With a combination of robust population growth and high home prices, Australia’s cities are in great need of more housing. The Australian Bureau of Statistics projects that under their “medium growth” scenario, the population will reach 46 million by 2075. At that point, both Sydney and Melbourne will reach about 8.5 million residents, and Perth will overtake Brisbane as the third-largest city.
Meeting the huge demand for housing will require a variety of housing options to be built, including mid-rise developments. A report by consulting firm Urbis, Australia’s Embrace of Medium & High Density Housing, noted an increase first described in the 2011 Census.
“With building approvals for flats and apartments up by 36% over the past year we are seeing a major shift towards higher density dwellings that has never been seen on such a widespread scale in Australia,” the authors said.
The 2011 Census indicates that more than 150,000 mid-rise housing units have been built in inner and middle suburbs across Australia since 2001.
“Medium rise developments are increasingly providing a key element of housing within our cities,” said Urbis director Rebecca West. “Most planning schemes have now identified locations for this type and scale of housing development which has the benefit of supporting existing activity centres, providing increased housing and diversity and relieving pressure from established residential precincts.”
There are clear reasons behind the shift to more urban development. Land supply has tightened and fuel prices have been volatile but increasing. In addition, a growing number of people prefer urban living.
A clear trend, according to the report, is 25-to-39 year-old, white-collar, higher-income people with fewer kids choosing to live in urban environments. Many in this group are international migrants, as well.
Typically mid-rise projects contains three to eight storeys and are built in neighbourhoods with existing urban infrastructure, such as transportation, retail, and entertainment. Mid-rise projects offer unique benefits for urban neighbourhoods, according to architect Marco VanderMaas of Quadrangle Architects in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
“The key advantage of mid-rise is scale,” VanderMaas said. “The relationship of the buildings to the public street (otherwise known as right-of-way) is key to designing a built environment that is comfortable to live in and supports different modes of transportation.”
In addition, mid-rise buildings can be designed to relate well to the street and should provide a public realm that supports walking, biking, and public transportation, rather than just cars and trucks, he noted.
Mid-rise development also faces challenges, particularly the issue of scale, VanderMaas said. Smaller sites within the context of existing buildings are often seen as ideal for mid-rise projects, but may not include enough units for sale to generate adequate profits for the developer. Smaller sites may not have enough room for large equipment such as cranes.
One approach, he said, is that architects must “find economies of scale and focus on product development to design efficiency into the mid-rise building typology.”
Change to the development model in existing neighbourhoods is often met with skepticism or outright opposition, but, VanderMaas said, “intensification and a greater mix of spaces for living, working and playing is healthy for urban areas and especially for sub-urban areas.”
Architects can address this issue, he said, with “clearly written planning rationale, exciting precedents and enticing visualizations that includes the context and what kind of public realm the proposed building will produce.”
Those tactics, he noted, are more important than simply showing a rendering of the proposed building.