Urban Taskforce labels Sydney's apartment aesthetic as dull

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Peak industry body Urban Taskforce Australia (UTA) last week went on the offensive, criticising aspects of Sydney's planning system which it believes leads to dull apartment design.

Far from the international design competitions which define many of inner Sydney's landmark towers, the criticism was levelled at many of greater Sydney's municipal councils 

At a recent forum dubbed Innovative Apartments, UTA's sentiment was that of disappointment in Sydney's 'tick a box' planning system. UTA maintains that the rigidity and increased regulations governing the design of apartment buildings has stymied innovative design outcomes.

UTA CEO Chris Johnson said in a pointed media release:

Over the last decade the government rules and guides for the design of apartment buildings has become more complex, leading to a tick a box planning assessment process that is leading to less innovation and design diversity.

At a recent Urban Taskforce forum on how to balance regulation and innovation in the design of apartment buildings the Mayor of Burwood, John Faker, called for more innovation and diversity in design. Mark Raggett of Melbourne architects ARM Architecture demonstrated how a strong culture of architecture in Melbourne has made innovative design the accepted way to design apartment buildings.

The debate was timely as a growing negative attitude from community groups about apartments seems to be partly based on the dull look of many apartments that all look the same.

A selection of Burwood apartment projects

UTA makes note of the excessive number of controls and guidelines in place, plus as many as 25 specialist reports required by most councils that must demonstrate compliance prior to an application gaining approval.

Consequently the onus has shifted away from premier design outcomes to one of appeasement.

Architects at the Innovative Apartments forum made note that apartment design was being driven by an excessive number of rules which has neagted merit based assessment, with one unnamed architect going as far as to say that the rigorous approvals process was ‘taking away the soul of Sydney’.

Acting NSW Government Architect, Olivia Hyde, who also presented the the forum, outlining the NSW Government’s focus on design excellence through a number of publications, policies and design review processes. Hyde also noted that many councils were using guides as rules despite government documents saying this should not be the case.

UTA's emphasis on design would see "a special design excellence approval path that would bypasses the excessive number of rules that are forcing low common dominator designs rather than encouraging innovative solutions through merit assessment.

The state government must establish a pathway for innovative apartment building design that local councils can use to enrich their neighbourhoods.”

ARM Architecture's Orbis has been identified as a design benchmark

Lead image: Sydney Aerial Photography

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