Most Australian cities are swinging toward apartment living but many think this type of high-rise living is not child-friendly.

In Sydney around a third of households are now apartments, and with apartment approvals running at around 70 per cent of all housing, Sydney’s housing typology will become a 50/50 split between apartments and free-standing suburban homes in a few decades. But where will the families be?

Surprisingly, 17 per cent of current rental apartments are occupied by families and 18 per cent of owner-occupied apartments belong to families. Clearly, however, these numbers will have to grow as urban families adopt a lifestyle that is part of the city. This trend has already occurred in Paris, Barcelona and New York.

The Urban Taskforce sponsored a session at the Sydney Architecture Festival where 20 children aged eight to 12 worked in pairs to develop their own apartment design of the future. Tim Horton, the registrar of the NSW Architects Registration Board, was the driver along with architects Marcus Trimble and Sam Marshall who worked with the kids as ideas were bounced around. Architecture students assisted the children to help develop their designs.

There was lots of creativity and inventiveness occurring as cardboard was cut and reformed with stacks of landscape added along with lots of bright colour. The key ideas from this group of future apartment dwellers included the following:

  • Waterslides and slippery dips
  • Swimming pools
  • Palm trees, hedges and lots of greenery
  • Art galleries
  • Phone booths
  • Indoor playgrounds including laser tag and paint ball
  • Carousels
  • Ejector seats
  • Indoor beaches and zoos
  •  Advertising signs spruiking the features of the buildings

The apartments slotted together on a central mooring post. Some of the apartment designs were vertical and some horizontal, which made for a very interesting final tower.

New apartments being assembled

New apartments being assembled

The children loved the idea of naming the apartment buildings, adding a personalised touch to their design with a special name. Everything was bursting with vibrant colour – there were definitely no sedated shades of grey and beige, and bright orange and purple ladders and staircases dominated the buildings.

The most interesting aspect of young minds focussing on apartment living was an interest in sharing. The kids seemed to think someone’s roof was fine to be the garden for the flat above, they thought the way to move between apartments should be through a spiralling water slide. In some ways, the ideas reflected the Pompidou Centre in Paris with escalators clipped onto the outside of the building. The kids wanted the apartment buildings to express the systems that connected people rather than hiding these inside the building.

The sense of expression of each individual apartment as being a special place reflected the work of Dutch architects MVRDV, who developed designs for apartment buildings with multiple cantilevers and vertical gardens. The kids involved in the exercise certainly wanted each apartment to be special and to have its own character. To some extent, the individualism of the detached house with its own front and back garden was being reinterpreted at an urban scale in a stack of dwellings.

The next wave of apartments in Australian cities must incorporate some of the ideas of the next generation. They need to be places of visual interest, with vertical gardens, special places, more colours and the odd spiral water slide on the facade. Kids will be imploring their parents to move to a hip apartment where their friends live.

There are already many family-friendly apartments in Sydney. One is Spectrum in South Sydney designed by architect Frank Stanzaic as an ‘L’ shaped building of four floors that wraps around a shared garden. The shared space becomes a place for celebrations for Easter, Christmas, special birthdays and events where the kids dress up. With apartments overlooking the shared space, parents can keep an eye on the games going on in the garden.

The Sydney Architecture Festival event was the beginning of a process to tap into the minds of young children about how they see apartment living. The planning system needs to build on this initiative so that families are an integral part of our growing urban environment based on apartment living.

Event images courtesy of Urban Taskforce