A few years ago we excreted a lot of blood sweat and tears planning and implementing a new walkable traditional neighbourhood development on the Sunshine Coast.
This place – known as the “Town of Seaside” – beside the beach just south of Coolum, has a mix of housing types ranging from low density conventional dwellings through to four storey apartments all arranged in a density gradient that places the highest density fronting a civic park at the heart of the neighbourhood.
We were successful in establishing this civic space and completing the higher density development along one edge before our client sold the remaining development property to one of Australia’s major land development companies.
To our absolute amazement and frustration this developer has now constructed a two metre high solid timber fence along a significant part of the other edge of the civic park presumably, intending that his new development should turn its back on this valuable public amenity.
How can this happen ? And why would the local Council approve such a disastrous outcome for the community ?
A common topic of discussion in most Australian cities these days focuses on how to consolidate new development around existing infrastructure as a more desirable alternative to expanding urban development out into the periphery creating “urban sprawl”.
The obvious and most often discussed means of achieving such consolidation involves major interventions such as intensive mixed use developments above/around rail stations (Transit Oriented Development), or intensified development along existing transit corridors.
These mega-projects with their hyper-intensity can stir up NIMBY reaction – sometimes with good reason – if they are not properly integrated within the existing development pattern. In Brisbane, traditional inner city areas such as the CBD, Kangaroo Point and Spring Hill, have been particularly affected by this simplistic and sometimes brutal approach to densification. Examples in Kangaroo Point and the CBD shown below, clearly illustrate how scale and urban cohesiveness can be easily destroyed by hyper-intense development:
As with most issues there is no one “silver bullet” solution to the urban intensification problem, but rather a suite of measures that can be utilized depending upon the particular circumstance. A small measure that could deliver significant outcomes in our suburbs without much impact is to identify areas which are serviced by rear lanes and to encourage development of modest accommodation within them, forming a secondary dwelling on the same block of land as the main house.
Rear lanes in Brisbane are not as prolific as they are in some of our older cities (Sydney, Melbourne). However, there are quite a few examples in our older suburbs which are well serviced by existing infrastructure and ripe for re-development. Three of the most representative are:
These lane way areas not only present residential densification opportunities, but may also provide affordable housing alternatives in a market that is making inner suburbs prohibitive for a great majority. Additionally, they also provide the chance of developing home-office and neighbourhood-scale shop types which can enhance the “walkable” quality of many areas providing a true mixed-use village environment.
Some 12 years ago, our studio planned and implemented a new beachside walkable neighbourhood on the Sunshine Coast which included rear lanes as part of the connected network of streets. Garaging and other service functions occur in these lanes and, in addition, the regulatory framework was set up to allow for the optional development of “accessory units” above garaging. Most of these “accessory units” are self contained bed-sitters with access from the lane which is independent from the main residence. As a result, a valuable alternative dwelling type is thus provided to accommodate those who do not necessarily need a larger individual dwelling.
As can be seen from the images above, most land purchasers opted to to take advantage of this option – resulting in the rear lanes transcending their basic service function and becoming lively adjuncts to the neighbourhood.
Laneway housing is a type with plenty of historical precedent : it is being re-introduced in many parts of the world in recognition that household demographics have shifted significantly and variety in housing size and style is required to accommodate that shift. Furthermore, this flexible urban type can easily be adapted to either contemporary, traditional or heritage contexts. A few examples of recently completed laneway housing include:
Additionally, laneway housing has the potential of being an extremely sustainable development strategy for the future, as shown by the “Harvest green project -02” from Vancouver based firm Romses Architects. In this project the laneway type is used to produce self-sustainable homes and communities by transforming laneways into green energy and food conduits, or ‘green streets’, where energy and food is ‘harvested’ via proposed micro laneway live-work homes.
For some inspiring (and often entertaining) information on laneway developments, please follow these links:
1. Link to:
2. Link to:
www.lanefab.com u-tube video)
3. Link to:
The draft Fortitude Valley Neighbourhood Plan was recently approved by Brisbane City Council. Undoubtedly one of its most controversial features is the proposed 30-storey building height in the Valley Heart Precinct which is considered to be an iconic colonial heritage area, “a rich tapestry of new and old buildings, streets and lanes, cultures and character which make it distinctly ‘the Valley.” To achieve this height, the draft Plan encourages the amalgamation of typical Valley lots in order to consolidate sites of 2,000 m2 to 3,000 m2. The towers will be located on podiums “identifiable” at ground level.
This new building type is a completely new beast in the Valley context. As explained by Chris Buckley, planning consultant and a member of the Queensland Heritage Council, “ the Valley is a place of small shops and commercial buildings in contrast to the City. Buildings in the Valley – for example, on Wickham St and Brunswick St – are smaller, plainer, lower and on smaller sites. The McWhirters and TC Beirne buildings stand out in the Valley, yet are relatively small by CBD standards.”
While the intention behind the proposed heights increment addresses urgent urban and sustainability issues –the need to increase building densities in inner city areas with significant transportation hubs in order to accommodate population growth projections while reducing the urban sprawl- the chosen building and public space types for a heritage context such as the Valley Heart Precinct raises a few a questions.
Particularly when long ago, the Fortitude Valley Urban Vision prepared for Council in 2007 clearly stated a series of principles which should guide renewal and densification in an area like the Valley: “ this vision aims to identify, release, and connect the latent mid-block spaces to form a rich and diverse percolating public realm that encourages diverse uses, retains heritage built fabric and contributes to a distinctive quality of place for the Valley………..it aspires to a built form that provides mid-block connections, preserves the fine grain fabric, reuses heritage and character buildings, provides strongly built urbane scaled streets, and accommodates density.”
As architects concerned with the production and preservation of quality urban environments, one of the questions that interests use the most relates to which are the most adequate building and public space types that should be implemented to achieve higher densities while preserving scale, adequate uses mix, cultural features and character, specially in our own Brisbane context.
For this purpose we conducted a brief examination of two iconic inner city areas where increased urban densities have been implemented in very different ways. These areas Petrie Bight in the city and the Woolstores Precinct in Teneriffe. Both areas are closely linked to Brisbane’s history and tradition and therefore showcase substantial heritage buildings, enjoy Brisbane River frontages and have great public space potential.
Due to its proximity to the waterfront, during the last 20 years the Petrie Bight area has been intensely developed mainly through the implementation of the Podium/Highrise type. The result of this building frenzy are numerous competing towers with an average of 38-storeys height, along with Brisbane’s highest dwelling density (approximately 380 dwellings per hectare) .
Predictably, and as encouraged by the podium/highrise type, everything faces the waterfront while city streets are left out from the public space network. Howard Street clearly illustrates this problem. The resulting streetscape has lost any sense of scale and is now reduced to service lane status.
The lack of mixed uses and active frontages are just some of the side effects of the use of the podium/highrise type. The highrises have actually created a barrier isolating themselves from the immediate urban fabric. Additionally, private recreation spaces located at upper podium levels have sucked dry almost all street activity, effectively alienating residents from the public realm at ground level. The riverfront walkway is all the public space left but also isolated from the internal cityscape.
Just as Petrie Bight, and mainly due to its proximity to the waterfront, this area has seen intense urban renewal and densification in the last 15 years. But unlike Petrie Bight, existing building types and heights have been maintained and new related hybrid types have been implemented, some which include reusing existing heritage buildings. The result is a significantly increased density (approximately 190 dwellings per hectare) that is able to maintain character, an adequate urban scale, active street frontages, healthy connectivity and a varied public space network . Vernon terrace is a good example:
In contrast to Petrie Bight, the waterfront is not only well integrated into the urban public space network, but is not the only public space alternative available for residents. Streets such as Vernon Terrace are common providing a healthy mix of uses and activities where traditional and contemporary architecture follow a common thread.
Petrie Bight vs. Woolstores
As briefly discussed, both the planning approach and the resulting cityscape cannot be more different. The Petrie Bight area has been lost to extreme density, cluttered competing highrises and dead streets. On the other hand, the Woolstores Precinct remains a characterised, active and diverse area in constant evolution. But perhaps what is most interesting is to compare how these different ways of applying renewal and densification in inner city environments can render such contrasting spatial qualities, while achieving not very dissimilar densities.
As shown on the diagrams above, the density achieved in the Woolstores Precinct is half of that presently achieved in the Petrie Bight area, but still significantly high for Brisbane and international standards. However, the startling contrast in spatial quality is evident in the streetscape sectional diagram. While Petrie Bight’s podium/highrise type has destroyed urban scale and dried out city streets, the application of adequate building types in the Woolstores area has produced a coherent and improved urban context where character, scale, activity and public space have been enhanced.
The implementation of the podium/highrise type seems to have come at a great cost in the Petrie Bight area, whereas the increase in density does not seem to have been that significant and positive for the city. Wouldn’t it be better to achieve densification levels that are still high and adequate – such as the ones currently present in the Woolstores Precinct- while preserving healthy sustainable neighbourhoods which provide invaluable expressions of unique (and scarce) Brisbane character?
Brisbane City Council approves Ballymore redevelopment
An artist’s impression of proposed plans for Ballymore redevelopment. Source: The Courier-Mail
A $100 million plan to redevelop Ballymore is set to be approved by the Brisbane City Council.
The proposal to rework Queensland Rugby Union’s sporting fields and stadiums was approved 3-1 by council’s planning committee Tuesday morning and now heads to the full council meeting.
Residents of the inner-northern suburb have been angered by plans to redevelop the state-owned site, concerned about traffic, safety and amenity issues. Support has come from the rugby network.
Local councillor David Hinchliffe tried to defer the application for a week for further community consultation and to check QRU’s legal status.
Whether it’s the great form of the QR Reds or the short sleeves winter weather, playing rugby in Queensland is a popular option for the international rugby fraternity, with players from 24 countries transferring their registration to the Sunshine State so far in 2010.
From Belgium to Zimbabwe and 22 countries in between, a total of 202 overseas registered players have been cleared to play for Queensland clubs since 1 January, with another 13 currently going through the approval process.
Of those already transferred, the three leading nations are New Zealand (79 players), England (44) and Scotland (13). The highest profile transfer is former All Black Caleb Ralph, who turned out last weekend for the Sunshine Coast Stingrays, scoring a try in his Premier Rugby debut.
Some are also Aussies returning home, such as: former Reds and Wallaby great Toutai Kefu, like Caleb Ralph also now with the Sunshine Coast Stingrays after a stint in Japan; former Reds hooker Ole Avei rejoining Sunnybank and Easts 2007 Premier Player of the Year Matt Brandon, also back home from Japan.
Queensland has also attracted 77 players from other states since the beginning of the year, with 37 joining from New South Wales, 15 from ACT, nine from Victoria, six each from the Northern Territory and Western Australia and four from South Australia.
In comparison, 35 players left Queensland in 2010 to play interstate, while a further 23 transferred overseas.
Players from outside Australia registered to play rugby in Queensland since 1 January, 2010:
Belgium – 1
Canada – 6
Cook Islands – 1
England – 44
Fiji – 3
France – 5
Germany – 3
Hong Kong – 2
Ireland – 7
Italy – 1
Japan – 7
Netherlands – 3
New Zealand – 79
Papua New Guinea – 1
Peru – 1
Portugal – 1
Samoa – 1
Scotland – 13
South Africa – 6
Sweden – 1
Tonga – 1
United States of America – 8
Wales – 6
Zimbabwe – 1
Transfers from within Australia:
NSW – 37
NSWSRU – 5
NSWCRU – 21
NSWRU – 11
ACT – 15
NT – 6
SA – 4
VIC – 9
WA – 6