Two of Sydney’s architects are highly critical of suburban apartment buildings, and have some ideas for better buildings.
Philip Thalis, also a City of Sydney councillor, said that developers were trying to make more money by stuffing apartments into structures with multiple footprints. He calls this variety of apartment building a Godzilla in the suburbs.
Chris Johnson, the chief executive of the Urban Taskforce—an organization that represents the development industry, claimed that councils and restrictive planning rules are responsible for dumpy buildings. He said that councils need to allow for taller, slimmer buildings.
Shaun Carter, a past president of the NSW branch of the Australian Institute of Architects, believes that tall, thin towers are better than lower, bulkier buildings, making for superior structures, streets and cities.
However, Carter admits that squat buildings are less expensive to construct; requiring less glass, less insulation, less waterproofing, and less costly building materials.
Steve Mann, chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW, said that developers are restricted by planning regulations established by councils and the state government—thus in turn placing severe constraints on building practices.
According to Thalis, the State Environmental Planning Policy No. 65 and its companion Apartment Design Guide set restrictions regarding natural light, outdoor access and size on new apartment developments—yet these rules are not always enforced.
Yet according to Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes, NSW leads the nation when it comes to guaranteeing the high quality design of apartments. He said that, in exchange for taller buildings, the nation must have more safe, usable, and eye-pleasing public open space.
Cr Thalis asserted that apartment buildings with sizable floor plans had been constructed across Sydney, in suburban areas like Kirrawee, Mascot, Pagewood, Homebush and Wentworth Point. He said that their mass is an issue, as they are not divided into smaller buildings and don’t boast integrated landscapes. This variety of monolithic buildings, he said, made better warehouses than residences.
Chris Knapp, the head of Bond University’s Abedian School of Architecture, believes that slimmer structures are more pleasing to the eye and cause less overshadowing. He says they allow more natural light and ventilation.
A disadvantage of tall buildings, says Knapp, is that residents can become detached from the ground—their neighbours and neighbourhood.
Both Thalis and Carter believe that a maximum of six apartments per floor of an apartment building is perfect. Carter said that this floor plan allows for better building practices and—eventually—a closer community.
Add to hortli Johnson, however, said that placing limits on the number of apartments permitted on each floor would elevate property prices.
Thalis said he was not against increasing the density of the city, but noted that a focus on short-term profits had led to the current building crisis, as signified by the evacuation of residential complexes at Sydney Olympic Park, Mascot and Erskineville.
Carter said that the building industry should not be exclusively focused on generating profits, but on creating quality homes and workplaces for people. And to ensure this, industry regulation is needed.
He said that stronger planning assessment is required to enhance apartment design, with architects being committed to a building until an occupation certificate is issued. He also said that the public sector should be more involved in building affordable homes to enhance standards and decrease the cost of maintenance.
Mann said that the building planning system is a broken system that failed to meet community needs. He said that state and local controls could be administered, with improved community outcomes resulting.