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The evolution of low rise apartment design in Melbourne

The design and layout of suburban apartments has changed significantly over the past 100 years.

Pre-war apartments were characterised by ornate exterior brickwork, complex interior layouts and joinery. They had generous front gardens, limited off street parking, separate front/rear entries, foyers, kitchens and internal laundries. They were essentially small houses in an apartment format.

Post war ‘six packs’ were pared back with cheaper materials, minimalist facades, and simpler internal designs. Undercroft carparking was ubiquitous, and driveways replaced gardens. The buildings became three storey ‘shoeboxes’ running along boundaries. Interiors remained relatively generous in size, with separate entry foyers and kitchens commonplace.

In recent decades, apartment design codes no longer allowed the ‘six pack’ on a suburban lot and only larger or consolidated sites could support low rise apartment projects. As a result, apartment projects are much larger than in previous decades – basement parking is common and increasing land and construction cost has meant that site coverage and yields have substantially increased.

The floor areas of suburban apartments have remained relatively consistent over time, and they are usually larger their inner city high rise equivalent. Whilst pre-war apartments command a price premium, a solidly constructed, generously sized 1960s ‘ugly duckling’ flat can be purchased for a similar price to its contemporary equivalent.

The question of which of these choices offers the better living or investment option remains open to debate.

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