Urban infill and increased density are fraught topics in Perth’s established suburbs, but proponents say the solution lies in good design.
When a developer announces plans for an apartment complex, local residents are frequently up in arms about the impact a high-rise building would have on their quality of life.
It’s a friction Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt has seen first-hand, as residents and developers clash over council approvals of increasing density coming to local streets.
Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt and architect Sam Klopper say good design is crucial to infill development. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
“Density is one of the biggest debates that we have,” Dr Pettitt told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth.
“There is a sense across Perth that people are afraid of higher buildings and urban density.”
But as Perth’s suburbs expand along the coast, meaning long commutes and social isolation for people on the fringe, state and local governments firmly support urban infill to house the city’s growing population.
Dr Pettitt said the solution was persuading the community of the benefits and ensuring new buildings were well designed.
“Density done well is actually really good for our community,” he said.
“There is more life on the streets, it enables better public transport, local cafes and shops have better businesses.”
Design WA guidelines allow flexibility
Perth architect Sam Klopper, who has designed a number of apartment buildings, said design guidelines that allowed flexibility to tailor a building to its surroundings created high-quality living space.
“Bad design leads to buildings where existing trees are just bowled over, opportunities for landscaping is ignored, car parking is expressed on the street, the building doesn’t engage with its community and it’s really just a way of getting a yield out of a site,” Mr Klopper said.
“[Good design] is about understanding that access to sunlight is important, ventilation is important — you can’t have apartments in the middle without access to ventilation.
“It’s about retention of trees and it’s about servicing — making sure bins are kept away from view.
“If we are going to do it, let’s make it beautiful. They don’t have to be awful, they can be unbelievably beautiful.”
A Sam Klopper design for North Perth apartments includes a cafe and rooftop terrace. (Supplied: Sam Klopper)
Both men say the Design WA guidelines issued by the State Government, which encouraged good design in new buildings, were an important step.
‘[Design WA] is really an answer to that question: What makes a great building?” Mr Klopper said.
“There’s a series of sections in the document which talk about height … access to natural light and deep soil zones, which are areas where you can plant trees in the future, and also tree retention.”
Trade-offs make buildings fit their surroundings
Most importantly, the guidelines also allow architects and developers to gain concessions from council in return for a design which favours its environment.
“There are some things that are non-negotiable that you have to achieve, but if you can retain a tree then you might be able to have a concession on a setback somewhere else or you might have an extra floor of the building if you set it back an extra two metres,” Mr Klopper said.
“It’s all about trying to prioritise outcomes and it means that the document can be used by different parts of the city differently.”
Design WA is now under review, which concerns Mr Klopper.
“There are innumerable approvals that are in place and buildings that under construction which have been approved in context of this document, so it’s a muddy road to be talking about how you would wind that back if these things are already existence,” he said.
Many listeners to ABC Radio Perth remained unconvinced that design could ameliorate the impact of high-density dwellings in the suburbs.
Alan: “We are moving to the south-west due to the rezoning in our area, Kingsley. We do not want to live near or next to units, high rise or high density. No thought for the long term residents.”
Ray: “Developers only care about making money, not what people need. There is no privacy when you have giant buildings looking over you.”
But apartment dwellers themselves, unsurprisingly, have a different view.
Alex: “I am completely over the reflexive snobbery and disgust towards apartments and the people who live in them in Perth. Living in an apartment has allowed me to buy into the housing market as a single person, in an area close to the city, close to friends, cafes, with a small mortgage. Yet I continually hear horror and disgust at the mere idea of apartments being in an area.”
Pamela: “We downsized 10 months ago to a brand new but barren villa unit. In less than six months we have changed the small courtyard to a green space and can’t wait for green walls to flourish when they have been there for a full range of seasons. Green space is vital for our wellbeing.”
Even if people don’t want to live in an apartment themselves, Mr Klopper said there were benefits for everyone in them being built.
“I think you’ve got to remember that every time you put up an apartment building with 10 apartments, that’s 5,000 square metres of native bush that isn’t denuded north and south of the city,” he said.
“They are also the affordable housing of the future, which may include your kids.
“I did a development for 10 apartments in an area where every house next to it was worth $950,000 — no kids are going to be able to buy in that area,” he said.
“If you want your kids to live in the same suburb as you, then you have to accept that infill is going to happen.”