A better look: Government advances apartment design standards

The Australian apartment of the future will be safer, more liveable, fully sustainable and surrounded by green space.

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August 2019

As high-density living spreads to the suburbs, State Governments are looking to improve the integration of new apartment blocks in existing neighbourhoods.

This means introducing new apartment design standards. The Australian apartment of the future will be safer, more liveable, fully sustainable and surrounded by green space.

This is the scenario promised by new planning regulations being considered by the Victorian Government as it seeks to address ongoing complaints about the build quality and poor design of apartments across Melbourne.

Victoria’s Acting Minister for Planning, Lily D’Ambrosio, says reforms are needed if Melbourne is to maintain its reputation as one of the world’s most liveable cities.

“As more and more people choose apartment living, we need to ensure these buildings are high quality and ready for 21st-century challenges such as climate change and our growing population,” she says.

Victoria upgraded its design standards for apartments in 2017, covering issues such as adequate daylight, storage, ventilation, acoustic performance, energy, and waste efficiency, but is now seeking greater reform.

“Melbourne leads the world in liveability and that should be reflected in our apartments,” says D’Ambrosio. “Our buildings and public spaces are a defining feature of our city – it’s vital that we get the planning right now to make sure it stays that way.”

The 2019 Better Apartments in Neighbourhoods discussion paper outlines five major policy aims: green space, the need for quality building façades, wind protection, how to create more attractive streets, and how to better manage construction to reduce its impact on existing neighbourhoods.

The proposed changes take advantage of the many new, stylish, long-lasting building products now available in Australia, such as Terraçade façade systems, Pronto Panels, Austral Masonry and Nubrik traditional bricks.

The focus has broadened to encompass the standards for building exteriors, to ensure that apartment buildings are attractive, fit in with their neighbourhood and provide more green spaces.

Proposed changes will affect landscaping, external walls, vehicle access, site servicing, wind effects and the management of building-construction impacts.

Victoria’s Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, says the new proposals extend the state’s existing Better Apartments Design Standards which have already improved the aesthetic quality and liveability of new apartments.

“We promised to put an end to cramped, dog-box apartments with borrowed light and no ventilation,” he said. “We’re cracking down on dodgy apartments and giving the industry the tools and resources it needs to comply with new standards that protect owners and tenants.”

As part of its extensive review, Victoria is also planning a design advisory service for developers. This voluntary process will be aimed at larger-scale apartment developments and will include advice from architects, building designers, urban designers and planners.

The government has already published an apartment buyers and renters guide, giving prospective apartment buyers and renters up-to-date information about existing design standards.

According to the planning minister, the current review of design standards is being driven by the construction of new apartment buildings in Melbourne’s outer suburbs and in major regional centres across Victoria.

“Until recently, most apartment developments were built in inner Melbourne, where there are established planning practices around the exterior of buildings,” he says. “As more apartment developments are built in the outer suburbs and regional cities, there is a greater need to ensure streets and neighbourhoods are well built and accommodate the needs of residents and visitors.”

To have your say on the proposed standards visit Better Apartments in Neighbourhoods. Submissions close September 27.