The growing market trends in Melbourne’s mid-ring,
as owner occupiers change mindsets toward medium density living

As buyer mindsets about medium density living continue to evolve, a diversity of well-designed apartments and townhouses among owner occupiers in Melbourne’s mid-ring is a growing market trend. This is underpinned by the Victoria Planning Authority’s strategy to unlock this ‘missing middle’ with medium density housing that is close to existing amenity, services and transport to sustainably accommodate Melbourne’s booming population and retain its liveability.

RPM’s head of Project Marketing, Cameron Yates, sat down with Chris Hayton, Principal at renowned architects, Rothelowman, to discuss the trends and drivers influencing design in this growing market segment.

CY:      Are you seeing a shift towards more architect-designed medium density dwellings in the middle ring?

The market for townhouses is very strong. It offers a clean title so it’s quite a desirable home for purchasers. High quality townhomes have high levels of amenity and are an important dwelling typology for the future of our cities.

The market is maturing and becoming more sophisticated and there is a growing appreciation of what good design is – and what it isn’t. The planning authorities are also pushing for higher quality.

CY:      What factors are driving this shift?

Affordability is definitely a consideration. There’s also a real maturing of the city. People are starting to feel more comfortable about higher density living. With density comes amenity. We are starting to understand that it is a higher density model that facilitates what we might see as a more European way of living, for example, whereby in mixed use buildings you can have breakfast in the café downstairs.

To be a sustainable city the single biggest thing we can do is make cities higher density. Looking at our lifestyle holistically high density living generally means less resources and building materials are required per capita than if we continue to live in suburban detached housing.

CY:      What type of buyers are you designing for?

It’s quite diverse. Certainly, there are first home buyers, and the next stage such as upgraders who are moving from a one or two bedroom apartment into a three bedroom townhouse.

The downsizer market is a growing trend, especially those who appreciate the benefit of a lower maintenance lifestyle. This is very prominent in blue chips suburbs.

CY:      What about families?

This is absolutely a demographic that we’re not capturing, in apartment design at least. There’s real potential for developers to tap into this market. We’re starting to see families move into townhouses but moving from a house into an apartment comprising a family of four is a slow transition. Four bedroom townhouses are something we’ve been asked to look at more and more, incorporating design flexibility to change the use of different rooms, and have suitable outdoor space.

CY:      How is design changing and evolving to attract these buyers?

Up until four to six years ago, medium density product was heavily targeted towards investors. We’ve matured from that considerably. Now a development might include one, two and three bedroom apartments as well as two to four bedroom townhouses.

When designing residential projects, we operate on 3 levels:

  1. Ensure the individual dwelling is a great place for residents to live;
  2. Within every single development, we ensure there’s a mechanism for a sense of community to develop; and
  3. Ensuring a new development connects meaningfully with the broader community context.

Developments should make a positive contribution to the wider city. This might be a civic space, a medical centre, or, in the case of the RiverEdge development in Werribee, a public library on the first five floors of a 200 apartment tower. Another example is the Aspect residences in Keilor Downs, where the masterplan features a network of streets and public spaces.

We are very interested in the thresholds between public and private space, designing them so that the transition isn’t abrupt but rather creating zones between of a more ambiguous nature.  It’s about having a transitional or intermediary space, such as a middle verandah of a terrace or ground floor lobby space where you have social interaction and feel comfortable talking to neighbours.

Tailoring the design to respond to the local environment is also very important. We avoid generic solutions and aim to give each project a unique sense of identity that appeals to buyers who want to live there.

CY:      What about pocket parks and open space requirements?

In larger developments of 50 houses or more, we seek to provide smaller clusters of housing around shared open spaces. Research indicates neighbours will get to know each other if a smaller number of houses have perceived shared ownership of the local open space. It could be a pocket park, or specific street character, that offers a sense of identity to a smaller cluster of dwellings.

Another consideration is providing multiple amenity for different demographics. Things like a kids playground, BBQ area, and an open area for kicking a footy around to generate space for use by multiple occupants at the same time. There’s nothing we like more than seeing an open space designed in the right way that is packed full of people.

Another trend is designing places for people to work from home. People don’t necessarily want to work all the time from a townhouse, but don’t want to go into work every day. So there’s an opportunity to utilise communal space as a work space too or something that could be used as a small meeting room on the ground floor adjacent to the lobby, for example.