As the number of mega apartment complexes being built and under consideration throughout capital cities in Australia grows, a leading architect has warned that skyscrapers are not the answer to housing supply challenges and that indeed, such towers bring with them a number of social and environmental drawbacks.

In her presentation before the recent Housing Futures conference in Sydney, University of Newcastle Professor Kerry Clare warned that the move toward high-rise apartment towers was not the best way forward in terms of urban development in Australia and that our requirements to accommodate a growing population could be met in a better way through medium density development.

Furthermore, Clare – who lectures at the university’s school of Architecture and the Built Environment and who designed the award winning Docklands Library in Melbourne – says high rise living in fact brings with it a number of downsides.

“There is no real need for super high-rise buildings in Australia,” Clare told Sourceable in an interview.

“In fact, the dis-benefits outweigh the benefits by a long shot.”

Clare’s comments come as significant numbers of high-rise apartment towers are either in construction or under consideration within major Australian capital cities.

In Melbourne, for example, the Victorian government earlier this year approved two 79-storey towers which will provide 1,600 new apartments as well as 8,000 square meters of office space at the 350 Queen Street site near the historic Queen Victoria Market as well as a 64-storey apartment tower on the corner of King Street and Little Lonsdale Street.

In Brisbane, meanwhile, the Skytower apartment complex on Mary Street is set to rise to 90 levels whilst a luxury tower under construction as part of a triple tower project at 300 George Street where the Queensland Supreme Court once stood will rise to 82 storeys.

Clare said high-rises involve a number of drawbacks, especially from the viewpoint of surrounding buildings and the public realm.

Having enormous amounts of structure, large apartment towers often interface poorly with the streetscape and detract from the degree of liveliness and interaction which takes place at street level, she said.

By creating wind downwash and blocking sunlight, such buildings also detract from experiences which occur at street level and in neighboring buildings, she added.

Meanwhile, whereas cities consisting predominately of medium-rise buildings such as Paris have proven to be responsive and adaptable to changing requirements over time, Clare says this was not the case with enormous monoculture buildings – which furthermore, according to her research, fail to facilitate ‘chance’ encounters at a social level and encourage the creation of silos.

As for promoted benefits about sustainability, Clare joins World Green Building Council chairperson Tony Arnel in challenging the notion about high-rise apartments being more sustainable than suburban homes.

High-rise apartments, Clare argues, use more energy (due to spaces such as basements, internalised bathrooms, elevators, pools and spas and central plant), involve more embodied energy due to their greater structural requirements and require use of concrete and steel as opposed to the lower carbon emission timber forms of construction.

Whilst acknowledging the need for greater density to accommodate a growing population, Clare argues that medium rather than high-rise living is a better way to go about this and adds that at any rate, apartments in high-rise towers are often more expensive and fail to provide an affordable housing option for many.

Indeed, she says, whereas Dubai with massive clusters of towers achieves a density of just 2,600 people per square kilometre, Paris accommodates a whopping 55,000 per square kilometre whilst remaining a liveable and pleasant city through medium-rise development.

“If you look at Paris at 55,000 people per square kilometre and then you look at Dubai with 2,600 – you come to understand that any argument for high-rise is not about density and amenity or the good of the city at all,” Clare said.