Following from my recent thesis post, a key idea which emerged from my research is the idea that in Melbourne, we SUBURBANISE buildings which in origin were and should be ‘urban’ (with associated social connotations of collectiveness). For example, the ‘villa unit’ development is the dysfunctional offspring of the row-house (blended with the triple fronted brick veneerial), whilst the walk-up and rescode block are the residual outcomes of multi-family buildings (hybridised with an over-scale suburban mansion).
Starting firstly at an elevation based reading of neighbourhoods, but having profound spatial planning implications, this suburbanisation is illustrated in the diagram above. Where the single house with space around it has the benefit of multiple aspects, the villa unit intensifies the reliance on neighbouring properties for amenity, increasing the susceptibility to grievance from their view being built out. This increases as the scale and number of dwellings increases, whilst retaining the same poorly founded suburban site planning ‘logic’. The inherent value of front yard, rear yard and side service paths in a single house is lost in favour of aesthetically motivated void space which defines the outer envelope of the apartment block. Rather than accepting the urbanity of a strong streetwall, party-wall construction and shared common benefits through an open rear yard, this type instead points apartments in every direction of the compass away from the inevitable double loaded corridor. The result through repetition is a shared void of dedicated nothingness between forms, into which views are not possible thanks to the bank of cheap aluminium louvres applied to balconies and windows to prevent a tool of community building; the ability to overlook or survey. Further, as the density of the form increases, the proportion of apartments with aspect to the street decreases, reducing the sense of ownership over the street. Taken to its logical conclusion in the Rescode apartment block, the effects on a neighbourhood are demonstrated below, both in overview, and section format (side boundary interface of repeated form & street frontage section showing the ‘recessive upper levels’ that result from a fearful view of the external envelope.
In 2013 I undertook a study into the current trajectory of infill housing in Melbourne, guided by a planning and urban design governance system which has lost the plot. This was based on visiting 100s of completed projects across a range of scales, and across cbd, inner urban, middle and outer suburban areas where growth is occurring. The reliance on rescode and other ‘suburbanising’ measures to guide infill housing is resulting in a haphazard approach to development, where first-in-best-dressed reigns supreme irrespective of context. The result is an emerging collection of dysfunctional adjacencies, where building forms compete with one another for light, space and aspect in a completely illogical manner. The result is a kind of temporary borrowed amenity scenario, where an uneducated market is purchasing into developments which rely on their neighbours lesser developed state for amenity. This leads to significant psychological, environmental and economic problems, when eventually (inevitably) the neighbouring parcel follows suit and builds to a similar or great height, obliterating the quality of the existing neighbouring housing complex. The issue is not necessarily the height or intensity of development which is often critiqued by residents, rather its the lack of intelligence of understanding the implications of development multiplication. Its not rocket science that yield can be achieved in an improved format where amenity, landscape and aspect can be shared. It is something that cities around the world have dealt with successfully for centuries through repetition of functional typologies. So what then are our successful typologies that when repeated produce positive urban effects? What kind of urban form does this consideration of the best potential of the individual plot lead to when thought about in relation to its neighbours and the broader urban structure?
The argument here repositions architects at the forefront, banishing the ‘blobs’ of preferred scale of the strategic planner or urban designer, instead preferencing typological experimentation which might then feed back into more relevant guidelines.
Sponsored by my workplace in my role as Urban Designer at Hansen Partnership, I attended the Tasmania Narratives event hosted by the AIA Tas chapter this past weekend. The Tasmania Narratives Weekend Away was the introductory weekend to the Jorn Utzon Workshop, hosted at Murrayfield Station; a working Sheep Farm near the mouth of the Derwent River on Bruny Island. The majestic rural and indigenous landscape setting was host to intensive discussion about the qualities of place and the importance of regionalism in design.
The workshops and lectures incorporated a selection of international practitioners whose work is underpinned by meaningful engagement with place and human experience, including the revered architect and writer Juhani Pallasmaa (Helsinki), the craftsman and humanist Richard Le Plastrier (Sydney) and architect and urbanist Lene Tranbourg from Lungaard & Tranbourg (Copenhagen). These internationally significant figures were joined by some of the best practitioners from Tasmania’s close-knit Architecture Community including Craig Rosevear, Leigh Woolley, Mat Hinds, Megan Baynes & Thomas Bailey (room11), Scott Balmforth (Terroir) and honorary Tasmanian John Wardle (whose family property is a short distance to the north of Murrayfield).
The seminars commenced from a historical understanding of the development of relationships between Tasmanian Architecture and the environment, from survival in a hostile penal colony, to the establishment of a climatically responsive colonial architecture, through to works which begun to view the wild and rugged landscape as a more positive attribute of place in the post-war period. This history was established as a framework within which contemporary architecture is practiced.
Intensive discussion about the role of architecture in these settings and techniques of approach design were discussed through the works of many of these practitioners and extended into the early hours of the morning. Discussions extended into neuroscience and behavioural psychology in understanding the human relationship to the built and natural world, and our fundamental needs. Attendees were from the UK, Denmark, Newcastle, Sydney and Hobart, with myself and a colleague the only Victorian attendees.
The challenge now…how to learn from this poetic understanding of the natural world in an urban setting where economy, politics and culture define a distinctly different and (often even more challenging) landscape, where the human dimension is often reduced to statistic in the practice of architecture and urban planning. How can we draw upon more abstracted notions of landscape, or indeed synthesise new landscape elements in more generous urban architecture?
I had heard about this project for years, a small infill development undertaken by Sean Godsell before he was particularly well known in the 1990s. A few months ago on the way home from a beach adventure i stumbled across them on Ormond Parade in Elwood, a few doors down from the beautiful little commercial strip.
The unpretentious little townhouses were constructed between 1996 and 1999 and have endured beautifully, both in terms of materiality, and architectural language. They are also a great precedent for transitional forms which mediate between a period residential area characterised by garden setbacks and a commercial area with boundary construction.
i usually avoid using text from architect's own descriptions, however in this case it is quite useful in understanding what lies beyond the elegantly layered facades;
"The townhouses are sited around a common central garden....each unit has a variety of private outdoor spaces.They each have home-offices and fewer bedrooms than they may have had fifteen years ago, acknowledging the trend in Australia for working couples with smaller families as well as the flexible workplace that modern technology affords us all. They bookend a row of inner suburban shops with first floor dwellings and mediate between those buildings and a strip of freestanding single storey villas. Timber screens play a duel role in this project, acting both as sun and privacy screens"
The elegant screens have endured beautifully, with a silvery gray finish, which complements the smokey galvanized finish to the exposed steel members. The external steel staircases are my favourite aspect of the townhouses, providing an amazing opportunity for encounter with neighbours on ascent to the private roof terrace, and animating the function of the dwellings.