Australia’s population is racing toward 30 million (it recently hit 24 million, years ahead of prediction) and the density of our cities continues to increase.

It is becoming increasingly important that we provide high-quality, liveable housing, but unfortunately this is not consistent.

There are strong economic and financial pressures within the development industry to build apartments to maximise profit, rather than in the interest of the residents.

The trend in the medium and high-density residential development sector is to provide apartment buildings that are taller, and apartments that are smaller, often at the expense of open space and quality views.

I recently saw Chris Hayton, principal and director of sustainability from architectural practice ROTHELOWMAN, at the Apartments Conference 2015 in Melbourne, and found his insights into how we can make our cities more liveable very interesting.

Hayton has a unique perspective on these issues, having researched small apartment design internationally. His view is that the amenity of small apartments can be greatly improved through the provision of shared space available to residents.

“The discussion should focus on the quality of space provided rather than size,” he said.

A sense of community can be built in higher density apartments through the use of shared space that can be used by residents, and Hayton believes this space should be designed to encourage its use.

roof top lounge

Rooftop lounge at Botanica Apartments, Rothelowman Architects
image: Scott Burrows

As an example, he notes that high quality amenity attracts use, which will increase the frequency of incidental meetings between residents. When a place is ‘buzzing,’ people feel welcome, and want to stay longer, potentially attracting investors.

This can be a catalyst for financial reward to both the developers and the owner’s corporation.

“We should consider the space between buildings as communal space, like in Paris and London where it is often the streets that are the social and spatial glue,” Hayton said.

He emphasises that designers and developers should remember that street level activity can be the magnet for financial gains and commercial investment. For example, a successful coffee shop at the ground level of an apartment building can be the point of difference that makes the property value surge.

From the point of view of a body corporate or owner’s corporation, high quality shared space can pay for itself.

If a provided space offers amenity and recreation, along with a sense of place and belonging, then that is an asset that can reap rewards.

A rooftop terrace garden with a dining and bar facility could be rented out to groups for an income. This revenue will raise a profit, even after garden upkeep.

“If properly designed, a multi-functional space that incorporates greenery can facilitate access at all times for residents and for private hire. It is possible to design communal facilities that actually reduce body corporate costs once a revenue stream is established,” Hayton pointed out.

roof top lounge

Rooftop lounge at Haven, Eden & Sanctuary Apartments, Rothelowman Architects
Image: Jaime Diaz-Berrio

Developers are gradually coming to appreciate the value of providing apartments with smaller dwellings, but more shared common space.

“I think there are many lessons that can be learnt from our project at Abbotsford for Hamton,” Hayton said. “There is a mix of communal space, from rooftop spaces, a health and well-being deck, and more importantly, a new public space accessible to the broader community.”

Facility managers and owner’s corporations should see the merit in these ideas, and drive designers and developers to provide high quality shared spaces.

This would go a long way to creating more enjoyable places to live.

Main image source: Scott Burrows