Designing for Life: discussing the past, present and future of multi-res

Collectivity Talks – Designing for Life was a panel held as part of the Open House Melbourne July program. Featuring Karen Alcock, Principal of MAArchitects; Kerstin Thompson, Principal of Kerstin Thompson Architects; Kyle Reeve, Development Manager of ICON Developments and Mike McCormack, ​Co-D​irector of Milieu – the group of leading architects and developers came together to evaluate and explore architecture, design, urban planning and multi-residential development.

The role and definition of ‘good’ design and its place in our homes arose early in the conversation. Kerstin Thompson explained that “Your home needs to feel like a refuge of sorts, in the nicest possible way. That doesn’t mean it’s not also a place where you’re surrounded by other people and neighbours if you want them – but that you can come home and it’s restorative and it gives you everyday delight.”

Building on the idea that these intangible qualities are cultivated by our built environments, Karen Alcock quipped: “There [are] lots of things that will make [for] good design in apartments and they’re often the things you don’t see. Good architects make things look effortless, even though they’re bloody hard.”

Multi-residential developments were the focal point of the evening, a topic receiving ever-increasing publicity in light of demands placed on urban density by our increasing population. Developer Kyle Reeve of ICON Developments observed a shift in the market for multi-res developments, saying: “We’re now designing for occupants as opposed to owners.”

“I think it’s the natural growth and development of the market. [These are] people who are more educated [and] accepting apartment living as a longer-term option. They’re more discerning, having lived in apartments and they’re shopping around lots of projects,” he explained.

Melbourne developers like Milieu and ICON are integrating owner-buyers into the design stage. Mike McCormack shares that for Milieu’s Breese Street project, people were invited to complete a survey as part of their reservation of interest. “One thing that came out of it was that purchasers told us they would prefer hydronic heating and ceiling fans instead of AC. That’s now gone into the project,” he elaborated.

Involving people in the design and construction process empowers them as residents because they feel heard. “ESD was the number one thing that purchasers raised as a biggest concern in their apartments, so we incorporated a whole lot of these ESD requirements,” says Kyle of one project.

The importance of fostering community in multi-res developments was also highlighted throughout the discussion – and how design facilitates connections. “… [Designing] areas where people meet each other … We finished a project in Caulfield recently,” Kyle said. “We went back there 12 months later just to talk to a few residents and there [are] people who walk each other’s dogs in the morning. Simply because of the design.”

Noted Kerstin: “Every housing project has a civic opportunity and I think there is an imperative for us all to respond to that with good design. There [are] so many different types of developers now who understand the impact of legacy and part of that is making a good precinct, not just [a dwelling]. ”

In relation to what makes for a dynamic and multi-faceted multi-res project, Karen emphasised the importance of context. “You need to understand the city that you’re designing in. We’re not social engineers. A light touch, I think, is super important. Opportunities, rather than “do this”. A ledge that doesn’t matter if no one sits on it, but [you] create the opportunity for people to engage.”

Summarising the adventurous spirit of the evening, Karen suggested that through intelligent, informed and bold design we can achieve greater cities – and moreover, a greater Melbourne. “It’s about pushing and saying, ‘Well, we can do better’.”

The next Collectivity Talks event is on the theme of Ethical Cities and will be held on 27 July.

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