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The way we define a ‘garden’ has continued to evolve over time as we see a move away from spacious backyards to a more compact design. This forces us to find new ways to incorporate a garden setting into new dwellings such as apartments, large-scale developments and refurbishments with limitations on size & space.
However, with lifestyles continually evolving designers and policymakers are encouraging dwelling diversity and sustainable urban design. So what are some of the most popular trends we’re seeing in urban garden designs?
Vertical gardens were a concept first implemented as an innovative response for those with limited space, providing them with an opportunity to improve their amenity and incorporate plants into their private open space (POS), balcony and terrace areas.
It is no secret that dwelling diversity, affordability and sustainable urban development (SUD) are consistent themes that permeate through the Planning Policy Framework and Local Planning Policy Framework throughout Metropolitan Planning Schemes, however we do not see the requirement to consider dwelling diversity triggered under ResCode until a proposal contemplates 10 or more dwellings (of which diversity is typically reflected in the number of bedrooms and floor area of a development/dwelling). One of the current limitations is the absence in defining/acknowledging the term ‘vertical garden’ within the Planning Scheme and acknowledging it as a form of a garden when considering an urban development proposal against the Standards and Objectives of ResCode.
Trees within a dwelling
The retention and planting of canopy trees in considering and assessing property development continues to be a common theme flooding most neighbourhood character studies throughout metropolitan Melbourne. The requirement to retain and plant canopy trees within the front and rear yard of new dwellings provide a plethora of advantages to not only the dwelling’s amenity for current and future occupants, but to the streetscape through improving a leafy backdrop and contributing to the urban fabric of an area. However, what are the limitations to having canopy trees within a dwelling?
One of the more obvious limitations involved in providing a mature canopy tree within a dwelling is the financial burden inflicted onto the developer for providing tree sensitive construction methods to retain a mature tree within the building footprint. This issue flows onto then convincing the Responsible Authority that the health and structure of the tree will not be compromised during the construction phase and requires an innovative and open-minded mentality. Although improving internal amenity through solar penetration and the visual aesthetics of such design responses clearly benefit the occupants of the dwelling, the planting of trees within buildings also runs a high risk for future generations through structural instability of the foundations of the building.
From a planning perspective and as mentioned earlier, referring such an application to Council’s arborist for comments may result in an unwillingness to support such construction methods and design responses given the potential complications in political and community barriers and absence of such methods being utilised within suburban areas. They do look good though.
The concept of implementing green walls, roofs and facades across new and existing dwellings has been a developing trend across many buildings throughout urban cities, with studies revealing the benefits associated with green facades to include reducing urban heat island effect, insulation of buildings and reductions in the number of air pollutants.
Within Melbourne, we have typically witnessed this trend being applied to large-scale developments including apartment buildings and podium car parking structures, with the ‘Better Apartment Design Standards’ acknowledging and encouraging such concepts. Could we see this feature fill our suburban neighbourhoods on a smaller scale through townhouse developments?
Neighbourhood character should be the starting point for any residential development within suburban Melbourne, consideration of the existing and preferred elements that make up the immediate area is a requirement of all planning schemes within Victoria and ensure new development maintains the character of the streetscape. However, with the majority of neighbourhood character studies identifying ‘brick’, ‘timber’ and/or ‘render’ as the most common materials used for development, how would the responsible authority view a ‘green wall’ on character grounds? The number of applications being appealed at VCAT on neighbourhood character grounds appears to be a common theme across many townhouse development appeals at the Tribunal. This got me thinking, would the implementation of green facades across residential townhouse developments cause detrimental effects to the neighbourhood character of an area? Should such designs be supported by Responsible Authorities given the sustainable design response?
With the above-mentioned ideas and photos typically seen in higher density (inner city) developments or single dwelling developments, are we at a stage where we should be encouraging such innovative garden areas within suburban townhouse developments?
Written by Sam Palma.