In May, Architecture & Design hosted an event in Melbourne called ‘Sustainability Connect: The Future of Sustainable Multi-density Design’. It gathered some of Victoria’s very best designers under one roof to discuss the major challenges associated with designing sustainable apartment buildings.

Among the challenges and trends that were addressed, there was one recurring theme that underpinned them all. It seemed that while all delegates supported the pursuit for improved multi-density outcomes on the metrics of environmental sustainability, there were concerns that the affordability and saleability of our future housing crop would suffer in the wake.

This is not to say that this is occurring everywhere in Australia, but delegates did provide concrete evidence of the additional costs associated with “greening” a building or making it more “liveable”. Finding the balance between affordability, sustainability and liveability in multi-residential design is a challenge that is only intensifying as Australia continues on its path towards urbanisation at the same time that it’s making efforts to become a low carbon economy.

Some delegates suggested that the best way to achieve this balance is a shakeup in the investor/developer model (more on page 53), while others suggested other alternatives, like making green and liveable more profitable.

However, there was common ground among delegates when it came to considering the role of the designer in achieving said balanced built outcomes. It was clear that the best way to deliver the sustainable, liveable and affordable housing needed for our future is through designer-led developments.

The feature from Liam Proberts on page 16 demonstrates a few ways architects can help provide efficient, sustainable and liveable apartment options for the city. Liam and his firm, Bureau Proberts have been experimenting with building materials in a bid to change the public’s perception of apartment living. After all, making apartments desirable to the public and occupants is key to facilitating sustainable urbanisation and curbing urban sprawl.

But if we’re to make real improvements to our built environment, change must also extend to the designer. Our features on prefabrication (page 9), structural insulated panels (page 44) and retrofitting (page 26) demonstrate new, highly efficient and sustainable ways to build, but they do involve major changes to design processes.

Something not always welcomed.

Developers, designers and the public all influence our built environment, but there’s a reason I put them in that order. This is because the designer is in the best position to balance the needs of all stakeholders and to create the liveable, sustainable, sellable and affordable housing for our future.