green melbourne riverfront
Image – Canva.
  • It's less about lifestyle, and more about integrating with the environment and ecology
  • Retrofitting residences is one way of introducing the environment to densified areas
  • Change is expected to be incremental, and take decades

What isn’t livability?

The Property Tribune spoke with University of Melbourne researcher David Mah on what makes a home liveable or not, and what may have changed over time.

“The discussion used to be all about lifestyle, but now that’s changed. It’s about innovative design thinking that talks about shaping the built environment to engage with climate change.

David Mah, University of Melbourne

Much of the conversation can no longer be based on historic trends, Mr Mah said, “you can’t talk about livability without understanding the stability of the past will change.”

So what is it?

If we design purely for efficiencies sake then you sacrifice the environment, said Mr Mah.

“Designers are now thinking about buildings that are not just environments for us but they’re also environments and habitats for our partners in the ecology.”

David Mah, University of Melbourne

People are looking at how we can rethink the building envelope so that it can cultivate habitats for other species, it’s a little bit blue sky, but they’re also looking to actually integrate it into real buildings.

prefabricated melbourne rooftop side view
A side view of the Studio Edwards Sky Pavilion project. Image – Felix Bardot,  Studio Edwards.

The concept isn’t as ‘out there’ as you may think. When asked, Mr Mah said there have been many examples of habitats being integrated into cities across Australia and the world.

Sky Pavilion by Studio Edwards, Melbourne.

One of them comes from Melbourne architecture and design firm Studio Edwards. Mr Mah said they put a prefabricated structure on top of a terraced house, providing an otherwise mundane home with a space for the simple pleasures many of us in the suburbs enjoy: space for a barbecue.

“Because inner-city Melbourne is densifying so much, we’re losing gardens. And what are suburbs for except for gardens right?”

David Mah, University of Melbourne

As city densification becomes an issue in some areas, and people become tired of concrete jungles, greenery is a much welcome move.

barbecue on studio edwards melbourne project rooftop sky pavilion
An inside view of the Studio Edwards Sky Pavilion project. Image – Felix Bardot, Studio Edwards.

As part of Melbourne Design Week, a completely self-sustaining house, right down to the transport used to set up the house, was displayed at Federation Square. The City of Sydney has also ramped up greening efforts, with the Mayor recently announcing a $377 million plan to do just that.

Mr Mah said designers aren’t necessarily looking at the environment and ecology as a value-add, although it does provide that anyway. They’re thinking more about how the ecology and city can be integrated.

It’s a tough landscape

Everyone doing their part is crucial for livability to work at the suburban level, but it’s not easy.

Australia has been divided up into a lot of individual properties, so doing large scale bold moves can be difficult to do or coordinate, except in exceptional circumstances.

David Mah, University of Melbourne

Success will be gradual, and that’s something we just need to remember. Neither Rome was built – nor will trees pop up – in a day.

“The success of places like the City of Melbourne was incremental. It was supervised, one laneway at a time.”

David Mah, University of Melbourne

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