Planning for Adaptivity - A Council Planner’s Nightmare

By Sam Palma.

It is no secret that Melbourne is under constant pressure to accommodate the increase in population growth and balance urban consolidation with the efficient use of our land and the supply of affordable housing stock. ‘Plan Melbourne’ and State Planning Policy identify the need and desire to introduce innovative and diverse housing options for future generations, while also outlining the importance of sustainability and orderly development.

We are already seeing a shift away from large blocks with big backyards which we previously identified as the ‘Australian Dream’ to more compact living through a dominant trend and supply of apartments and townhouse living by the private sector. Shifts in our lifestyle, employment and family trends have introduced new terms such as ‘time poor’ and ‘contemporary living’, real estate agents constantly promote the notion of ‘low-maintenance’ and furniture retailers such as IKEA are experiencing phenomenal sales due to their compact and diverse range in products. First home buyers who have become a generation affiliated with smashed avocado brunches and university debt are now faced with the pressures of housing affordability in a property marked heavily influenced by overseas purchasers, developers and investors. The reality of housing options afforded to first home buyers within the current market climate reveals few options, with location and pricing being obvious factors restricting opportunities which are coupled with the standardised supply of housing tenure. 

Currently, large blocks that have been identified and earmarked to accommodate substantial change accommodate apartment developments, with townhouse developments the leading option for suburban residential re-development. This trend is fine and will continue to provide growth in housing supply and diversity. However, is there scope for Melbourne to implement innovative housing tenure to further balance the pressures of affordable housing and population growth? What do some of these options mean for Urban Planners?

Option 1: Flexible Apartment Floorplans

The concept of flexible apartment floorplans introduces the notion of moveable walls, allowing apartment floorplans to change depending on the occasion or requirements of a resident. This innovative and adaptive concept makes efficient use of spaces and caters for the individual needs of the occupier, promoting sustainable, affordable and diverse housing stock. \

This particular design response would result in a statutory nightmare for Council planner’s who would be required to assess an adaptable/changing floorplan against the ‘Victorian Planning Provisions’ (VPP) and the newly implemented ‘Better Apartment Design Standards’ introduced via Planning Scheme Amendment VC136. The necessities for carparking, minimum bedroom sizes, living room dimensions and solar access would become blurred through requiring variations to most Standard’s under Clause 58 (which already proves to be difficult under current systems with Responsible Authorities often enforcing discretionary Standards as mandatory controls).

Option 2: Moveable/prefabricated housing stock.

Prefabricated and moveable dwellings are not new concepts to the housing/construction industry, with many companies and universities pioneering a shift in thinking to more sustainable and affordable dwellings that accommodate the shifts in socio trends and economic and environmental pressures. The Kokoon as pictured below is a three-storey wooden dwelling created in Finland that has the potential to be constructed within 24 hours with the preference to have the materials prefabricated. 

The Kokoon. (Source: Business Insider).
Many examples of portable and prefabricated homes are emerging with growing popularity given the pressures faced worldwide to adopt and encourage sustainable housing models. 

The Koda; solar powered movable home. (Source:
Similarly to the flexible apartment floorplans, the practical implementation of movable homes poses to complicate the Responsible Authority’s job in assessing the appropriateness of prefabricated dwellings within the context of the VPP’s and neighbourhood character. Although there is the potential for these innovative concepts to be sited in rear yards of existing dwellings and classified as dependant persons unit (ie except from requiring a planning permit), as soon as we consider having two on the same site, it is subject to requiring a planning permit.

Considering the growing investment into these types of sustainable, ecofriendly and cost-efficient homes, relevant questions I believe worth contemplating include:
  • Should these forms of innovative dwellings be held to the same standards as regular dwellings when assessing its context against neighbourhood character and the VPP’s?
  • Does the Responsible Authority have the statutory mechanisms to consider and approve such innovative and adaptive forms of housing? 
  • What areas/municipalities are most suited to accommodate and consider these types of housing options?
  • What mechanisms can be adopted by the Responsible Authority to reduce potential ‘red-tape’?


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