The pressures on landscape in redevelopment

With increased urbanisation (sites being converted from houses to apartment buildings) is it possible to retain existing landscape areas? What are the pressures in retaining, or providing new landscape areas? And, what are the benefits?


So, what are the pressures?

One of the greatest pressure exerted on landscape areas in the redevelopment of sites for apartment buildings, is car-parking. Carparks have an organisational logic that is quite independent of the buildings that sit over them. Aiming to maximise the organisational efficiency of these structures, and minimising their cost by reducing excavation, carparking arrangements are optimal at multiples of about 18 metres. On a site that may be little more than 18 metres wide or deep, there may potentially be no room for landscape.

Many Councils specify deep soil requirements, (a proportion of the site that can sustain the growth of large trees in ground) but these quantitative requirements don’t often nominate the location. In many cases these provisions when combined with basement setback requirements are designed to screen the proposed building rather than allow for the genuine integration or retention of landscape area for the benefit of the future occupants. The perceived impacts on existing neighbours seems to bear greater weight in Council’s mind than that of the future occupants of apartment buildings despite the number of future occupants often outnumbering the few residences before they too are redeveloped.

Another significant issue which indirectly tends to squeeze out landscape area is the public’s general obsession with building height, and the way that this obsession influences Council’s controls and development approval process. Most Councils have Floor Space controls which are expressed as a ratio of the building’s internal area to the site’s area. It may come as a surprise – even to some architects – that it is difficult on a small to medium sized development site to get any significant landscape with a building height capped at 4 storeys with a maximum permissible floor space ratio of 2:1. At 5 storeys or more there is a significant difference that facilitates smaller building footprints and much better integration of real landscape (big trees and communal garden areas). The impact of the building is offset by a genuine landscaped setting, effectively ameliorating its visual impact despite its height. Yet, many Councils, apparently acting in the best interests of their constituents would prefer a [fatter] lower building that provides less landscape area and imposes reduced residential amenity (sunlight, daylight, ventilation, access to a garden) upon the future occupants of the proposed building.

So, what’s our approach?

By way of demonstration, our Yagoona Apartments incorporates a generous landscaped communal garden at the sunny north eastern corner of the site. All residents of the building benefit from the landscape’s presence, not only as a place for casual recreation, but outlook. Several ground floor units were provided with their own private gardens.

The floor space ratio is 2:1 with a range of building heights between 4 and 6 storeys. However, the disposition of buildings on the site took into account not only the amenity of the intended occupants, but also of an isolated site to the site’s south and bigger planned development to the site’s north providing setbacks to these areas that were well in excess of Council’s minimum requirements in order to preserve their (future) amenity as well as our own.

Furthermore, we negotiated with Council to reduce the parking numbers on the basis of proximity to the local railway station. The few additional spaces required to satisfy Council’s numeric requirements would have necessitated a second basement level or a substantial reduction in the area of potential landscape. The reduction in parking numbers came at no loss or expense to anyone, but retention of the deep soil landscape area was a win for the future occupants, and reducing the originally assumed 2 storey basement was a gain to the developer who was able to reduce the overall building cost by minimising the excavation.

At our Lane Cove Apartments, a significant portion of the existing landscape, including several mature trees was retained to the northeastern corner of the site. The project is currently under construction, but the retention and integration of existing landscape provides a mature setting for a building which will not need to stand bare for several years while it’s setting matures. While our vision for the landscape was grander than Council was prepared to accept (due to controls which effectively increased the building footprint) the new occupants will nevertheless be gratified by the mature landscape’s presence, as will the neighbouring residents (existing and future).

We, like the other members of our profession are obligated to work within the parameters set by individual Councils. But, we are aware of the contribution that landscape can provide in the redevelopment of sites, for housing. Given the opportunity; of a Pre-DA meeting, or broader discussion with Council, we can demonstrate the implications of compliance with Council’s controls. And, If a better option is available and Council are open to the possibility of a delivering a better outcome, we will drive the proposal towards that possibility; for our client, for the future occupants of our buildings and for the benefit of the existing and future neighbours of our projects.