Density by Design

Moreland City Council
+ IBA Lab
+ Kerstin Thompson Architects



In 2018, IBA Lab with Kerstin Thompson Architects undertook a study in density on a surface carpark site in Moreland. The video shown here gives a summary outcome of the event.


As Melbourne grows land use intensification is a way to meet the demand for affordable homes in existing neighborhoods that are well endowed with infrastructure and jobs. The challenge is to do so in ways that retain the most cherished qualities of our suburbs and streets.

How can the design, planning and development process for high density and mixed use neighborhoods foster strong communities and provide housing for lots of different people and households across various ages and stages?

Density by Design is a case study that responds to this challenge in two ways. First it identifies some of the means by which the design and planning of housing precincts can build community, improve the public realm, promote a variety of housing types that are high quality, affordable and able to be procured through alternative development models.

Secondly it tests and applies new tools to improve communication, consultation and cooperation between residents, council and proponents of development. Using virtual reality it makes it easier to understand the opportunities and impacts of a proposal so that more meaningful engagement and feedback can be obtained. This facilitates finding the right balance between the needs of existing residents with those of future ones.


Key Project Objectives/Context

Density by Design is a speculative exercise, projected forward to 2030, and therefore encourages interested parties to think beyond limits of current codes.

The context model anticipates current and future surrounding developments, their likely form of approximately 8+ storeys and the impact of these especially on Russell Street.

The case study showcases how higher density, fully accessible apartment living can achieve a high quality living environment at dwelling and precinct level.

It pays attention to the existing character of Coburg around Sydney Road. Valued for being mixed use, with buildings and landscapes varied in style, period and size and ranging from formal to informal, Density by Design seeks to be a good neighbor by picking up on some aspects of this character while introducing new elements as catalysts for change.

Envisaged as mixed use the precinct combines commercial, residential and community uses in complimentary ways to activate the precincts public realm.

People, Place, Building

The precinct design starts with people. It imagines their preferred activities – for home, work and play – and the kinds of public spaces to support these: pathways, lanes, streets and tree lined promenades and a variety of squares, pocket parks and gardens for active or passive recreation, for meeting up with neighbours and friends, for group gatherings or quiet repose.

It combines these into a vital and connected public realm in which pedestrians are prioritised, the park edge is activated and new east west links with Sydney Road are made. Having established the public realm buildings are then introduced into this. Just the right amount to hit the sweet spot in which the optimum number of high amenity dwellings can be achieved while also achieving a high quality public realm. From our benchmarking against local and international examples this is a plot ratio of about 1:4.

What is a high amenity dwelling? Ideally it has: dual aspect for enhanced cross flow ventilation; constant daylight and at least some sunlight everyday; a high quality outlook whether to a street, garden or park; a meaningful connection to the outdoors; control and choice over the degree of connection or retreat from neighbours and the public realm through well configured layout, operable blinds, and shutters for modifying views and light.

And what is a high quality public realm? Spaces that are: well activated by the uses and outlooks of adjacent buildings; safe and inclusive with due regard for passive surveillance especially for pathways; accessible by well-located paths through to other parts of the neighbourhood; designed to encourage reduced car use especially on sites like this with good street network and public transport of train, bus and tram; have a balance of sun and shade especially for all year use and comfort; variegated in uses, character, scale height and mass for a sense of urban intensity and spatial drama that comes from the interplay of small and large, industrial and residential etc.

Density by Design is testament to the way in which housing development can be formative in the creation of a high quality public realm; with the creation of dwellings presenting an excellent civic opportunity for our suburbs.

Download the full study pdf here


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