In current European practice, densities of 30-60 dw/Ha or more are obtained with lowenergy houses and gardens, plus low-rise flats interspersed with communal planted areas. The well-known example of Freiburg was described in UDF 85. Contemporary British practice is readily accessible because it is now extensively documented through guides and reports.
Of particular interest is the long-standing Essex Design Guide. It first appeared in 1973, long before New Urbanism was thought of in the US, and was revised in 1997 and reprinted in 2005. For schemes over 20 dw/Ha, it requires terraced 2-3 storey houses with substantial backyards, but reduced space at the front. It advocates creating a sense of place through reference to local styles. It differs from New Urbanist approaches in having no rear lanes or parking courts. Garages are in the backyard but accessed from the front, normally though archways, preserving the security of the perimeter block.
Could the Essex approach be applied in Australia? Inner Sydney is formed of terraced town houses adapted to the climate in a distinctive local style. Queensland has its own vernacular architecture in the shape of the eponymous houses which reflect its subtropical climate. Queenslanders (the dwelling type) predominate in inner-suburban areas that provide fairly dense urban vegetation, particularly trees, which play an important role in microclimate, sustainable drainage, biodiversity and absorption of pollutants, particularly carbon sequestration.
However, it would be inappropriate just to replicate Queenslanders. The sound and climate insulation of their walls, for example, can leave much to be desired. The idea should be to learn from their good points, which include:
- natural ventilation
- management of sunlight and shade
- adaptation to the terrain
- flexible use of space underneath
- external staircases releasing space inside the house
- substantial backyards
- charm and cultural continuity.
What can be imported from the English practice is raising densities through terraced form and narrower (although not as narrow) road reservations and carriageway widths.
The illustrations show examples from a study combining the principles of the Essex Guide with the best aspects of Queensland vernacular. Net density is 34 dw/Ha. There is a range of dwelling types. The lower level of the Queenslander is used to accommodate a car and either a storage space, a second floor, a granny flat or a second self-contained unit. There is a large house type that turns the corner of the block. The block shape is narrow and can be aligned to the sun. A slightly wider block can be formed that could accommodate a communal swimming pool and/or children’s play facilities at its centre.