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    AIA comments on new design standards for Vic apartments

    Victoria has introduced the Better Apartments Design Standards with a view to improving the liveability and sustainability of apartments across the state. Implemented as part of the Victoria Planning Provisions and all other planning schemes last month, the new design standards were developed in consultation with community members, architects, planning and design practitioners, technical experts, the development industry, councils, and state government agencies.

    The Better Apartments project is a joint initiative of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA).

    A free education and training program was held for architects, council and private sector planning, building and design practitioners about the design and assessment of apartment developments in line with the state's new standards.

    The primary objective of the Better Apartments Design Standards is to develop new apartments as high-quality, liveable and sustainable spaces aligned with best-practice design guidelines. Apartments built today will need to meet the long-term needs of Victorian communities and ensure their future wellbeing.

    Prior to the implementation of the Better Apartments project, Victoria had provided only limited design guidance for apartment developments. Key issues impacting apartment amenity were identified based on public feedback and included access to adequate daylight, functional space and natural ventilation; minimisation of noise between apartments and from external sources; and improving the energy and resource efficiency performance of apartments and apartment buildings.

    In general, the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) supported the initiative to improve design outcomes and raise liveability standards in the state. However, the chapter expressed concerns that the new design standards did not include effective measures to ensure appropriate levels of consumer protection. In particular, the AIA pointed out that the new standards do not mandate the use of architects for apartment design, nor do they specify minimum apartment sizes.

    While appreciating several positive outcomes such as energy efficiency improvements and minimum room sizes, the chapter expressed concern about the lack of an overarching framework of design excellence. Maintaining that design quality is best achieved through shared responsibility across three crucial stages – mandating the involvement of an architect, design-based regulations, and good decision-making through use of design review panels – the chapter has requested a 12-month review of the Victorian design standards and of the associated assessment process.

    BETTER APARTMENTS DESIGN STANDARDS

    By providing a consistent framework for the design and assessment of apartment developments in Victoria, the apartment design standards aim to ensure desirable and affordable housing choices; safe and healthy living environments; enhanced liveability and sustainability; and a legacy of quality housing stock for future generations.

    Community concerns about the internal amenity of apartments have been addressed with the new design standards, which also allow for greater flexibility and innovation in apartment design.

    Summary of the standards

    Building setback: The mandatory setback of apartment buildings must provide for adequate daylight access, outlook and privacy to residents.

    Functional layout: The bedrooms and living areas must provide for adequate space and functional internal areas.

    Room depth: The room-depth-to-ceiling-height ratio of habitable rooms (such as living areas and bedrooms) must provide adequate daylight to apartments.

    Windows: Habitable rooms will have adequate daylight from a window in an external wall. Borrowed light from another room is not allowed.

    Storage: Apartments will have adequate internal and external storage space that is functional and accessible.

    Noise impacts: Apartment design will protect the health, amenity and comfort of residents from any adverse internal and external noise impacts.

    Energy efficiency: Apartment developments are required to be energy-efficient and designed to improve residents’ thermal comfort.

    Solar access to communal open space: Communal open space will be provided with sufficient sunlight to ensure usability and amenity.

    Natural ventilation: Effective cross-ventilation through windows, doors or other openings must provide natural airflow to apartments.

    Private open space: Usable, private outdoor space will be provided for the recreation and service needs of residents.

    Communal open space: Communal open space will be designed to accommodate a range of communal activities for the benefit of residents.

    Landscaping: An attractive and functional environment will be provided for residents, with appropriate landscaping consistent with the urban context and mitigating the heat effects of urban environments.

    Accessibility: Bathrooms, door openings and corridors will be accessible to people with limited mobility.

    Building entry and circulation: Entrances to buildings and apartments will provide safe, functional and efficient movement for residents and visitors.

    Waste and recycling: Effective recycling and waste management facilities will minimise impacts on residential amenity and public health.

    Integrated water and stormwater management: Apartment developments will optimise the use of all water sources, reduce pollution of waterways, minimise stormwater run-off and help mitigate the heat effects of urban environments.

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