The Better Apartments Design Standards are a welcome addition.

Published in the Marshall White Project Market Newsletter – Edition 10, March 2017.

The housing landscape has changed dramatically over the past two decades, with apartments becoming the preferred housing choice for many Victorians due to affordability and life style benefits. Twenty years ago, only five percent of all new dwellings in Victoria were apartments in high density buildings. In May 2016, this figure had increased to more than 25%. The number of apartments in Victoria will continue to increase over the next 40 years, with Melbourne’s projected population growth from 4.5 to 7.9 million requiring an estimated 1.5 million additional dwellings.

At the end of 2016, the Victorian Government introduced the Better Apartments Design Standards, which will apply to all apartment developments in Victoria from March 2017. The design standards seek to improve the liveability and sustainability of apartments in Victoria and are a welcome addition to the Victoria Planning Provisions and wider planning schemes.

To date, there have been no formal standards or requirements around key design elements including minimum room sizes, adequate daylight provisions, natural ventilation and internal storage. As a result, substandard apartments, commonly known as ‘dog boxes’, have flooded the market. Common characteristics include limited or no private open space or storage, bedrooms without windows and floor areas so small that they would be considered ‘unliveable’ in other states.

Poor quality apartment design has real-life consequences, including the potential to detrimentally impact the health and wellbeing of residents. A recent Health and Well Being Study conducted by The McCaughey VicHealth Community Wellbeing Unit at The University of Melbourne, determined that poor apartment design can lead to negative psychological outcomes including depression, reduced cognitive functioning, increased levels of stress, and feelings of isolation. The study also concluded that poor design can have an adverse impact on the physical health of residents, including an increase in falls due to limited natural light, respiratory problems, sleeping difficulties and cardiovascular issues.

Due to the absence of compulsory design standards, Ewert Leaf has avoided multi residential developments in the inner city, as they have often been more about yield than occupant amenity. This position is supported by a recent article on domain.com.au, which states that the vast majority of inner city apartments built over the past six years fail to meet the minimum requirements set in the Better Apartments Design Standards. We have instead focused on the boutique apartment space, which has allowed us to provide a product that does not compromise on amenity, yet can still be delivered for a reasonable price.

An example of this approach is High and Spring, a 26 apartment development in Malvern designed by Ewert Leaf. Occupant amenity has been the driving force behind the design and consequently the development well exceeds the requirements set out in the Better Apartments Design Standards. The average floor area of an apartment is 95m2, which is combined with generous private outdoor living spaces and environmentally sustainable landscaping. Extensive full height glazing provides views of the surrounding area, along with access to natural light and ventilation. Operable timber screens offer privacy and solar protection. Common areas include a large wine cellar for group entertaining and a workshop for household and bike repairs.

Our focus on liveability and sustainability has resulted in multi-residential developments which sell out quickly and which will stand the test of time. Well-designed apartments are a valuable investment in the well-being of residents and their communities and leave a positive legacy for future generations. The new Better Apartments Design Standards will hopefully mark an end to the development of substandard apartments and prompt all architects and developers to produce a better product and a better result for all.