The site is more than 1,000 square metres, with two frontages, the main frontage facing Burke Road – a major north-south spine. Sitting on the edge between the residential and business zones, and occupying the north-east corner of an important intersection, the site literally marks the entry to a neighbourhood activity centre. With lower scale dwellings to the north and east, and a vast reserve to the west across Burke Road, the site has a few sensitive interface issues to address. Abutting the site to the east is a public car park, followed by single dwellings, mostly used for medical and community purposes.
Four-storey residential apartments
The application was for a four-storey residential apartment building, with the built form including a two-storey podium-like mass, followed by another two levels atop. The upper levels are setback slightly from the street edge, but some sections protrude in the setback zone.
The four-storey height was not seen as an issue as presented to VCAT, mainly because of the site’s location on the edge of an activity centre, its high exposure, a relatively large site size and multiple frontages. All these factors make it a good candidate for a higher density residential development.
However, with the building used exclusively for residential, many of the ground floorapartments ended up with their private open space facing the adjoining roads. Those facing Burke Road are contained within a 9m setback zone, while those facing south are built almost directly on the street edge, with balconies elevated by less than half a metre above the footpath level.
A good interface with the public domain should offer high design quality and activity, especially on sites at main intersections and within such proximity to activity centres. In many instances, it can revitalise an entire activity centre and better integrate it with its context.
“Activity” is a key ingredient for the creation of successful, liveable and safe public places. Building facades frame spaces, and therefore form a key component of the public realm. They should be designed to reach out to the street and offer an active frontage onto the space, adding interest and vitality to the street. Street life is dependent on the level of animation and interaction between the building and the street. The more transparent and open the facades are, the friendlier, livelier and safer are the streets. Facades that turn their backs to the roads undermine entire streetscapes, resulting in many safety and security problems.
My argument is simple and straightforward. Producing the ‘ideal design response’ to a site is not an impossible task. A good and thorough contextual analysis produces a responsive design outcome, which is unique to the site. ‘Good design’ is one that sensitively responds and positively contributes to the overall qualities of existing streets. It is one that creates buildings that are specifically and distinctively tailored to suit and ‘fit within’ their local contexts, adding to and enhancing their surrounding environment, ‘the public realm’.