With the increasing density of our cities, Australians are starting to rethink how our urban space is configured. With space at such a premium, why is it that so much of our urban area is inaccessible or underutilised?

I’m referring to the rooftops (and most balconies and terraces) of medium to high density developments in our capital cities. These spaces make up a majority of the footprint of our cities (after roads), and yet they are a vastly underutilised part of our urban fabric.

The City of Melbourne and other Councils are reclaiming the roads for green space. So why can’t we reclaim our rooftops as well?

A recent event at Adelaide’s Festival of Architecture and Design explored the “beauty of our city from a higher viewpoint” to “experience its continually growing top edge.”

Titled High/ Hi Adelaide, the event brought people up on to the roof tops in the CBD including public entertaining places, public facilities to privately owned buildings so that they might get a better appreciation of the opportunities and enjoyment of the city above street level.

Ying Qian, the person responsible for this project, feels building owners and developers must think harder about getting the most out of the space they have available at height.

“When you’re building a big scale property in the city, you need to be more open-minded and think about how to use it, especially the rooftop, and get the social life involved,” she said. “More people need to be able to access rooftops, you need to open that invite for people to appreciate them.”

It is often surprising how enjoyable access to rooftop spaces can be. Not only does it give people the opportunity to benefit from additional area and amenity, but the views from a rooftop space can be wonderful, and can allow a deeper appreciation of urban environment.

The High/ Hi Adelaide event brought people across eight roof top throughout the CBD. Some of the highlights included:

Oxygen Office rooftop

This roof atop a small design practice is a good example of a boutique town house rooftop with multiple landscape design elements including decking, a shade structure, a productive garden and bespoke furniture.

Ying noted that “the tour group were fully absorbed at first sight because they could see the similarity between this and their home rooftops in terms of scale and the possibility on transferring their own rooftops to a much more enjoyable outdoor space.”

Besides providing a pleasant sitting space for the employees to take breaks and have lunch, it is versatile enough to host larger gatherings after work.

Located in a low-density residential zone and limited by its height, this rooftop does not command the expansive views of taller buildings. However, the space benefits from a mild microclimate on this two-storey building with moderated sunlight and wind to enable all the plants to remain vigorous and healthy.

Oxygen Office

Oxygen Office rooftop for High/ Hi Adelaide: Image source Ying Qian

Schiavello Office

Adelaide’s Schiavello office is a five-storey 1920s commercial building located within the CBD core. Previous occupants left many interesting marks on this building, including a car turntable and a redbrick lift house to the rooftop. This rooftop had an abundance of character and, although rough in its undeveloped state, has great potential as usable roof space.

The backdrop of buildings in various styles and scales endows the rooftop with a disordered and raw beauty.

“I could picture a view of a well landscaped rooftop hosting bustling events like an urban oasis in the concrete desert,” Ying said.

Schiavello Office

Schiavello Office: Image source Ying Qian

The Rowland Apartments

The Rowland Apartments is a 19-storey residential building located on the edge of the CBD core area. Branded as luxury hotel apartment building, the rooftop was planned as a mixed use recreation area with nearly a 360 degree view. Visitors on the High/ Hi Adelaide tour were impressed by the expansive view, which is very unusual to get in Adelaide as there are not many high-rise rooftops accessible to the public.

The rooftop is fully enclosed with a perimeter glass balustrade and a louvre opening roof which together form a semi-interior rather than open outdoor space.

The Rowland Apartment

The Rowland Apartment – image source Ying Qian

These visits have given a select few an appreciation of the possibilities for reclaiming our roof tops, and point to a future of increase usage of these lost spaces.