The response by the Victorian Government to metropolitan Melbourne’s sustainable growth is expressed through Melbourne 2030, the strategic planning policy released in 2002. At its core are nine key ‘directions’ that express the desired future for the city over the next three decades. These attempt to address, in a sustainable way, the complex relationships that exist between the built and natural environments and peoples’ social and economic behaviour within those environments.
Design guidance documents
The first direction of ‘A More Compact City’ is to be achieved by focussing high quality development, activity and living around centres that provide good access to existing services, social interaction and transport. To promote and guide this increased development, the Urban Design Unit of the Department has prepared a suite of design guidance documents for Higher Density Residential Development, Activity Centres and Safety.
The first, released in late 2004, are the Guidelines for Higher Density Residential Development. These are directed towards better practice for architects and developers in preparing planning applications for residential and mixed use buildings of four or more stories, and for councils in assessing the design merits of those applications. They are performance-based guidelines, recognising the impracticality of seeking to prescribe a particular design or built outcome in numerous locations across Victoria. Rather, they are structured around six ‘Design Elements’ that should be considered when designing such a development. These elements are: Urban Context; Building Envelope; Street Pattern and Street Edge Quality; Circulation and Services; Building Layout and Design; and Open Space and Landscape Design.
Design objectives and suggestions
Each element has a series of ‘Design Objectives’ that are supported by a corresponding set of related ‘Design Suggestions’ that will generally achieve a good design response. It is up to the designers to determine the merits of specific design suggestions within the context of the proposed development and the objectives in the Guidelines. The Guidelines recognise that design is a creative process that can be said to be achieved when the proposal:
- responds and contributes to its natural and built context
- provides an appropriate scale in terms of the bulk and height relative to the scale of the street and surrounding buildings (in keeping with the existing or preferred urban character)
- achieves an appropriate built form for a site and building in terms of building alignment, proportions, building type and elements
- has a density appropriate for a site and its context (in keeping with existing or preferred neighbourhood character)
- recognises that landscape and buildings operate as an integrated and sustainable system
- optimises safety and security for internal and public spaces
- responds to its social context in terms of access to housing diversity and choices
- makes efficient use of natural resources, energy and water throughout its full life cycle.
The guidelines are expected to play an important role in the implementation of Melbourne 2030 by raising the standard of design of higher density housing to better respond to its urban context, and meet the needs of residents and communities. The Department is considering training in the use of these guidelines, activity centres, and safety. To see the document, go to www.dse.vic.gov.au , then follow the links to planning, to urban design, and then to Design Guidelines: residential and mixed use buildings over 4 storeys.
Peter Boyle is Principal Urban Designer at the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, and can be contacted on 03 9655 6666.