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Sick of Generic Planning Reponses? Try these instead!

By Brodie Blades.

In-principle, every planning system in this country seeks to achieve the best quality planning and design outcomes for future apartment development. Whether it be NSW’s SEPP-65 or Victoria’s recent Clause 58 implementation, applicants for apartment development approvals are being endowed with increasingly complex and rigid benchmarks for future development.

Rather than pursue the ‘stock standard’ approach, why not consider some of these alternatives instead?

Neighbourhood Character

It is a common requirement for most (if not all) developments to demonstrate a level of response to either ‘existing’ or ‘preferred future’ neighbourhood character. But what could possibly be more responsive than simply reflecting the existing character straight back to the street?

Take the infamous ‘Treehouse Hotel Mirrorcube’ in Hards, Sweden, for example. Designed by Tham and Videgard Arkitekter, the elevated treehouse suite is clad entirely in mirrors, which gives the illusion of an ‘invisible building’ nestled in amongst the pines.

Figure 1: Mirrorcube (Source: AvacadoGarden)

Or – closer to home – the Cairns Botanic Gardens (Charles Wright Architects), a design which the architects claims ‘literally reflects the gardens as camouflage for the building with visual effect similar to the suit worn by the alien hunter in the original 1987 Predator film’. Impressive! (Authors note – I love that film, and I love this building).

Figure 2: Cairns Botanic Gardens (Source: Australian Design Review)

Solar Orientation

The stigma surrounding south-facing apartments and private open spaces (or north-facing, for our northern hemisphere friends) has long polarised planners, homebuyers and developers alike. So skip all that by simply developing a building that rotates 360O every 90 minutes! No more arguments about south-facing apartments, poor outlook or compromised energy efficiency ever again.

This is exactly what the developers of Dubai’s proposed ‘Dynamic Tower’ have in mind. Designed by architect David Fisher at an impressive 420m high (and at an approximate cost of $330 million USD), the Dynamic Tower literally incorporates individually rotating floors that rotate at a steady 6m per minute. Only catch is, Dynamic Tower is yet to get off the drawing board, so instead you may wish to use Brazil’s rotating 15 storey ‘Suite Vollard’ (15 storeys and completed in 2001) as a more ‘practical’ precedent.

Figure 3: Dynamic Tower (Source: SkyscraperCity)


ESD and energy efficiency is certainly one of the most pressing issues to face our industry. Authorities across Australia have long mandated the demonstration of environmentally sustainable design initiatives within the built environment to varying degrees (and success). Within this context, what could possibly be more environmentally friendly than a completely biodegradable building?

This is the sentiment of ‘The Living’ studio’s ‘Hy-Fi’ tower – the winner of the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PSE1’s 15th Annual Young Architect Program in New York. Constructed entirely of ‘ecovative manufactured organic bricks’ (ie. bricks made of corn stalks and living root structures), the ephemeral 15 storey tower will stand proud as a ‘cool summer retreat’ New Yorkers until such time as it completely disintegrates back into the very planet from which it came. Perfect for the developer who wants zero return on their investment.

Figure 4: Hyfi (Source: ArchDaily)

Have you come across any ‘left field’ responses to generic planning requirements? Share them in the comments below!

Sexism in Urban Design – Designing for Equity

By Julia Bell

How we use a city can depend very much on how safe and comfortable we feel within it. It can also impact equity in public spaces for woman. Led by Dr Nicole Kalms, XYX Lab is investigating space, design and gender in Australia Cities.

Initially, the investigation began by examining public transport spaces as 2015 figures suggest “almost one in 11 sexual assaults that were recorded in public places happened on public transport. Furthermore, the Victoria Police statistics showed sexual assaults on trams, trains, buses and taxis jumped from 167 in 2003-04 to 268 in 2012-13”. (The Age, 2014)

In response to these frightening figures, XYX Lab has begun examining public transport spaces in order to propose policies and toolkits for women generally, and also for project partners and policy makers.

In relation to public transport safety, Kalms suggests that generally the approach to improving conditions is ungendered, and involves the introduction of CCTV cameras, ‘safety zones’, and alarm buttons for all users, which may deter an attacker but generally only become useful once the assault or harassment has occurred.

Kalms goes onto suggest that “at present, public transport service providers have yet to account for women’s gendered experience of public transport spaces, and imply that users regulate their own behaviours and that safety in public transport is their own responsibility.” Meaning, don’t travel on your own, sit close to the drivers cabin, don’t sit in empty carriages, stand in a well-lit area or in designated “safety zones” with proximity to emergency buttons (Metro Trains 2016).

In other countries, such as Japan and Brazil, the problem of harassment on public transport has become so severe woman only carriages have been created that are manned by policemen during peak hour travel.

The XYX lab’s approach is different, through a design approach which combines activist driven design research with solution-focused framework. The XYX lab does not just focus on public transport. It reviews Australian cities, wanting to understand how sex, gender and sexuality impact the culture of cities. The outcome of XYX lab is to design ‘probes’, but also communication strategies and toolkits for women and stakeholders.

“The XYX Lab wants to produce projects which challenge the causes and consequences of gender inequity in Australia. We have been working with LGBTI communities and partnering on projects around women and girls’ safety in cities, and also in public transport spaces.”

Image source:

Site Spotting: Where do we begin?

By Vincent Pham.

Within Metropolitan Melbourne, there is an ever increasing pressure to continue to provide more housing within the established suburbs and to make use of well serviced land. Melbourne’s population is growing and diversifying, and not a week goes by that I don’t see an article within the media that discusses these pressures.

Downsizers wanting to live closer to their family members, young-couples who want to live closer to the services and amenities or those who just simply want to provide a renewed home to meet the current and future size of their family, are amongst many who may choose to develop their land – but can be caught up in a stratosphere of unknowns – to the point of deterrence. So, where do you begin?

Regardless of the scale of project you are (or thinking of) embarking upon, consideration could be given to some general ‘rules of thumb,’ as a starting point, as follows:

1. Site Features

When analysing site features, it is important that one has consideration to what the physical envelope of the land is such as the shape, dimensions and orientation of the land. These factors can generally influence the overall concept at first instance, depending on overall intensity, of the project and needing to meet all other residential design regulations and design codes. For example:
  • The shape is an important consideration as this can significantly influence the type of ‘layout’ for your project. For example, a standard rectangular block of land offers flexibility to consider a range of layouts.
  • The dimensions follow on from the shape of the land and will generally influence the ‘siting’ of the project. Although the land may be regular in shape, its overall width and depth can also influence how your project is located on the land. For example, a wide but shallow lot may require a 2 townhouse development sited in a ‘duplex’ (side-by-side) layout, whilst a narrow but deep block of land may require a ‘tandem’ (one-behind-the-other) layout.
  • The orientation of the block is another natural physical feature of the site that influences the location of the backyard areas and certain rooms in your project. The general rule of thumb is residential dwellings should be designed in a manner which enables living rooms and backyards to face north, where possible. If this is not possible, then the number of ‘obstructions’ to the backyard should be reduced, where practical.

2. Physical surrounding context

An aspect of undertaking development projects (regardless of scale) is to have a reasonable level of consideration of the features that abut your land, that are not within your control/ownership. This may influence the detailed design of your project. Some points that are worth noting are:
  • The proximity of your project from neighbouring backyards and habitable windows/balconies which could influence the location and style of windows to prevent ‘overlooking’;
  • Location of existing public infrastructure assets (i.e. electricity poles or service pits) or street trees in proximity to your boundaries, that can affect the locations of new or widening of crossovers; and
  • The presence of trees on adjoining properties, which may require your development to be physically modified to ensure protection of trees.
Having an awareness of such physical surrounding features may also ensure that your project is designed to minimise the extent of unreasonable impacts to neighbouring amenity, which in turn minimise potential offense to neighbours and concerns from authorities.

3. Zoning regulations and land-specific controls

An important aspect to consider when embarking on any development project, that triggers the need for Planning Permits, is to have a basic knowledge of the local Council zoning regulations and specific-controls (such as ‘overlays’).

The Zoning of the land helps discern whether your project is suitable for what is envisaged in this area. Overlays will draw your attention to whether there are specific features affecting your land (such as heritage, flooding or significant landscapes). There are a range of overlays that could apply to your land. In established residential areas of Metropolitan, there are generally three common residential zones, each with a different ‘level’ of change envisaged:
  • The Neighbourhood Residential Zone generally envisages low-scale 1-2 storey development (such as townhouses or units);
  • The General Residential Zone envisages a medium level of change and development up to and including 3 storeys.
  • The Residential Growth Zone envisages a higher density of development such as multi-level apartments.
These general ‘levels’ of change will also need to be balanced against other Council policies and specific local circumstances, but also influence your project capacity or future expectations of the land.

4. Title restrictions

Another aspect is the presence of restrictions registered on the property Title such as ‘easements’, ‘covenants’, or ‘agreements’. These have the potential to greatly influence the overall concept of your project.
  • Easements can be present on a land and generally cannot be built over without the relevant authority or benefiting parties’ consent. A land can be affected by multiple easements;
  • Covenants are specific restrictions that can limit the use or development of land (such as a ‘material-specific’ covenant, or a ‘single-dwelling only’ covenant); and 
  • Agreements are generally between landowners and an authority. It can be imposed on land requiring that landowners to do certain actions.
Whilst the presence of these restrictions can be readily discerned by simply reviewing a copy of your property Title, the interpretation of the restrictions may require the assistance of a town planner, solicitor or conveyancer (or a combination of all three). An awareness of whether these exist on the land may prevent future roadblocks towards obtaining approval for your project.

Of course, the above rules of thumbs are not an exhaustive list, and will vary depending on specific circumstances, however, if you’ve ever wondered where to start – why not give these points a go?

Real life Frogger

By James Mackness

Those of a certain age may remember Frogger (the video game of guiding frogs home across a busy road). Well, sometimes crossing roads in Melbourne feels a little like that.

I do more than my fair share of walking as I haven’t owned a car for coming up to 10 years now (although most of that time was in London where a car often feels more a hindrance than a convenience). I know I’m in the minority in Melbourne not owning a car, but if I need one there’s always a GoGet round the corner (other car share services are available).

When it comes to creating a more walkable Melbourne I can’t help but feel a huge improvement could be achieved with one small change. If every set of traffic lights at intersections was set to automatically include pedestrian crossing signals without the button being pressed it would make a huge difference. Many crossings are already set up that way, probably mostly contained to the CBD, but there’s a significant enough number that people often assume that it’s the default state. I regularly see people waiting patiently at the lights without having pressed the button, leading them to wait considerably longer than necessary. It’s also frustrating to arrive at the lights in almost perfect timing, but because no one else has pressed the button you have to wait a whole cycle – well you should do, I often walk across, but I think that’s the British nature, we love to queue for everything aside from crossing roads!

I don’t even think this change would lead to a huge inconvenience to car drivers; after all you can still turn if there are no pedestrians crossing the road. If you’re a traffic engineer and can answer this one, please put a comment below.

Streetscape improvements are ongoing all over Melbourne lately, such as Brunswick Street in Fitzroy which is currently being upgraded to provide at grade footpaths across all of the side streets (see image). This project also includes reclaiming some road pavement back for uses such as bicycle parking and outside dining. While it is a fantastic initiative, these types of work require a significant capital outlay. My proposal for a more walkable Melbourne should be virtually free, assuming required changes can be made remotely or during routine maintenance.

It’s a small change, but could make a big difference to us poor peds.

For those of you interested in experiencing my daily commute, please see the below link:

Also Diabetes Australia Walk to Work Day is not too far away on Friday 6 October 2017, maybe some of your daily commute could be swapped for a walk: