The release of Victoria’s Housing Statement: the decade ahead 2024-2034 on 20 September was another step in the progression of the state’s housing policies. For some time, the Institute has been engaging with the Government, emphasising strategies to grow Victoria’s housing stock in a sustainable and qualitative manner that creates long term durable development of our built environment. The Government’s statement is a manifesto setting out objectives, propositions and expenditure, but is not heavily detailed on how strategies are to be enacted. In many respects, this approach is positive, as the statement also emphasises engagement with industry bodies as the next step in developing the detail of this strategy, which provides an ideal platform for our profession to contribute professionally learned and researched guidance on how best to progress.
The Institute has submitted papers to and presented at two Parliamentary Inquiries over the last couple of years. Firstly, the Environment and Planning Committee’s Inquiry into Apartment Design Standards and just last week, the Legal and Social Issues Committee’s Inquiry into Rental and housing Affordability. It is pleasing to see all 35 recommendations of the committee’s Apartment Design Standards report have now been accepted by the Government. These include most notably:
- Recommendation 25: …..work with relevant stakeholders to incorporate community building and placemaking into Victorian apartment design policies to improve liveability of apartment buildings
- Recommendation 26:…. local councils to consider the benefits of design verification by registered architects in the Better Apartments Design Standards
- Recommendation 27: ….investigate the development of a state-wide framework for local councils to administer design review panels, including guidance on what triggers a design review panel to take place…..
- Recommendation 28: …..implement legislative approaches to mandate the referral of apartment designs to design review panels to ensure that advice given by panels holds legal weight for enforcement
- Recommendation 29: …..investigate options for improving guidance around procurement models for apartment developments
The acceptance of these recommendations is but a step along the way to building better residential outcomes. The Housing Statement sets out an agenda for faster and better planning decisions to enable more housing sooner, but this aspiration does need to be tempered by a considered review of schemes and how they impact our existing environment. The Statement also discusses aspirations for more social and affordable housing but equally the strategy of how this is achieved is critical.
In our press release on the Housing Statement announcement, I emphasised the importance of not just good design, but underlined that future housing must be environmentally sustainable and resilient. Every new dwelling that is built is not only a home, but also an investment by the community in material, energy and carbon resources, so it’s critical that new housing is well designed to serve not only the Victoria of today, but also the Victoria of the future.
In the release, I also emphasised the importance of adaptive reuse and upgrading existing housing stock. We have subsequently indicated to Government that the Statement’s proposal to demolish all 44 high rise housing commission towers, on the basis of them being ‘out of date’, does not align with a sustainable approach to housing development. There are both national and international examples of the refurbishment of existing public housing that are highly successful and respect the previous expenditure of material, energy and carbon resources by earlier communities, not to mention respecting and preserving the established social fabric of these places that has evolved over decades.
Pritzker Prize winners Lacaton & Vassal’s 2016 transformation of 530 dwellings in Bordeaux is a premier exemplar, amongst many others of how to refurbish public housing. Refurbishing existing significant building fabric – whether residential, commercial or institutional – the principle of adaptive reuse is an important part of our future, and this is a message we’re promoting to both Government and institutional bodies. No longer can we afford to demolish in order to produce today’s version of best practice, only to be replaced in the future by tomorrow’s version of best practice. Our development of the built environment needs to be more responsive and considerate of the breadth of today’s environmental parameters and provide long term vision. Architects are well placed to make this happen.
It was pleasing to see the Housing Statement explicitly refer to adaptive reuse through the potential conversion of commercial buildings into residential. The City of Melbourne and the Property Council of Australia’s have identified close to 80 commercial office buildings across our CBD that are currently underutilised and could potentially be converted into approximately 10,000-12,000 apartments and mixed-use properties. In the last couple of months, I’ve spoken on both radio and television about the transformation of existing building stock to suit today’s needs, and I know other members have also featured in the media promoting this. We shall shortly see industry seminars on adaptive reuse, as it’s an area that needs more supportive research to quantitatively demonstrate to our wider community its central role in the development of our built environment, that is before we also consider the benefits of retaining the embedded cultural and heritage character which so significantly enriches our lives.
Successful engagement between government and industry requires government to provide the opportunity to contribute ideas and commentary, our profession’s preparedness to consider, reflect, prepare appropriate responses and present that advice, for government to listen and then finally for government to act.
We’re currently experiencing active engagement with whole of government, and in coming weeks, the Institute is meeting with various levels of State Government, including the Minister of Planning, the Parliamentary Secretary of Housing, departmental executive directors and advisers to various ministers discussing housing and the built environment in general, as well as our profession’s central role in the design of it. I appreciate the widespread support our membership is playing in both informing and energising these conversations and I invite all members, either through the Institute (via events, forums, committees etc) or directly through their local communities and local parliamentary representatives, to further this important engagement which will inevitably create positive outcomes to shape the Victorian towns and cities of tomorrow.
David Wagner FRAIA
President of the Victorian Chapter