Efficient floorplans make all the difference to the look and feel of a multi-residential building. They also impact on the profitability of a build, and have implications for both the environmental and social aspects of sustainability. But, what exactly makes a floorplan efficient? 

Often, common and euphemistic phrases like ‘well-orientated’, ‘access to natural light’, ‘passive solar’, and ‘a connection to the outside world’ will be used to describe such a floorplan. Additionally, maximising limited space and creating a space which is flexible, will almost certainly come into play.

According to an Australian Government guide on environmentally sustainable homes, “a layout is efficient if it allows functional furniture arrangements and good circulation between rooms while maintaining sound and visual privacy, natural daylight and ventilation.”

Director at EME Design, Luke Middleton suggests that “certain developers will consider efficiency relating to yield, which is how many apartments can we get on a floorplate.” 

“Whereas, I would say how many good spaces can we get onto a floorplate.”


Whether a small, medium or large scale multi-residential development, achieving these good spaces requires a thorough analysis of the project’s surroundings. 

“That means understanding what existing buildings or landscape is surrounding you and how that overshadows your particular site – and then building around these constraints, or taking the opportunity within them,” says Middleton.

For example, EME Design’s Artisan Apartments (an 8.6 star energy rated building with 13 dwellings) were primarily designed from an analysis of the sun, shading, wind and site line. A skewed plan for the project in Melbourne’s Heidelberg provides every apartment with north facing living.

Artisan Apartments by EME Design. Image: EME Design artisan_first-floor.jpg
First floor of the Artisan Apartments

This is also evident with Green Sheep Collective’s Alphington Townhouses (a collection of four townhouses) in Melbourne’s Alphington. 

Alphington Townhouses by Green Sheep Collective. Photography by Emma Cross

“The whole thing about planning something like [Alphington Townhouses] is considering the site conditions from the outset,” says Shae Parker McCashen, director at architecture firm Green Sheep Collective.

First floor of Alphington Townhouses

The sub-division of the land, and design of the townhouses, focused on the orientation of the block, to maximise north light to habitable rooms and private open space.


For larger scale multi-residential developments, an understanding of your surroundings helps determine where the core of the building is placed.

“The core is typically put in the worst spot – the spot that doesn’t get sun, the spot that doesn’t get views,” says Raymond Mah, associate director at DKO Architecture.

From here, the number of units and their layouts are then considered.

“[After locating a core and a corridor] we then work out the optimum amenity, width and depth of the apartment units,” says Jeremy Schluter, associate director at Elenberg Fraser. “We then populate those around the core and around the corridors.”

This was the case for Elenberg Fraser’s recently completed Eq. Tower in Melbourne. The 63-storey residential tower (with 633 apartments) changes shape as it rises to accommodate views.

Eq. Tower by Elenberg Fraser

“The lower levels have more built context around them, and have more crowded views from the apartments,” says Schluter. “We’ve angled the eye so the apartments have diagonal views across the site, so views are not directed directly into the building adjacent.”

“But when we get to the top levels, where there’s less building context around them, the views are more panoramic – so the building shape changes to respond to this.”

Eq. Tower by Elenberg Fraser

Additionally, for Eq. Tower’s façade curtain wall, an analysis of weather patterns, sunlight, views and apartment usage was undertaken to ensure no space was underutilised and natural light could be delivered to all living and bedroom spaces.


With limited space, it’s important to maximise the space available. 

One method of doing so, is with the inclusion of a verandah or balcony. These can help reduce internal floor area without loss of amenity or lifestyle in an apartment.

“The council regulations say you have to have a certain amount of floor space on a site,” says Oliver Steele, director at architecture and construction firm Steele Associates. “But the balconies are not included in the floor space ratio. So, a well-designed balcony can really increase the use of the living space without going over your floor space ratio.”

Furthermore, balconies can also increase natural daylighting and can funnel cooling breezes.

Another way of maximising space is by minimising circulation space. 

“It’s about ensuring circulation is not just a hallway. But perhaps it doubles as a storage alcove or a study alcove, or a storage display area – or it’s an opportunity to gain extra light and natural ventilation into the building,” says Green Sheep Collective’s McCashen.

“Everything should work really hard. Basically, the building punches above its weight.”

For instance, in the design of The Fern development by Steele Associates, no circulation space applies less than two functions. The project in Sydney’s Redfern (with 11 one-bedroom apartments) is currently under construction and will be Australia’s first Passive House multi-residential building. 

The Fern by Steele Associates 


Stemming from maximising available space, is ensuring flexibility in a floorplan. This allows spaces to be changed and adapted as required.

“We try to create floorplans that are somewhat flexible. People use spaces in different ways during their time in the building – as their lifestyle changes, kids move in and out of home,” says McCashen. “So, the house can actually adapt to those changes, and people aren’t forced to move out.”

This flexibility also allows occupiers to curate their own spaces and interiors – creating something unique, rather than generic.

“The trick is always about finding a real nice hardworking plan that’s functionally super practical – and for us, it’s about it not being static. Things can move and change,” says Domenic Alvaro, director at Woods Bagot.

For example, Woods Bagot’s Making 537 (a complex of 12 apartments) in Sydney’s Surry Hills will utilise a flexible layout allowing the occupier to curate their space as they wish. This includes a timber shelf that sits behind the bedhead which allows you to prop up your chosen artwork. The media space or study can also convert to guest accommodation when needed.

Making 537 by Woods Bagot 

According to Woods Bagot, Making 537 will be completed by the end of the year.

Flexibility is also apparent in the design of their 55-storey residential tower (with 314 residences) in Sydney’s Parramatta.

The apartments in 8 Phillip Street will incorporate high-quality joinery, track lighting and innovative windbreak balconies, all designed to provide residents with configurable outdoor living spaces. The project is due to be completed in 2020. 

8 Phillip Street by Woods Bagot 

Creating an efficient floorplan for a multi-residential development is not an easy task, but with limited space it’s important to maximise what you have. This can be achieved through an analysis of your surroundings – ensuring apartments are well orientated, and that spaces are designed to be flexible.