By Murray Donaldson | 25 Nov 2016

As Sydney gets denser, design guidelines will play an increasingly important role in influencing the future of housing supply and creating great places to live.

A denser more compact city promoted through the draft Sydney District Plans will see an increased focus of apartment living in centres and transport corridors. There will be demands for more efficient use of space, meaning greater integration of uses, which will have implications for residential amenity. 

Design guidelines and place making has an important role to play in providing for solutions that are appealing to new residents and for the acceptance of density by the wider community.

As part of Urbis’ commitment to better planning and design outcomes for our clients and for the wider community, last week we hosted a workshop with many of Sydney’s leading architects, sharing experiences applying design guidelines for apartments.

We took a close look at the State Environmental Planning Policy No 65 – Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development (SEPP 65) and the Apartment Design Guidelines (ADG), introduced in July 2015:

  • How have they stacked up?
  • Are they an improvement of the RFDC?
  • Do the guidelines sufficiently address the issues you are experiencing in Sydney’s higher density mixed use centres, corridors and precincts?
  • How will emerging trends in residential apartment living including integrated health and wellbeing, compact housing and community amenity, multi-use, adaptive and flexible spaces, real mixed use and adaptive reuse influence our living environments and can these trends be accommodated under the current guidelines or what would need to change to enable innovative solutions?
  • Do the guidelines deliver the desired outcomes?
  • Are there unintended consequences?

We’re committed to using the collective experiences of ourselves and our clients to help shape living in Sydney’s future apartments.

  • While the design criteria sets clear measurable benchmarks of how the objectives can be achieved, they are not standards to be applied without a degree of judgement. The experience of many participants at our workshop indicated an often slavish application of the numerical design criteria by planning authorities at the expense of regular and efficient apartment layouts, and good flow of indoor to outdoor spaces.
  • Rigid application of solar access design criteria for apartments in some instances has not been balanced with other aspects of residential amenity such as a quality outlook.
  • Satisfying design criteria has become more technical, requiring building scientists to test solar access and cross ventilation.
  • The design criteria in ADG such as building separation distances promote amalgamation of sites, which has contributed to singular and often homogenous building typologies and a loss of the finer grain city.
  • Encouraging multiple cores in buildings has come with added cost and a reduction in building efficiency. It may also come at the expense of reducing resident interaction within buildings, where occupants may only ever know their immediate neighbours.
  • Targeting a higher standard of building sustainability than the minimums in BASIX is not being recognised in the assessment of a building’s performance against SEPP 65 and the ADG.
  • A strict application of minimum apartment sizes limits consideration of innovative compact housing models, which may be appropriate for certain locations and in buildings with shared amenities. If additional amenity is provided, compact living can provide a better quality of life at more affordable prices.
  • The guidelines have a heavy weighting towards stand-alone residential buildings. There needs to be more sophisticated understanding of real mixed use buildings and how the uses can appropriately co-locate in a single building.
  • Generally, in the absence of design review panels that comprise of the necessary design expertise to judge the performance of a building’s, planning officers have defaulted to strict numerical compliance which may lead to compromised design quality and amenity outcomes.

Urbis will be using these valuable insights to develop a paper for the Planning Minister, suggesting improvements to the implementation of these design guidelines. We’re committed to using the collective experiences of ourselves and our clients to help shape living in Sydney’s future apartments.

If you have any questions on this topic, please contact Murray Donaldson or one of our other urban infill residential experts.

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