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May 2019

Is it time for minimum density controls?

By Lukas Nott


The last few years have seen a clear shift by forward-thinking councils from minimum to maximum parking rates, in an effort to encourage travel mode shift away from the car. Just in March this year, Moreland City Council resolved to seek maximum parking rates in major activity centres and reduced rates in neighbourhood centres.

Is it time for a similar paradigm shift in relation to development density in the suburbs?

Every Melbourne metropolitan strategy since Melbourne 2030 has identified substantial urban consolidation as fundamental to accommodating housing growth in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way. The latest strategy, Plan Melbourne 2017-2040, seeks “at least 65 per cent of new housing in established urban areas … and no more than 35 per cent in growth areas …”. In other words, it is bipartisan policy to increase density, not only in the Central City and urban renewal areas, but also in the suburbs.

The problem is that our planning controls do not implement this policy. While Plan Melbourne seeks to “Deliver more housing close to jobs and public transport”, ResCode aims “To ensure that the design respects the existing neighbourhood character or contributes to a preferred neighbourhood character”. While State policy seeks to “increase the supply of housing in existing urban areas by facilitating increased housing yield in appropriate locations”, the NRZ provisions aim to “ensure that development respects the identified neighbourhood character”. And, guess what? The preferred neighbourhood character identified by local councils is essentially a continuation of the existing character.

Where density controls are used in established areas, they unfailingly seek to limit, not promote increased density. Only last year, the State opposition proposed bringing back a 2-dwelling density limit in the NRZ if they won government. In our growth areas, on the other hand—precisely where our metropolitan strategy seeks fewer dwellings—PSPs routinely include minimum dwelling densities. No wonder our sprawling metropolis is becoming ever more obese, as new homes are forced to the fringe.

It is time we gathered the courage to actively promote increased density in our suburbs, rather than being apologetic about it.

Increased density fosters more convenient and environmentally-efficient lifestyles by increasing the viability of local shops, services and public transport. More housing within a neighbourhood can ensure sufficient catchment for a local grocery store, doctor or kindergarten.

More local shops and services means people are more likely to walk or cycle. And more people walking equals safer streets and greater social cohesion. Increased density enables people to age in place, remaining part of the community they feel connected to, by providing more diverse housing options.

Finally, of course, increasing housing in established suburbs saves us millions of dollars on new physical and social infrastructure, instead utilising spare capacity in existing infrastructure.

So, if increased density makes our suburbs more liveable, environmentally sustainable, socially cohesive and cost effective, why aren’t we promoting it?

It might be said that developers already seek to push the limits and squeeze as many dwellings on a site as possible. But the primacy given to existing neighbourhood character in our planning system effectively places a cap on density increases, and third party rights incentivise the path of least resistance over the optimisation of density.

So how might minimum density controls work? Perhaps London’s Public Transport Accessibility Levels method, which directs density based on access to public transport, provides a useful guide.

Let’s look at an example. There is a small row of shops next to Patterson Station in Bentleigh. The 400 metre (5-minute walk) catchment around Patterson Station is almost entirely surrounded by NRZ land, where development is expected to respect the existing, predominantly single and double storey character. This is not because of heritage values—there is not a single property affected by the HO within 400 metre of the station. There are currently approximately 380 dwellings within this catchment.

Imagine if the zoning around Patterson Station was reconfigured based on public transport accessibility. Say, MUZ within 200m, and RGZ between 200m and 400m (with GRZ beyond). And suppose those zones incorporated minimum density requirements equating to 125dph within the MUZ, 75dph within the RGZ and 38dph within the GRZ. This would add 1,650 potential additional dwellings within a comfortable walk of Patterson Station.

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Roll this out across all of our suburban stations and activity centres, and we might just achieve our policy aspirations for urban consolidation, and deliver a more liveable, sustainable, inclusive, healthy and equitable city.

Is it time for minimum density controls?

Reimagining the suburbs

By Mark Sheppard


“Suburb: a place that isn’t city, isn’t country, and isn’t tolerable.” Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966

“Have you ever lived in the suburbs? It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life.”Ed Koch

Love ’em or hate ’em (and strong views are often heard either way), our suburbs are here to stay. They are where most of us live. They are also the source of our greatest urban planning and design challenges, and where the greatest opportunities exist to transform our cities for the better.

Yet, as illustrated by the quotes above, they have a vexed identity in popular culture and planning theory. Tarred as boring, ugly and unsustainable, suburbia is regularly cast in an unfavourable light.

Most urban commentators agree that the only sensible way to accommodate growth in our capital cities is by increasing density in the infrastructure-rich (but low-density) middle-ring suburbs. Research shows that development on the edge of Melbourne is creating a city of ‘haves and have-nots’, as the gap in income growth between the inner and middle suburbs and the fast-growing fringe widens[1]. Rather than spreading outwards, “Australian cities must shift towards high amenity, medium density, multi-polar metropolitan living supported by great public transport”, according to urbanist Professor Greg Clark[2]. In Breaking Point, former VPA CEO Peter Seamer asserts that we are on a path of increasing dysfunction and inequality that can only be addressed by ‘localising’ jobs and lifestyles in the suburbs.

Instead, however, we find ourselves pushing inner urban densities to breaking point and rezoning land on the distant fringe for 12 new suburbs, remote from public transport and where community infrastructure often lags far behind new housing[3]. All while most of our well-serviced suburbs remain a protected species zoned for low-density housing, favouring the haves (existing suburban homeowners), rather than the have-nots (those struggling to make ends meet).

Plan Melbourne, at least, directs 70% of Melbourne’s growth to established urban areas, in an attempt to limit urban sprawl. However, while we devote close attention to how our urban renewal and urban growth areas should be planned and designed, we give disproportionately little attention to how our established suburbs—the vast majority of Melbourne by area, population or jobs—should evolve. City shapers’ attention is drawn to sexy urban renewal and urban growth areas, while the suburbs languish in the too-hard basket.

Perhaps this is simply because it is hard. Greenfield and brownfield planning can be guided by widely-accepted theory and planning practice. Suburban change is much more constrained by existing conditions—highlighted by our obsession with neighbourhood character.

Or maybe it is because most Melburnians have an emotional investment in the suburbs. We can plan urban renewal and urban growth areas with an objective sense of idealism. But when it comes to the suburbs, our sound planning principles are clouded by fear that change will disrupt the lifestyle we have chosen.

Or is it simply that the suburbs are where the majority of voters live? At the policy level, planning is a political act. Irrespective of planning doctrine, our planning policies are driven more by a perception of ‘what the people want’ than good sense (as recently illustrated by NSW Labor’s announcement that they will scrap Sydney’s Medium Density Housing Code if elected in March). The suburbs have become a battleground between planning idealism, the property market and local politics.

Whatever the reason, it is beyond time that we removed the ‘cone of silence’ and had an objective discussion about what form our suburbs should take. As noted by Ross Elliot, “Cities policy needs to be redefined to include suburbs if it is to evolve and provide a more mature and equitable city-wide solution to enhancing people’s qualities of life.”[4]

This article is the first in a new series that seeks to redress this imbalance in our planning focus, by exploring the challenges and opportunities of suburban evolution. Future editions will investigate such topics as the merits of the polycentric form that our metropolitan strategies have sought since the early 2000s, whether we should decentralise jobs, what kind of transport system we need, where affordable housing can most easily be delivered, whether we need minimum densities, how we can foster independent and inclusive third places, and much more.

The aim of these articles is to promote debate. So please reply with comments!

This article was first published in Planning News, April 2019.

[1] and City Limits: Why Australia’s cities are broken and how we can fix them, Jane-Frances Kelly and Paul Donegan




March 2019

Expert Witnesses

View DLAs Expert Independence Policy here.

DLA welcomes Rob Milner

Rob Milner is a respected strategic and statutory planner and a recognised leader of the planning profession in Victoria. He has had a high profile career spanning more than 40 years with extended periods of experience working for local government and in private practice. His clients have included many State government agencies (including planning, community development, justice, roads, growth areas and regional development), municipalities throughout Victoria, as well as a broad range of corporate and other private sector interests. He has a reputation for integrity, objectivity, an original style of evidence and for providing clear and fearless advice to proponents and objectors; the responsible authority; claimants and government agencies. Particular expertise is in complex and controversial projects, gaming matters, acquisitions and restrictive covenants.

January 2019

DLA 2018 Yearbook

A copy of our yearbook can be downloaded here.

November 2018

Torre Reforma

The Torre Reforma office building in Mexico City recently won the 2018 International Highrise Award, an award presented every two years by Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) to the development that best exemplifies the criteria of sustainability, cost-effectiveness, functionality, future-oriented design, innovative building technology and integration into urban development schemes.

Figure 1 – Torre Reforma (Source:

This building has garnered much acclaim for the way it responds to its location, given it sits in a region at risk of earthquakes. The building has been designed as a triangular form with two of the three outer walls constructed of exposed concrete, each reaching 60 metres into the ground, to provide earthquake resistance. The building has also been designed with large openings or ‘crumple zones’ on these two exposed concrete outer walls. These ‘crumple zones’ combined with steel braces that carry each floor, merge to create flexible hinges in front of the buildings third glazed outer wall. In this way the building has been designed to move with the forces applied to it and in September 2017, this innovative design was tested by the Puebla earthquake.

Torre Reforma has not only been designed to sit within its regional context and to navigate the associated seismic activity, the award-winning building has also been elegantly designed to integrate within its immediate surrounds. The form of the building is a response to Mexico City’s building regulations, which require the height of buildings on Paseo de la Reforma to be no more than twice the width of the street. However, given the location of the site this regulation can be varied to allow for greater height if the building is tapered or recessed in line with a site line. As per the regulations, this site line is drawn on the opposite side of the Paseo de la Reforma from a height of 1.8m to the highest point of the building.

Figure 2 – Site line to Torre Reforma (Source:, with emphasis added)

In response, Torre Reforma has been sophisticatedly designed as a triangular form with an integrated sloped façade. The sloped façade ensures that there is no material change to the character of the area or any greater material affect to the public realm amenity, given the additional height of the building above 200m. Further, the building’s 2,800m2 siting compared to the total approximate floor area of 87,000m2, will avoid unacceptable impacts on the adjoining private and public realms.

The design of Torre Reforma ensures compliance with the aforementioned building regulation, while creating a composition that serves as a memorable beacon in long range views and which is already an iconic part of the city image of Mexico City. A worthy winner of the 2018 International Highrise Award.

October 2018

Market 2.0: It’s More than Just a Place to Get Your Groceries

By: Amy Ikhayanti

Melburnians love a good market, and we are spoiled for choices. There are over 40 markets in Melbourne that supply fresh produce, art and craft, as well as other specialty products. Some are farmers’ and produce markets, where you can get fresh yoghurt, jams, fruits and cheese, straight from the people who grow and process them. Others, like the Rose Street Artists’ Market, provide local designers’ products, ranging from jewellery, clothes, paintings to other urban paraphernalia. However, there are more and more markets that have become truly one-stop-shopping. For example, Queen Victoria Market, the oldest surviving market and arguably the most famous, is one of Melburnians’ favourite place to get quality fresh produce with an affordable price. It is also a popular place to get a good coffee and burek, while browsing the cheese and wine section. For one that has a huge appetite, a food festival that features cuisines from different parts of the world, is frequently held in the courtyard. That doesn’t mean that the market stays quiet on the weekdays. The winter night market invites people on Wednesday to feast and escape the chilly evenings. The market has repositioned itself in the minds of Melburnians. People go to Queen Victoria Market for the experience, not only out of necessity. It has become a destination, to hang out and have a good time.  

Figure 1: Queen Victoria Market’s Winter Night Market (

The evolution of Queen Victoria Market from, well, a market to a destination is not a single, isolated case. Another renowned example is South Melbourne Market. Similar to Queen Victoria Market, South Melbourne Market has a long history serving the local community in southern suburbs since 1867. In the recent years, South Melbourne Market has undergone an image revamp from a local centre of fresh produce and other necessities, to a place for window shopping, meeting friends and having your Saturday brunch. People tend to linger for longer, spend more time and potentially, money at the market. This phenomenon illustrates the financial benefit of placemaking approach, where an existing community asset is leveraged to create an attractive public place, as well as to promote a greater community belonging and identity.

Figure 2: South Melbourne Market (

Preston Market is another market in Melbourne that is catching up on the trend. The market has recently introduced ‘cultural days’, such as Big Fat Greek Day, Macedonian Day and Italian Day, to attract more visitors. Various food and specialty stalls, along with a band that plays music from the related culture, are present to satiate one’s appetite and entertain the whole family. In 2015, PAM (Preston Art Market) Lane, an art and design precinct, was launched to welcome fashion, homewares, arts and tasty treats to Preston. The new precinct is reminiscent of SO:ME Space at South Melbourne Market, which is also dedicated to design, fashion and creative products. Following South Melbourne Market’s footsteps, Preston Market is also planning a revamp. In its first stage, it will install sustainability features, such as solar panels, on-site waste treatment and recycling improvements; new kids play areas and landscaping; expanded PAM Lane; as well as parents rooms, public walkways and a new customer service. The increased level of comfort from improved amenities and facilities, is predicted to encourage visitors to prolong their stay and to increase their shopping activities.

Figure 3: Preston Market (

Apart from the three markets mentioned above, do you know any other markets that are also transforming? Let us know in the comments section below.

market, urban design, melbourne

Incentivising Social Housing, what are Victoria’s Options?

By: Sam Palma

Within recent years, the delivery and availability of social housing within Victoria has been an increasingly popular topic amongst State Government and industry stakeholders, as the trend in Melbourne’s property market demands further investigation into options to provide affordable and social housing to the marketplace.  The delivery of such housing products continues to be an on-going joust between both private and public parties in order to obtain ‘who should be responsible for supplying these products to the market?’.  

The public sector has recently committed to the ‘Public Housing Renewal Program’ which commits to the supply of 1,800 new dwellings. The Department of Health and Human Services has revealed these dwellings will be made available for social, private and affordable housing.  

Within the private sector, a concept that has gained traction and success overseas is the ‘build-to-rent’ system, an arrangement where apartment blocks are constructed and made available exclusively to the rental market. These apartments have the ability to be transferred to (or purchased by) housing authorities and leased below market value. This particular concept is currently being explored by Melbourne and Sydney developers, however at this stage requires further clarity towards government subsidies and tax system implications in order for this model to be deliverable to the market.

From a planning perspective, progression was achieved on 1 June 2018, as the Planning and Environment Act 1987 was amended to include the following definitions/changes:

  • Adding a new objective to the Act “to facilitate the provision of affordable housing in Victoria”.
  • Providing a definition of affordable housing – “affordable housing is housing, including social housing, that is appropriate for the housing needs of very low, low, and moderate-income households”.
  • Affirming the use of section 173 for voluntary affordable housing agreements “… a Responsible Authority may enter into an agreement with an owner of land for the development or provision of land in relation to affordable housing”.

Earlier this month, the State Government released the planning framework report for Fishermans Bend, which revealed height controls, dwelling density ratios, setback controls, amenity requirements etc. Of interest, was the implementation of ‘Social Housing uplift control’, allowing a density bonus to developers in exchange for the provision and supply of social housing. In the Fisherman’s Bend context, developers can apply for an additional eight private dwellings for every one social housing unit that is provied to a registered housing associated. Density bonuses have been used as a negotiating tool by local governments in recent years due to an absence of any defining policy outlining requirements to provide social housing.

Looking at this issue from a statutory planning perspective, how can provisions of a Planning Scheme facilitate a greater supply and delivery of social housing for both private and public sectors?

A method worth exploring is the removal of third-party appeal rights and public notice for social and affordable housing projects, essentially fast tracking the planning application through Council. In my opinion, I believe the waiver of third-party appeal rights and public notice for such housing products is warranted, not only from the perspective of reducing timeframes for assessment, but limiting the consideration to that of the Planning Scheme and reducing potential holding costs associated with land. The exemption for public notice would not be a foreign element to the Planning Scheme, as a number of Overlays (such as development plan overlay) and Particular Provisions exhibit similar waivers to advertising requirements. This would incentivise the supply for both the private and public sector and could sit within the Particular Provisions of Victorian Planning Schemes.

  • Do you think the removal of third-party appeal rights and public notice for social and affordable housing projects is warranted?
  • Will this result in an increase to the supply of social housing with Victoria?

planning, social housing, urban pl, urban planning, melbourne, planning scheme, affordability

2017 PIA Symposium - Walking Tour

Mark Sheppard conducted a walking tour of Mebourne's Docklands to analyse and discuss architecture, urban design and public spaces as part of PIA's 2017 Planning Symposium.

planning, urban design, melbourne, docklands, pia, walkability, open space, interfaces

PIA Symposim - Docklands Walking Tour

DLA's Mark Sheppard conducted a walking tour of Melbourne's Docklands to analyse and discuss density and building types as part of PIA's 2018 Planning Symposium.  

planning, urban design, melbourne, density, high density, architecture

Residential Aged Care Facilities – The VPP’s steps forward in 2018

Work is currently underway to reform the classification and assessment of Residential Aged Care Facilities (“RACFS”) within the Victorian Planning Provisions. In July 2016, the Managing Residential Development Advisory Committee – Residential Zones Review identified the need for residential zones to provide greater support and flexibility with notable recommendations, in addition to high level objectives, the Committee concluded 

• The maximum building height controls in the current suite of residential zones do not support State planning policy support for facilitating RACF development.
 • RACFs should be excluded from mandatory maximum building height requirements and some ResCode requirements

Synthesis of the above-mentioned has resulted in the exhibited Clause 52.X draft Residential Aged Care Facility. The proposed provisions have recently been exhibited with key refinements including; confining ResCode tests to internal/offsite amenity impacts, and built form siting, in addition to the ability to grant a permit to vary (under Clause  2.XX-4) the requirements of Clause 52.XX-3 (or the abovementioned). Small steps but steps nevertheless. 

I applaud the Ministers intent and the Departments move to reform but as with all bystanders I have the luxury to ask, “will this go far enough”. For comparison I turn to our NSW counterparts. Specifically, the differentiation between the differing types of seniors housing provision and subsequent methods of assessment under Chapter 2 and 3 of the State Environment Planning Policy (Housing for Seniors or people with a Disability) 2004. In terms of regulatory frameworks and specificity in detailing the differences in classifying seniors living models within the planning scheme, our NSW counterparts are “miles ahead”. 

Unlike NSW, within Victoria RACF’s, Retirement Living, Independent Living Units, high, low or transitional care facilities are not clearly distinguished within the VPP’s. Whilst Clause 74 provides broad land use definitions – certainty cannot be derived from clear definition and differentiation of senior living models. It follows that I believe the existing VPP’s (and reforms) do not go far enough to reflect the transition in the seniors living or lifestyle industry that are on foot or reflect the certainty required by service providers to compete within the land acquisition market place.  

Ageing is no longer about seeing out the twilight years in medium to high care facilities. My parents are baby boomers, healthier than any other generation of a similar age before them. They are cashed up (literally or figuratively with assets) and are approaching their later years of life with zest for activity, community and family. They have done their part in paying for their kid’s education, their taxes, and have been the first generation to have dual income households. We should acknowledge a) that they (and us) are ageing with differing expectations, and b) our existing ageing in place is little more than objective within a policy statement rather than a real, deliverable target.

How is this relevant to planning? Well, it starts from the top down and is two-fold. 

RACF’s is but one form of aged care. Within the current definitions of the VPPS, RACF’s does not account for the different types of aged care, whether it be independent living, low care with in home care, or lifestyle models (which require minimal care but access to care services such as basic GP, mental health, pharmaceuticals etc etc.) 

Aside from a differentiating and defining each of the models within a planning definition to land use, incentives need to be provided to service providers to create certainty – currently the assessment of built form for RACFs falls back to ResCode, with no exemptions, and importantly, no incentives for service provision. That is, the same market forces (“magic hand”) which are pushing first home buyers to the fringe, are also intervening in the service provision for much needed facilities, i.e. redevelopment sites potentially suitable for seniors living models are losing out to the apartment development/standard residential redevelopment market. We as an industry (and indeed a society) need to decide if we are going to introduce an artificial market force via public policy intervention to redirect or incentivise a much-needed adjustment. 
Incentive must be provided to seniors living/lifestyle providers in terms of built form, and land use exemptions. On this basis, certainty is given to service providers to compete within the “standard” residential (or indeed commercial market depending on location and land use mix) market place for land acquisition. The market will adjust. 

For example, a height exemption of X storey’s above the 13.5 max under a GRZ would arm providers (and indeed developers acting for service providers) to invest in well located, well serviced inner urban or middle ring sites where yield and model can be accurately and confidently forecasted, and as such, risks in acquisition can be balanced. 

We should aim to provide our seniors living – not on the fringe away from the communities that the residents have helped build, but in and amongst their networks, communities and families. If indeed the new model for seniors living is one of inclusion by good urban design and well considered urban planning then we as an industry have the responsibility to provide a regulatory framework which provides development incentive, and importantly, confidence for service providers to purchase desirable urban sites - let them “stretch their legs” and put to market vertical seniors living models, co-locate seniors living with childcare and medical facilities, or higher education or retail land use mixes – capture the imagination and preference of a post 2000’s ageing.  

I see this as a relatively simple fix. Being 65 in 2018 is different to being 65 in 1965. Expectations, disposable income and wealth, family commitments and preference are generations apart, figuratively and literally. I say bravo to the first step of reform however recommend we look further North for a case study of “better” practice. 


  1. There is strong planning policy support at a State level to facilitate RACF development and to enable ‘ageing in place’.  A working group, with representatives from industry, peak bodies, councils and state government, has been established to provide advice in developing new RACF planning controls to ensure their timely and cost-effective delivery.
  2. Try obtaining an approval for an intergenerational home in Metropolitan Melbourne and a proposal with more than one kitchen or separate entry point is treated by planning departments as a hideout for a dictator.

planning, melbourne, housing, aged care

Does Melbourne need an Urban Planning Centre?

Earlier this year an episode of ABC 7:30 Report posed the question, “Is Australia is prepared for the predicted population growth?” which raises important considerations about ensuring that the community is informed about what ‘planning’ is occurring to prepare for the future.

A Melbourne Planning Information Centre, like the one in Shanghai, would be beneficial in keeping the community and visitors up to date and informed about the existing and future planning for Melbourne, Victoria and possibly even Australia.

I visited the purpose-built Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall during the 2017 VEPLA China Study Tour which was informative and engaging. Not only does the Exhibition Hall included a range of interactive exhibitions for all ages about Shanghai and China in relation to population, infrastructure, transportation etc from the past, to now and into the future, it also displays an impressive large 3D model of the Centre of Shanghai.

This facility is visited by locals, tourists, dignitaries and there are other cities in China and around the world that have centres like this one, such as:  

Ho Chi Minh


Recently, Melbourne had a brief ‘planning’ City DNA Exhibition during May 2018 as part of Knowledge Week. This concept could be further developed to become a permanent Melbourne/ Victorian Urban Planning exhibition. This information resource could become a place where all people can visit to understand and access planning for the future, in order to understand and be prepared for the future. It could also be a place for changemakers to table proposed changes to the urban environment.

By Susan Mitchell

melbourne, melbourne planning, planning excellence, community, compact cities

What is the future of Urban Design in Melbourne?

This week we asked the DLA team to think about what the future of Urban Design in Melbourne will look like. Here’s what they had to say!


As you can see Imaginations ran wild, but we all agreed that Melbourne will be ‘taller, more integrated and more prominent’.


Now, it’s our turn. What do you think is the future of Urban Design in Melbourne look like?

By Amy Ikhayanti

melbourne, urban design, future, town planning melbourne, compact cities

September 2018

Servicing Cabinets: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Servicing cabinets, cupboards or enclosures are a necessary requirement for buildings – where functionality is the priority in design and siting. Cabinets need direct street accessibility for emergency services & utility providers which can result in detrimental impact on streetscapes. Planners and designers are set with the task of finding the balance between functionality and form – all the while contributing to the public realm and character of the area. Clause 56.09 provides broad policy guidance, however, it is the building regulations that hold the most useful guidance for planners and designers to consider through the design process.


The policy context for servicing cabinets stems from AS2419.1-2005 ‘Fire hydrant installations’ that contains siting and design requirements that should be incorporated in the design stage. Locational criteria for a hydrant booster includes the following:

(a) They are readily accessible to firefighters.

(b) They are operable by fire brigade pumping appliances located within 8m.

(c) If within, or affixed to, the external wall of the building, the booster shall be—

(i) within sight of the main entrance to the building; and

(ii) separated from the building by a construction with a fire resistance rating of not less than FRL 90/90/90 for a distance of not less than 2 m each side of and 3 m above the upper hose connections in the booster assembly


Other design criteria include:

Cabinets, enclosures or recesses must be:

(a) of sufficient size to house all equipment;

(b) be of a design that facilitates access to and handling of equipment;

(c) have any doors fitted so that when open they do not encroach on exits or inhibit access to firefighting equipment;

(d) be used to contain firefighting pipework and equipment only; and

(e) if external, be of weatherproof design and fitted with hinges of stainless steel or copper alloy.

The MFB also has a ‘Feed Hydrant and Booster Assemblies’ guideline that sets out additional criteria including surrounding surface treatment, 2m vegetation buffers and signage requirements.

What the Australian Standard concludes is that whilst the location is to be designed for accessibility and protection of our fireys, there is flexibility for sitting, size and design and an opportunity to explore the creative use of the surrounding context and features of a building façade for cabinet integration.

Useful techniques to be considered in the planning and design process include:

Dark recessive colour options
Cabinet orientation
Fusion with landscaping
Integrating into street walls or front fences
Human scale height (as applicable)
Working with the existing context
Incorporation of art

Below are examples of how these techniques can be applied to cabinets in the planning and design process to improve the interface with the street and design integrity.



In this circumstance, the servicing cabinets account for approximately half of the front façade. The light colour draws the eye. The above signage panel that uses the same beige colour creates the illusion the cupboards are higher than human scale and therefore overwhelming the street.



This cupboard would benefit from a recessive colour palette that is distinct from the sign. The frontage would also benefit from a reduction in the expanse of the cupboard by breaking up the mass by swapping its central location with entry points, as appropriate.



This example illustrates an exposed servicing cabinet that has not been integrated into the building design. The position of this cabinet creates a barrier between the outdoor dining area of a ground floor café and the public realm, resulting in an unclear edge between the public and private realm.



Ideally, consideration early in the design process would ensure for visual integration whilst remaining functional and accessible. In this example, the cabinet would benefit from a recessive colour and adjustment in height by removing the legs to maintain consistency in height with the fence behind it. This would provide a better public and private realm relationship and improved street surveillance.



This example demonstrates servicing cabinets in a constrained space. Whilst the cabinets have been designed to integrate with the building, the cabinets draw the eye due to white trimmings and is dominant in relation to the abutting Victorian dwelling.



Subtle design changes, including removing white colour edges and introducing vertical vents to reflect neighbouring fences will reduce the impact from the street. Additional strategies such as repositioning the cabinet away from the sensitive interface would enhance the façade.


From the above, it can be concluded that whilst cabinet functionality is most important, the form can complement functionality if considered from the start of the design process. By using a set of design techniques and creative thinking, cabinets can contribute positively to streetscapes and improve pedestrian amenity.


By Jane Witham

planning, melbourne, urban design

Open House Melbourne 2018

Since 2008, Open House Melbourne (OHM) has been facilitating visits to museums, town halls, heritage buildings, apartment towers and many more, during the eponymous weekend.

Every year, more than a hundred buildings are open to the public, including the ones which access is usually restricted. In this category, we can find private houses with unique architectural features, residential apartments, sub-station, museums and other heritage buildings with limited opening times. Most of the events are run in collaboration with relevant Councils, organisations and building owners; and, facilitated with the help of volunteers.

Open House 2018 marks my second time volunteering for the weekend. As an architecture graduate, I confess my motivation is mainly fueled by the habit of observing every nook and cranny of a building. So I thought, why not be a part of it, instead of just being a visitor. So I registered my interest online and started my journey as a volunteer.

I do like being a part of Open House Melbourne. As a volunteer, you get to mingle with other architecture enthusiasts, earn a VIP access (for buildings that require no online registration), you receive an OHM’s tote bag with the latest building program and guide and have the chance to get acquainted with your building’s management/volunteer team.

Pictured: Open House Melbourne 2018’s building program

The work for the OHM weekend starts way before the weekend itself. The volunteers are asked to attend a briefing (optional for volunteers of three years or more) two weeks before the D-day. Topics such as do’s and don’ts, emergency contact, health and safety guidelines are explained, followed by Q&A session. Afterwards, volunteers are left with study time at home, e.g. reading through the volunteer handbook, health and safety handbook and others.

Each person can volunteer for a morning or afternoon shift, on Saturday or Sunday. For the past two years, I’ve always chosen to do Saturday morning shift. Firstly, I was stationed at Bluestone Cottage Museum, a former Pentridge Prison warden’s house now turned into a museum (Coburg, City of Moreland).

Pictured: Bluestone Cottage Museum


Then I was at Melbourne Observatory in the Royal Botanic Gardens. I didn’t even know about those places before OHM. I definitely felt delighted when I discovered that both places are packed full of interesting history and stories.

Pictured: Melbourne Observatory

At busy spots, time and resource management skill do prove to be very crucial. Faced with many expecting visitors and probably long queue, the volunteers (ranging from two to three persons on each building) may have to multi-task registering the visitors, counting the number of visitors, answering queries, managing the queue and more. Hence, solid early preparation is key to having a smooth operation and ensuring all visitors needs and queries are answered.

This year, I also visited Melbourne Observatory, Government House and Council House 2 (CH2). Even though I usually gravitate towards older, more historical buildings, Council House 2 definitely was the highlight of my weekend. Its sustainability features, including a fresh air system and circulation, heat retention building materials and computer-controlled temperature management, really appealed to me. Sick building syndrome is long well-known, and full-time workers tend to spend more in the office than in any other places. Yet, it seems that creations of high-quality office with considerations of health factors are quite limited in the market. CH2 provides a good example in building technology and financial gain from occupying a sustainable office space.

Pictured: Council House 2

While waiting for the next Open House weekend, there are always programs to follow from OHM website. Talks, tours and movies are on the list.

Otherwise, look forward to Open House Bendigo at the end of October.

Written by Amy Ikhayanti 

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