02/06/2016 - 15:52

Rethink needed on high-density design

02/06/2016 - 15:52

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One of the state’s top architects says the collective approach to higher-density living in Perth needs to change.

Rethink needed on high-density design
AMENITY: Daniel Aisenson (left) and Geoff Warn are aiming to bring the lessons from other major cities to high-density projects in Perth. Photo: Attila Csaszar

One of the state’s top architects says the collective approach to higher-density living in Perth needs to change.

The word ‘density’ does not typically attract many negative connotations in terms of housing development in the major cities of the world.

It’s a different story in Perth, however.

In the Western Australian capital, the thinking has traditionally been that apartment living is a lesser option to living in a house.

Some of the reticence to accept multi-residential living in Perth comes from what was built in the 1960s and 1970s – big blocks of flats that dominated the landscape in which they are built.

With those flats came community angst, due in part to the fact many apartments were rentals, which led to an increasingly transient population in the suburbs.

These days, apartment living is slowly gaining acceptance in Perth, driven by a mix of international migrants moving to Perth who are more used to inner-city living, as well as a new generation of first-time homebuyers that have no interest in living out in the suburbs.

But Donaldson and Warn director Geoff Warn said concerns over higher-density living was still an issue facing developers, despite the need for Perth to halt its urban sprawl.

“Density tends to get easily conflated with compression, and that the idea of compressing people together equals a lesser lifestyle,” Mr Warn, who is also the state government architect for Western Australia, told Business News.

“I think you can see density as not only giving people more choice and more variety in all different directions, putting them closer to work, retail and culture, but also giving them greater tolerance living with a whole range of different sorts of people, rather than one monoculture you tend to get in suburbs, particularly in new suburbs.”

The problem with denser development in Perth, Mr Warn said, was planning guidelines that failed to allow for creative development.

Mr Warn said the predominant built form for multi-residential living in Perth was a building known as a podium design – a building of around three or four stories that interacted with the street, while also supporting a taller building on top that was set back from view.

“We might get better community and public amenity if we don’t always apply the podium model to every solution,” he said.

“Our podium model tends to stretch activation at ground level, which tends to be shops all down the street.

“We’re pulling down old buildings that have character and putting up bland ones in their place and we’re putting commercial at the ground level because that’s what planners ask for to activate them.

“We’re not putting our best foot forward on how to create healthy and cohesive societies in a denser environment, to get the advantages around lots of variety and richness.

“We’re getting a monoculture jammed into a bitumen environment; it’s not the smartest thing to do.”

Mr Warn said Perth developers and architects needed to heed lessons learned in other international cities, where the growth model was radically different to how the WA capital had sprawled along the coast.

Donaldson and Warn recently appointed Buenos Aries native Daniel Aisenson as one of its directors, with his experience expected to bring a new perspective to Perth design.

Mr Aisenson said apartment towers in Buenos Aries were a much different product than what was being developed in Perth.

“The towers are an element themselves; there is a rich green setting on the ground floor, or even when you do build a podium, the podium gives something to the public space,” Mr Aisenson said.

“When you have very significant developments the city demands the development gives something in return to the city.

“If we can bring the best of lessons learned from overseas and try to apply them to a city that is trying to grow in a mature way, the potential is amazing.”

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