Mid-sized architecture firm Urban Link is a major stakeholder in the booming residential development market in Burwood, an inner west suburb of Sydney.
Following the land re-zoning in Burwood in 2012, which sent land values skyrocketing, several developers quickly moved to cash in on the boom in the residential property segment. New data released by the NSW Valuer General indicates that the value of residential land in Burwood rose by 37.5 per cent in just 12 months to July 2016, the largest increase anywhere in the state.
There are visible signs of this property boom across the suburb including near the Burwood train station, where a number of skyscrapers are being built with most of the new developments below the $20 million council approval threshold.
One local firm, however, stands out in this crowded development market for having designed over 40 per cent of Burwood’s significant residential projects. According to a Fairfax Media analysis of Burwood Council's development approvals data, the firm, Urban Link has a significant portfolio of apartment blocks, units, boarding houses and townhouses approved in the two years to December 2016.
Employing about 30 architects and designers, Urban Link has designed more than 20 recently approved buildings, amounting to over $140 million of development. Most of these buildings have six to nine storeys, offering both offices and apartments.
Urban Link's managing director, Tony Jreige said their ‘local firm’ status as well as familiarity with the council's planning controls and processes has helped them get a significant share of new projects from developers in the Burwood area.
On the opportunity to shape the look of the Burwood area, Mr Jreige explained that they avoided repetitious and boring design by allocating projects to different designers.
The Burwood Council has contracted independent companies to provide design guidance on new developments in a bid to impose quality controls on developers. Expressing his concerns about design in the current rapid development scenario, Burwood mayor John Faker said that the rule-based planning law in Sydney was pretty much governed by floor space ratios and height considerations, and not by design.
Good design has, however, been prioritised by NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes in the draft measures proposed in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
Shaun Carter, NSW President of the Australian Institute of Architects, said the measure would provide councils with a stronger legal basis to challenge developers to produce better designs. He added that councils needed to encourage developers to use a multitude of designers and architecture firms.
Image: A site in Burwood where three residential towers will be built. Photo: Wolter Peeters