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Suburban apartments and the ‘middle child’syndrome

Low rise apartments in suburban Melbourne are the overlooked ‘middle child’ in the urban housing family. With a character that is neither the typical suburban house nor the high rise apartment block, it is a housing typology that has struggled to find its own identity in Australian suburbia.

As middle children are prone to do, the suburban apartment block has developed a reputation for misbehaving and attention-seeking. This is hardly surprising given that we have created an unrealistic expectation that they fit within the same design guidelines as their townhouse siblings, and that they be largely unobtrusive within the suburban streetscape.

Achieving higher densities in suburban Melbourne requires a different design response to that used in the design of typical townhouse schemes. Broadly speaking there are tipping points on the residential density spectrum where different building features need to be introduced in order to realise greater dwelling yields. At these points, the design response in relation to building height, streetscape, open space, parking, building entries, etc. need to change in order to realise a ‘growth spurt’ in residential yields.As Melbourne grows, we think it will be necessary for the community to better understand and embrace the suburban apartment complex as a distinctive and essential part of our urban landscape.

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