Design WA has released the proposed apartment design guidelines, which will have a direct impact on building designers and architects in Perth. The guidelines set out minimum standards and a list of design objectives for apartment designs in WA. Below, SPH explains how the guidelines work and assess the positives and negatives.
How the guidelines work
Firstly, Design WA establish a number of design minimum standards known as ‘primary principals’ that are the backbone to the guidelines. Due to the vast variety of different site conditions that can impact design, these standards are not rigid, and are no longer “one size fits all”.
In addition to the primary principals, the guide provides a list of design objectives and architects and building designers are required to demonstrate how their designs achieve these objectives, which are divided into two groups: ‘siting the building’ and ‘designing the building’. Although some of these objectives are defined as minimum standards, others are far more open to interpretation.
The architect or designer must demonstrate that they have considered these objectives, regardless of whether they are minimum standards or subjective. If the objectives cannot be met, then they must display alternative solutions that will achieve the design criteria. Any design that goes against these objectives needs special approval. The approval process involves a number of documents that the architect or designer must submit and as many as three design reviews are proposed. This will reduce wasteful design work by eliminating poor concepts early and speeding up the approval process.
SPH are optimistic about the flexibility of the new guidelines, as it means sites are no longer rendered undevelopable because of their characteristics. In addition, the guidelines are consistent across all local councils, which will reduce inconstancy across a range of councils.
In terms of the layout of buildings, SPH commends the increased plot ratio, maximum allowable height, minimum apartment sizes and increased ceiling heights. Overall, these features of the guidelines are increasing the design standards of apartments in WA. This is crucial as apartments are an increasing percentage of Perth’s housing stock.
Several objectives will not be achievable on all sites and subjectivity leaves the door open for poor design. Also, some of the objectives are somewhat arbitrary. For example, the building depth makes no provision for Perth architects to justify the depth of an apartment based on light modeling.
SPH are not convinced as to whether these guidelines will lead to an apartment design that councils will approve, as several objectives conflict. For example, building heights that should consider the height of adjacent buildings are unlikely to change.
Despite a handful of negatives, SPH are advocates for improvements in apartment design and believe that Design WA’s new guidelines sets a clear benchmark for this. While recognising that the guidelines require further review, SPH believes the guidelines are a welcomed improvement.
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