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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.

 

Before

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.

 

After

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.

 

Before

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.

 

After

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.

 

Before

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.

 

After

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

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