Making the case for evidence-based apartment design guidelines

Financial motivators from both the supply and demand side of the housing market have increased pressure on apartments to be spatially efficient - that is, smaller.

As a result, the role of design guidelines in maintaining quality living spaces has gathered increasing attention, and the State of Victoria is in the final stages of extensively revising its apartment design guidelines.

Speaking at the Australasian Housing Researchers Conference 2017, Alexa discusses her recent study which has analysed five apartment case studies in Melbourne, approved during this revision period in order to understand the relationship between the physical product and the concerns present that initiated the review.

What are the current challenges facing housing design in Australia?

Financial motivators from both the supply and demand side of the housing market have increased pressure on apartments to be smaller. Many practitioners have questioned the ability of the state government’s recently conceived regulations, the ‘Better Apartment: Design Standards’ to improve the design quality of Melbourne apartments due to the strength of advocacy from the industry to avoid this issue of apartment size.

How is your research addressing those challenges?

Empirical design analysis enables a better understanding of the physical apartment designs which initiated the concern in the design quality present and the final regulations which aim to address these issues.  This study has analysed five apartment case studies in Melbourne that were approved at the height of the concern in quality, prior to the Better Apartments consultation period.  Focusing on the contentious issue of space, the potential impact of the regulation on these designs will be tested as well as an analysis of any additional issues that were present in these designs.

What are the key points of this research you’d like to draw attention to?

It was found that all five apartments could meet the spatial requirements outlined in the new standards.  This indicates that the focus of these regulations requires improvement and that the ability of the new regulations to effectively promote change and improve design quality in apartments will be limited.  The design analysis also highlighted significant problems with the proportion and spatial relationships of the apartment designs that were not addressed by the regulations.   Many apartments had strange geometries of triangular wedges, circle quadrants and an assembly of left over spaces between other elements within the floor plate.  Unusual and non-rectilinear building forms are common in apartment design in Melbourne and are designed around the marketing image to attract attention and encourage quicker pre-sales.  As the apartment units are often retrofitted into these preconceived shells without compensation for the quantity of unusable space present in each residence, the functional program of the apartment is negatively affected.

Who/what will the research impact on?

Sophisticated evaluation provides evidence for regulations of the key issues present within the apartment designs.   Not only does this provide greater support to policy makers to withstand the pressures of advocacy from various industry members, it also ensures that the regulation is effective by further understanding the intricacies of the issues that require intervention.

Alexa Gower will be speaking at the Australasian Housing Researchers Conference 2017 (15th to 17th February) hosted by RMIT University, Melbourne.