Architecture

Slums, dormitories and penthouses: How high-rise is affecting liveability

May 29, 2015

Melbourne’s skyline is set to dramatically transform. The city is experiencing an unprecedented surge in high-rise construction, with more than 20 new skyscrapers taller than 200 metres being constructed or planned.

Image above: Australia 108 by Fender Katsalidis. Article by ADR Contributor, Bryan Chung.

Melbourne’s skyline is set to dramatically transform. The city is experiencing an unprecedented surge in high-rise construction, with more than 20 new skyscrapers taller than 200 metres being constructed or planned. Among these is a tower by Elenberg Fraser said to look like the singer Beyoncé, while another by Metier 3 resembles a ball-gown.

While these high-rise developments are being celebrated amongst government, developers and planners, analysts warn of the detrimental impact on Melbourne’s liveability.

A report by the City of Melbourne describes the worrying trend of increasingly small apartments being built, with 40 per cent of the apartments measuring less than 50 square metres. In other cities like Sydney, London and Adelaide, such dwellings are considered illegal; planning laws require one-bedroom apartments to be at least 50 square metres in size.

In Melbourne, some of these high-rise developments have a density of more than 5000 dwellings per hectare. At four times the maximum allowed in high-density cities like Hong Kong, New York and Sydney, and 10 times what is allowed is London, consumers are questioning whether high-rise is indeed a positive change in housing preference, or if it will cause urban decay and disorder.

A main concern is that high-rise developments can contribute to social instability. Developers typically target a skewed demographic: wealthy childless families, students or empty nesters, while the less affluent or families with children are marginalised. Dormitory-type living is not ideal for children or people with normative family arrangements, and even the Australian Institute of Family Studies has warned that high-rise living is unsuitable for families with children.

Privacy is also a central issue, as well as noise and the residents’ right to sunlight. Recently, a Melbourne building company applied for a permit to construct a new apartment tower in the city throughout the night, angering residents near the building site due to the potential noise and light spill. The residents argued that they had a right come home from work to some “quiet time”, particularly in an area that is in the midst of an apartment construction boom.

According to Alan March, associate professor in urban planning at the University of Melbourne, some of the problem of high-rise living has to do with the dwellings themselves.  Many apartments are too small, do not have openable windows or particularly good views. But another problem is how the buildings fit into the streetscape. At street level, there is also insufficient open space.  He says: “There are significant problems with moving people around on the street.  We have wind effects, we have overshadowing effects.”

But this high-rise trend could change in the near future. The Office of the Victorian Government Architect, together with the city council, has produced draft rules that would stop the spread of the micro-apartments. New proposed standards include a minimum of 50 square metres for one-bedroom apartments, and greater ceiling heights. There would also be requirements for storage space and natural light.

In addition, the Melbourne city council has also advised that new developments should cater to a more diverse population that includes families and people who work in the city, not just students and retirees. The council has also addressed the issue of housing affordability, proposing that 15 percent of new developments should be made affordable.

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