BADS In Practice:
What do the new Victorian BADS planning controls mean for the design of apartment buildings?
The Victorian Better Apartment Design Standards (BADS) have now been officially introduced to planning schemes. New apartment developments (except those lodged before 13 April 2017) are now required to meet the requirements of the new Clause 58, or new apartment provisions in Clause 55.07 if they are in a residential zone and lower than five storeys. Notably, the Guidelines for Higher Density Residential Development remain in place, although new Apartment Design Guidelines are slated for May.
The new standards are largely focused on establishing minimum standards of internal amenity. But what are their other consequences for the design of apartment buildings? First, let’s look at the things that won’t change much.
The new provisions seek to ensure apartment developments are oriented to maximise solar access. In practice, most apartment developments already do this. Importantly, the new provisions are discretionary standards, so they can be balanced against other aspirations (such as an attractive view) in the design of a development.
There is also a provision that seeks to avoid unreasonable overshadowing of neighbours but, again, this is already common practice and, in the absence of a particular overshadowing standard, is unlikely to lead to a significant change.
Integrated Water and Stormwater Management
Similarly, the standard seeking rainwater collection merely reinforces current good practice.
Access and Parking
The new provisions seek to influence the number, width and location of vehicle accessways, and the location of car parking. However, these standards do not depart from current good practice, so will have limited impact on apartment building design.
The new provisions include building setback requirements. However, numeric requirements have been eschewed in favour of qualitative standards relating to character, daylight, privacy and outlook. Consequently, the setbacks of apartment developments will continue to be guided by other, unchanged provisions of the planning scheme.
Private Open Space
3-bedroom apartments are now required to have 12 sqm balconies and podium apartments are required to have 15 sqm balconies, up from 8 sqm, while the minimum dimension has increased from 1.6 m to 1.8-3 m depending on the apartment size and location.
The changes for 1- and 2-bedroom apartments are relatively modest and unlikely to have a significant effect. It has also been common for 3-bedroom apartments to have larger balconies, reflecting their higher price-point. And 15 sqm terraces will be relatively easily accommodated on podiums (although they may have to compete for room with communal open space—see below).
Habitable rooms are now required to have a window in an external wall. The provisions allow for ‘saddle-bag’ bedrooms with ‘snorkels’ provided the latter are at least 1.2 m wide and no longer than 1.5 times their width. Given the increased focus on internal daylight and natural ventilation over the last few years, this essentially represents what has already become standard practice.
The new provisions require at least 40% of apartments to have cross ventilation. This is easily achieved by corner apartments, so will not have a significant effect for small-moderate sized developments with up to ten apartments per floor. Developments with larger footprints may need to introduce substantial slots or cross-over apartments mid-way between vertical circulation cores to achieve this standard. However, such variations are not uncommon in larger developments.
So, the new standards discussed above won’t have much effect on the current practice of apartment building design. What about the others?
The new provisions include a requirement for deep soil and canopy trees, something that has often been missing from apartment developments, particularly in activity centres. However, they contain the following ‘get-out’ clause: “If the development cannot provide the deep soil areas and canopy trees specified in Table D2, an equivalent canopy cover should be achieved by providing either … (trees in planters, climbers on pergolas, green roofs or green facades)”.
It remains to be seen how this standard will be applied. Notably, the decision guidelines include the suitability of the proposed location for canopy trees. It is likely that in areas such as activity centres where ground level vegetation is not characteristic, on-structure vegetation will be considered acceptable. However, in residential areas the deep soil provision is likely to be applied. While most apartment buildings are sufficiently set back from side and rear boundaries to enable perimeter tree planting, it is often in planters sitting above basements. So this provision will reduce basement areas which may make the difference between a project being viable or otherwise on lots 20 m wide or less.
Communal Open Space
New developments of over 40 dwellings are now expected to provide landscaped and sunny communal open space. While it has been common for larger apartment developments to incorporate podium-top or roof-top communal open space, this new requirement would apply to moderately-sized developments (and, therefore, a much larger proportion of projects)—e.g. a 6-8 storey mixed-use development in an activity centre.
The likely location for communal open space in mid-sized developments is on the roof, which will easily accommodate the size (e.g. 100 sqm for a 40-apartment development). But rooftop terraces require high screens for wind protection and, ideally, structures for shade. In places with height restrictions that do not exclude structures associated with rooftop gardens, this will create tension between the desire to maximise the number of floors with that for a rooftop terrace. In addition, rooftop terraces will need to compete for space with services, including solar panels. Will the need to provide communal open space reduce the number of solar panels?
Building Entry and Circulation
The new provisions require visible, easily identifiable and sheltered entries—nothing that isn’t already good practice. However, they also require daylight and natural ventilation in corridors, which has not been typical of most apartment developments.
In a typical ‘double-loaded’ apartment configuration, this means extending at least one end of the corridor to an outer edge of the building. Apart from the intended internal amenity benefits, the implications of this include an additional element in the external presentation of the building—potentially creating a welcome break in its form—and longer corridors resulting in the loss of some accommodation floorspace.
Functional Layout (bedroom and living room sizes) and Accessibility
There are now minimum dimensions for bedrooms and living rooms (but not dining or kitchen areas). While some of these dimensions represent recent standard practice, others—such as the minimum ‘depth’ of 3.4 m for the main bedroom and 3.3 m for the width of a living area—are a little larger than has been common.
The new provisions also require 50% of apartments to be universally accessible. In essence, this will result in wider internal passageways and one larger bathroom.
In order to maintain the overall apartment size and therefore affordability, the functional layout and accessibility provisions are likely to mean reductions in the size of other parts of the apartment. This is likely to come at the cost of dining and kitchen areas.
One of the most significant new standards is that habitable rooms that only have windows in one wall (‘single aspect’ rooms) may not have a depth of more than 2.5 times their ceiling height (measured from the window). With the typical floor-to-floor dimension of 3 m and resulting ceiling height of approximately 2.6 m, this means a maximum depth of 6.5 m.
The provisions allow single-aspect open-plan living areas with the kitchen at the back to be up to 9 m deep provided the ceiling is at least 2.7 m high. This option will be enticing to developers because it allows a more efficient building depth of around 20 m. However, it is likely to increase floor-to-floor dimensions to approximately 3.1 m, increasing the height of buildings or potentially reducing the number of floors in areas with a height restriction.
Storage requirements have increased, and now include storage within the dwelling in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. The new requirements exceed the amount of storage that has typically been provided (both internally and in storage cages). In order to maintain the overall apartment size and therefore affordability, this is likely to mean reductions in the size of other parts of the apartment, particularly dining and kitchen areas. It may also result in more storage areas at the centre of podium levels, occupying floorspace that is distant from natural light and therefore not useable as part of an apartment.
So, while they will undoubtedly raise internal amenity standards, the introduction of the BADS may also result in the following unintended consequences:
- Fewer apartment developments on narrow-to-moderate width lots in residential areas
- Greater height as a result of higher floor-to-floor dimensions, and rooftop terrace screens and pergolas
- Less efficient buildings due to longer corridors and, potentially, fewer floors
- Smaller dining and kitchen areas
- Fewer rooftop solar panels
- The expression of internal passageways on the outside of buildings
- Storage areas in the middle of podium levels