We went to visit the Lane Cove Apartments late last week, which you will observe from the photographs, are currently under construction. All the external walls are up and they’re currently constructing the roof, which should be completed in the next two to three weeks. It can be a little scary arriving on site to see a massive building at this stage of construction, with the surrounding scaffold making it appear far bulkier than when completed.
It’s not at a particularly photogenic or descriptive stage, all the scaffold obscures views in and out, and finishes and fit outs are yet to commence. So there’s not a lot of interesting pictures to show, but during our visit our client and builder regaled us with an informative story of a potential buyer. The story highlighted a couple of issues for us: one is that of the the consequences of code compliance required in the design and construction of buildings and the second are the implications and considerations in the approach to and design of a building’s appearance.
The potential buyer arrived on site with her “architect” who was there in an advisory role. After taking a look around site the potential buyer advised our client that his architects mustn’t be very good, as they (we) hadn’t designed the windows to go down to the floor. Our client’s advice was that perhaps she should ask her architect about spandrel separation which, if her architect was any good he should know about.
Whilst our clients possibly missed out on a potential sale, I think they were more amused than concerned. It also highlight to us that many people don’t understand how buildings are shaped by the building codes, both in terms of how they look and how they perform.
Windows perfectly illustration the issue of how the the Building Code of Australia (BCA) can influence the appearance and performance of a building. The BCA has quite strict rules for fire, which require all apartments to be separated by a fire resistant construction. Without getting overly technical, apartments that are stacked need separation between their windrows externally, either vertically (a piece of wall between windows – spandrel) or horizontally (with a horizontal plane such as concrete balcony). There are alternatives, sprinkler systems, expensive fire rated windows and others, but typically they are an expensive option and additional cost that cannot be justified in this location or market. In the case of these apartments we have designed windows that do go to the floor where we have balconies to protect the vertically adjacent openings, otherwise as the potential buyer noted the windows have sills above the floor. There are of course other building code requirements that effect windows, such as heat loss, sun protection and so on, all of which informed the final decision as to how the window openings were designed, but I won’t bore you with more codes.
We made the decision that rather than a series of smaller more vertical openings disrupting the expansive views, the windows should be large horizontal openings framing the view and in keeping with with the strong horizontal character of the building. Our visit to site confirmed this decision, it is quite delightful to stand in the apartments looking out to the horizontally framed view with Burns Bay in the foreground, as well as the dense leafy canopies of mature eucalypts, with the horizon and a blue sky beyond. To be fair, you would see more of the view if the windows went to the floor, it’d be nice, but you would also reduce privacy for the residents and I’m not sure that that would be such a good thing. No offence intended, but views in are as much a consideration as views out. If the resident requires curtains to maintain their privacy they will never be able to enjoy the view out. I’m not sure that people give this as much consideration as they should.
As always it’s a juggle to balance the interests of the resident, compliance with the codes as well as cost construction issues. This one we think we got just about right. So are we bad designers? You be the judge!