High density happiness with Neometro's James Tutton and Jeff Provan

It's not easy trying to implement the ideals of a ground-breaking research project into an upcoming apartment development, but that's what St Kilda-based property developer Neometro have endeavoured to achieve with their upcoming project at Jewell Station.

The report in question is Increasing density in Australia: maximising the health benefits and minimising harm, a 2012 evidence-based report commissioned by National Heart Foundation of Australia. Neometro prior to the commencement of Jewell Station became aware of the report which investigated the health impacts of medium-high density living.

The investigation revealed many truths about the flow-on effects of increased density in Australian housing. Some of which Neometro explains provides great opportunities for the wider property development industry to further enhance the product they offer for sale. The report found that higher-density housing, when carefully considered, has the potential to improve the physical and mental health of residents, with great flow-on benefits to the community and the environment.

Urban Melbourne recently spoke with Neometro's Design Director Jeff Provan and Director James Tutton on some of the potential for design to have a positive influence on the well being of those who reside in their projects, particularly in relation to the Jewell Station project.

Neometro's Design Director Jeff Provan and Director James Tutton.

Urban Melbourne: How have Neometro endeavoured to implement the ideals from the study?

James Tutton: The largest elements from the National Heart Foundation study which are pertinent to Jewel Station specifically, relate to the fact that clearly having community infrastructure has a positive impact on the physical and emotional well being of people. The community infrastructure however needs to be something that people can either opt into or opt out of.

What we have done at Jewel Station is not create a situation where people have to share laundries or are forced into that co-habitation, but rather they can choose to use community gardens, they can choose to use outdoor leisure spaces etc. and that has a major impact on people's well being.

Another simple, practical example is lighting and if you look at what we're doing from a lighting perspective has an impact on security and security in turn, based on that research has an impact upon people feeling secure within a building, so that's something that we have proactively addressed in the design.

Walkability is obviously a major issue and I wouldn't say that we've hardwired that into the project, but rather the actual site selection process has resulted in something which has immediate proximity to parks. There's park space immediately opposite the development and we have an amount of money which will be going towards the renewal of that park.

Additionally the proximity to retail, education and transport is very strong; we're on the doorstep of Melbourne University, we've got a major retail strip, a bike path, rail line and tram line all within 150 metres of the site. They're all factors which contribute to physical and mental well being in terms of people's living environment.

Jeff Provan: One thing I'll add is in our brief the interior of the apartments and common areas is absolutely crucial to well being and how residents feel. What we're trying to do here with the brief is create that feel of coming in from that fairly harsh environment of railway line, industrial, concrete, asphalt etc. so when you come into your apartment, the idea is that you want to create a calming effect and that's done by various techniques.

Without getting into the nitty gritty, it's a little bit esoteric and a little hard to put your finger on it but apartments are all sort of trying to work with smaller spaces so what you have to do is create a situation that has this light and airy feel about it; the key is to create a calming environment.

The study doesn't quite go into this but you're looking at a building that requires a minimal amount of maintenance so you don't want to be burdening people with the high cost of maintaining an apartment which all comes back to how you design it.

Jewel Station development.

UM: Does/will the report have an impact on your strategy behind site acquisition: developing projects within areas with a strong community focus and access to recreational areas?

JT: In the current market it's hard enough to buy sites but there are a couple of stand out points from the study in terms of, for example, main roads with high levels of pollution which can obviously be problematic to people's health and in turn means we would avoid them. That's not to say that there aren't ways of mitigating issues.

I guess it's not a position driven by the report per se, but some of the things you may have seen come from the report and the good design guidelines are factors which Neometro have been focusing on for 25 years; they're just common sense from a design and well being perspective.

JP: And I think the reality now is if you're working on an inner city site, generally it's going to be close to public transport so that's sort of a given and I think what James touched on before is we'd rather be doing a building on a railway line even though the rail noise might have a perception of being worse than it is.

Jewel is obviously on a train line so there's a bit of noise but you can mitigate it through double glazing so residents can sleep. If they want to open their door they're only going to hear noise say every half hour rather than the constant noise of a freeway, so they can use their facilities in the manner in which they were designed for.

UM: What are your thoughts on advocating developer contributions to go towards community amenities where sites are restricted in providing an appropriate level of onsite amenity?

JT: Developers do already make that contribution in the form of open space however one of the challenges is the fact that there's not necessarily transparency in the way that the money is used and whether it is directly related to a specific area.

In terms of Jewel Station we've been incredibly fortunate whereby we're doing this development and VicTrack are covering the cost of the public realm. To an extent we're getting a bit of a free kick because it's a partnership in terms of the overall design and development of the precinct.

JP: In terms of what the building does for the community, first and foremost it has to get the architecture and street activation right; how it affects the outside community and how the community see and respect the building. Something not many people get right is the street activation and it's sometimes difficult to do because it can get value managed out.

The crucial aspect for the developer is to make sure that it does work within the urban landscape in terms of how friendly it is, how approachable the building is, what are the functions that are going to go into the building. As James touched on, in projects like Jewel station we're not going to add pools or cinemas, we have to do things that benefit the individual in the building. If you get the community right within the building that will really reciprocate with the outside community.

UM: Thank you for your time gentlemen.

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