinct (which entertains rail corridor ‘decking’) is the subject of a State Government taskforce Cabinet committee formed last year to explore the potential. 2

If we want to further develop Etihad Stadium and Docklands and integrate it to the CBD, instead of more buildings built right to stadiums edge, why not create a Central Park of sorts with an over-rail air-rights site that incorporates public open space and retail opportunities?

Just imagine: instead of walking over to Etihad Stadium via the cramped and congested pedestrian bridge with 30 thousand other people, you could have a game of kick-to-kick or a pre-game picnic in a 7.5ha park - bigger than the size of the field inside Etihad Stadium!

BADS in practice. What do the new Victorian BADS planning controls mean for the design of apartment buildings?

By Mark Sheppard.




The Victorian Better Apartment Design Standards (BADS) have now been officially introduced to planning schemes. New apartment developments (except those lodged before 13 April 2017) are now required to meet the requirements of the new Clause 58, or new apartment provisions in Clause 55.07 if they are in a residential zone and lower than five storeys. Notably, the Guidelines for Higher Density Residential Development remain in place, although new Apartment Design Guidelines are slated for May.

The new standards are largely focused on establishing minimum standards of internal amenity. But what are their other consequences for the design of apartment buildings? First, let’s look at the things that won’t change much.

Energy Efficiency

The new provisions seek to ensure apartment developments are oriented to maximise solar access. In practice, most apartment developments already do this. Importantly, the new provisions are discretionary standards, so they can be balanced against other aspirations (such as an attractive view) in the design of a development.

There is also a provision that seeks to avoid unreasonable overshadowing of neighbours but, again, this is already common practice and, in the absence of a particular overshadowing standard, is unlikely to lead to a significant change.

Integrated Water and Stormwater Management


Similarly, the standard seeking rainwater collection merely reinforces current good practice.

Access and Parking

The new provisions seek to influence the number, width and location of vehicle accessways, and the location of car parking. However, these standards do not depart from current good practice, so will have limited impact on apartment building design.

Building Setbacks

The new provisions include building setback requirements. However, numeric requirements have been eschewed in favour of qualitative standards relating to character, daylight, privacy and outlook. Consequently, the setbacks of apartment developments will continue to be guided by other, unchanged provisions of the planning scheme.

Private Open Space


3-bedroom apartments are now required to have 12 sqm balconies and podium apartments are required to have 15 sqm balconies, up from 8 sqm, while the minimum dimension has increased from 1.6 m to 1.8-3 m depending on the apartment size and location.

The changes for 1- and 2-bedroom apartments are relatively modest and unlikely to have a significant effect. It has also been common for 3-bedroom apartments to have larger balconies, reflecting their higher price-point. And 15 sqm terraces will be relatively easily accommodated on podiums (although they may have to compete for room with communal open space—see below).

Windows

Habitable rooms are now required to have a window in an external wall. The provisions allow for ‘saddle-bag’ bedrooms with ‘snorkels’ provided the latter are at least 1.2 m wide and no longer than 1.5 times their width. Given the increased focus on internal daylight and natural ventilation over the last few years, this essentially represents what has already become standard practice.

Natural Ventilation


The new provisions require at least 40% of apartments to have cross ventilation. This is easily achieved by corner apartments, so will not have a significant effect for small-moderate sized developments with up to ten apartments per floor. Developments with larger footprints may need to introduce substantial slots or cross-over apartments mid-way between vertical circulation cores to achieve this standard. However, such variations are not uncommon in larger developments.

So, the new standards discussed above won’t have much effect on the current practice of apartment building design. What about the others?

Landscaping

The new provisions include a requirement for deep soil and canopy trees, something that has often been missing from apartment developments, particularly in activity centres. However, they contain the following ‘get-out’ clause: “If the development cannot provide the deep soil areas and canopy trees specified in Table D2, an equivalent canopy cover should be achieved by providing either … (trees in planters, climbers on pergolas, green roofs or green facades)”.

It remains to be seen how this standard will be applied. Notably, the decision guidelines include the suitability of the proposed location for canopy trees. It is likely that in areas such as activity centres where ground level vegetation is not characteristic, on-structure vegetation will be considered acceptable. However, in residential areas the deep soil provision is likely to be applied. While most apartment buildings are sufficiently set back from side and rear boundaries to enable perimeter tree planting, it is often in planters sitting above basements. So this provision will reduce basement areas which may make the difference between a project being viable or otherwise on lots 20 m wide or less.

Communal Open Space

New developments of over 40 dwellings are now expected to provide landscaped and sunny communal open space. While it has been common for larger apartment developments to incorporate podium-top or roof-top communal open space, this new requirement would apply to moderately-sized developments (and, therefore, a much larger proportion of projects)—e.g. a 6-8 storey mixed-use development in an activity centre.

The likely location for communal open space in mid-sized developments is on the roof, which will easily accommodate the size (e.g. 100 sqm for a 40-apartment development). But rooftop terraces require high screens for wind protection and, ideally, structures for shade. In places with height restrictions that do not exclude structures associated with rooftop gardens, this will create tension between the desire to maximise the number of floors with that for a rooftop terrace. In addition, rooftop terraces will need to compete for space with services, including solar panels. Will the need to provide communal open space reduce the number of solar panels?

Building Entry and Circulation

The new provisions require visible, easily identifiable and sheltered entries—nothing that isn’t already good practice. However, they also require daylight and natural ventilation in corridors, which has not been typical of most apartment developments.

In a typical ‘double-loaded’ apartment configuration, this means extending at least one end of the corridor to an outer edge of the building. Apart from the intended internal amenity benefits, the implications of this include an additional element in the external presentation of the building—potentially creating a welcome break in its form—and longer corridors resulting in the loss of some accommodation floorspace.

Functional Layout (bedroom and living room sizes) and Accessibility

There are now minimum dimensions for bedrooms and living rooms (but not dining or kitchen areas). While some of these dimensions represent recent standard practice, others—such as the minimum ‘depth’ of 3.4 m for the main bedroom and 3.3 m for the width of a living area—are a little larger than has been common.

The new provisions also require 50% of apartments to be universally accessible. In essence, this will result in wider internal passageways and one larger bathroom.

In order to maintain the overall apartment size and therefore affordability, the functional layout and accessibility provisions are likely to mean reductions in the size of other parts of the apartment. This is likely to come at the cost of dining and kitchen areas.

Room Depth

One of the most significant new standards is that habitable rooms that only have windows in one wall (‘single aspect’ rooms) may not have a depth of more than 2.5 times their ceiling height (measured from the window). With the typical floor-to-floor dimension of 3 m and resulting ceiling height of approximately 2.6 m, this means a maximum depth of 6.5 m.

The provisions allow single-aspect open-plan living areas with the kitchen at the back to be up to 9 m deep provided the ceiling is at least 2.7 m high. This option will be enticing to developers because it allows a more efficient building depth of around 20 m. However, it is likely to increase floor-to-floor dimensions to approximately 3.1 m, increasing the height of buildings or potentially reducing the number of floors in areas with a height restriction.

Storage

Storage requirements have increased, and now include storage within the dwelling in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. The new requirements exceed the amount of storage that has typically been provided (both internally and in storage cages). In order to maintain the overall apartment size and therefore affordability, this is likely to mean reductions in the size of other parts of the apartment, particularly dining and kitchen areas. It may also result in more storage areas at the centre of podium levels, occupying floorspace that is distant from natural light and therefore not useable as part of an apartment.


So, while they will undoubtedly raise internal amenity standards, the introduction of the BADS may also result in the following unintended consequences:
  • Fewer apartment developments on narrow-to-moderate width lots in residential areas
  • Greater height as a result of higher floor-to-floor dimensions, and rooftop terrace screens and pergolas
  • Less efficient buildings due to longer corridors and, potentially, fewer floors
  • Smaller dining and kitchen areas
  • Fewer rooftop solar panels
  • The expression of internal passageways on the outside of buildings
  • Storage areas in the middle of podium levels

What Makes a Great Shopping Street?



By Amy Ikhayanti.


The 'shopping street', or more commonly known as a retail strip in Australia, is undeniably the heart of any urban area. It is indeed the 'smorgasboard' of a shopping experience that can range from clothing, accessories, food and beverage, galleries, gadgets, experiences and other paraphernalia. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most vibrant and attractive places to live, work and play - as well as more commonly the place with the highest real estate value in the wider city. With all that being said, a very curious question arises of how best to create a successful and vibrant shopping street.

As urban designers, we are capable of providing the shell and components of the city. However, there is always the ‘it factor' - that is, something else that injects 'life' to the built form, which makes it an attractive destination for people. In this article, I will take a closer look at three different shopping streets to explore how the built form can influence the identity and vitality of a place.

Orchard Road, Singapore


Orchard Road (Source: Singapore Guide, 2017).

Traffic users: private vehicles, bus, pedestrian
Average building height: 30-40m to the podium and towers up to 200m in height
Landscape characteristic: lush landscapes with green buffer areas and mature trees along the pedestrian path
Pedestrian path: Up to 8m in addition to 4m front building setback.

Arguably the most famous shopping area in Singapore, various mega shopping centres line the strip between the Orchard and Somerset MRT stations. Orchard Road proves that a harmonious co-existence is possible between great pedestrian environments, retail activities and busy vehicular traffic corridors. On each edge of the 16m of two-way road reserve, a generous pedestrian path is provided that spans up to 8m in width that stands in addition to front building setbacks of up to 4m. This ample space allows all different kinds of activities to occur, such as street food stalls, seasonal public art exhibitions, street performances, seating areas, as well as creating a separated green buffer between the traffic and pedestrian zone. The thick green buffer and mature trees (trees which are more than 20m in height) that services as a canopy to the busy street and creates a 'lush' impression. The generous pedestrian path also helps create a spacious feeling that one often doesnt feel in metropolitan areas, despite the busy activities on the sidewalk.

Xintiandi, Shanghai, China




Xintiandi Shopping Street (Source: Skyscraper.org, 2017) 
Traffic users: pedestrian.
Average building height: one to two storey houses with pitch roof (approximately up to 10m high)
Landscape characteristic: sparse presence of greenery with occasional trees and shrubs that serve to define public and private (outdoor dining) areas.
Pedestrian path: averaging 5m in width, with 0m building setback and outdoor dining area

Apart from being one of the most trendy areas for shopping, dining, or simply hanging out, Xintiandi is one of the most famous and successful urban renewal projects in Shanghai. Previously, the area was full of dilapidated shikumen houses, which is a traditional Shanghainese architectural style that combines both Western and Chinese elements. Most of the neighbourhood is redeveloped into mixed-use high-rise buildings, while a couple of blocks that contain the original shikumen buildings are maintained and converted into a pedestrian-only entertainment district. It is worth noting that in a car-oriented Shanghai, the presence of a pedestrian-only block is unusual and accentuates its character and attractiveness as a destination for locals and tourists. In other words, Xintiandi is an example of creating a successful retail destination through creating unique place branding. 

Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, Australia

Bourke Street Mall (Source: Flickr, 2017).

Traffic users: pedestrians and trams
Average building height: ranging from 15m to 30m in height.
Landscape characteristic: mature trees (up to 10m high) on planters that double as seating areas.

In the middle of the busy Melbourne CBD, Bourke Street Mall is the primary retail strip inaccessible by cars and houses various shopping centres and anchor retail stores. In a way, the concentration of strong international brands creates a centre of gravity amidst the many shops and services around. Additionally, the wide pedestrian path (approximately 8m wide, including the tree planter and seating area) allows for different activities to take place and flourish. There are more areas for street performer and a small audience without obstructing high pedestrian volumes alongside the retail frontage. The wide varieties of architectural style and façade details also add to the 'richness' of the pedestrian experience. For me, I always find the juxtaposition of contemporary architectural interventions fascinating (in the form of canopy, ground retail façade and signage, along with heritage building structures), and definitely contributes to Bourke Street Mall’s distinctiveness as a shopping destination.

What about you? Can you think of any other shopping streets that can be added to this list?

These three examples above illustrate the differing characteristics and components of shopping streets from different parts of the world. That being said, we haven’t even touched on the typical European shopping streets, which are commonly located in the traditional city centre and occupy heritage buildings. Nevertheless, it is important to note that high-level pedestrian access and movement, which can be encouraged with the elimination of car traffic, is crucial in creating a successful shopping street. A distinct character is also an important part in enhancing the attractiveness of a destination. Therefore, at the end of the day, we can always ask a question about any given space, “Is this space interesting enough retain high volumes of pedestrian activities? ”