Urban sprawl is so five minutes ago. The Australian dream of a house on a quarter acre block is dead. Skyscrapers are moving into the suburbs. This progress is a double-edged sword that leaves us wondering: how might our future selves live?
Back to the Future
To figure out where Melburnians might be headed, it helps to look back at from where we have come. It’s the job of futurist Morris Miselowski to predict (with research and evidence rather than some kind of psychic vision) social and lifestyle trends. He’s tickled by the idea that we have come full circle with our desires since our parents’ generation, “when my parents came as ethnics in the 40s we lived on top of the shop and that was a bad thing to do. The first thing you did to prove yourself was to get out of there. Now it’s the exact opposite. To live in a trendy shopping centre is actually seen as a sign of prosperity. People aspire to it.”
He explains that, prior to the 60s, homes were traditionally the female bastion. Men came and went using the home as a transport hub. Strip shopping centres were built to accommodate women walking to them. In the 70s, women began to work out of the home more, it became more ordinary for people to share chores. People began to be at home for longer periods of time, “we stopped covering up the couch in plastic and having beautiful pristine rooms that only the priest was invited to once a year and everybody else whispered in.”
In the 8os and 90s we were still working nine to five, shopping nine to five and we owned two cars. Society still required us to have that house and backyard to prove that we’d made it. Says Morris, “I have the mortgage – it’s choking me – but I have the mortgage! Part of my retirement is that home and if you really wanted to show off you’d have a two storey home on the quarter acre block.” This era, of a mere decade ago, is almost forgotten.
Morris says the last ten years have made Melburnians, “less comfortable, we’ve seen lots of issues around employment, money, bank rates, and the pragmatist in us has come out…we have to give up on that dream if we want quality of life”. We now work when and where it’s appropriate, shop when we wish, “and we want to be close to entertainment, close to family or just close to something that brings us comfort and joy”. The trophy home is no longer important. Sharing things, rather than possessing things, has lost its stigma. We now share cars, dwellings, leisure spaces, amenities and holiday homes
happily…even pets! So how are these social pressures going to sculpt where we live? Morris envisions a trend for four to six-storey apartment blocks inspired by the Asian style of living. While it seems we’ll work from home more often, we’ll actually live many of our waking hours out on the street.
A Place to Call Home
Still, it seems as if towering residences are being proposed in the CBD and some suburban hubs like South Yarra frequently. Legitimate concerns about transportation, parking, environmental and heritage issues and overcrowding arise in step with these lofty constructions. Some developers are seen, especially by existing residents, as the big, bad wolf. Industrial designer and interior architect Mary Maksemos is worried, “I find that people have blinkers on and the developers want to make lots
of money but how are you aiding the lifestyle of this person spending all this money to buy a dog box?”
How might innovators off-set these fears to create a sustainable, holistically healthy lifestyle for all? Melbourne developer Michael Yates, of Michael L Yates & Co., has certainly left his fingerprints on Melbourne. He says he caters primarily to owner-occupiers rather than investors. Michael helped to create “a pedestrian walkway through from South Yarra station in Yarra St through to Chapel St bypassing Toorak Rd; we gave up quite a bit of land.” He sees the tangible benefits of dedicating
these spaces to street life and activities. “In a food-obsessed city like Melbourne, the liveability of an area is increased ten-fold by the arrival of a quality restaurant. At ground level, we create retail spaces to ensure active engagement. Michael talks of a Claremont Street project where
space for public events has been factored in, “it’s like a junior city square, as long as we maintain the landscape requirements of benches and seats etc, it’s to become a lifestyle mecca.” Councils are adopting spatial thinking too. Plans are underway to add more car spaces to Prahran’s Cato Street carpark but to shift it entirely underground. The canopy will transform into a 9000 square metre open, green space by 2018.
Making the private more public can help to relive the local community. Carpenter turned global developer Jonathan Hallinan of BPM intends for the general public to claim ownership of his places, “we may have a pool and a bar that is accessible to the public and it’s about bringing the public into our world as well.” He’s developing offsite health centres and hotels that will have benefits for his residents, no matter which city they are currently in, but access for the masses too.
Both Michael and Jonathan also see art contributing heavily to a sense of place and to fostering creative communities. Michael is soon to complete a 26 city storey building at Yarra House, “we go to a lot of trouble to include artwork and recently we had an internal competition between half a
dozen local photographers”. Artist Cameron May won and will have a large-scale digital print hung on the south wall. Michael sees “artwork for buildings happening a lot in Tokyo and New York and now it’s coming to Melbourne. We invest heavily in long-established artists like Dale Frank, Tim Storrier and Janet Lawrence but we are very interested in young people and their contribution. We work closely with Mars Gallery; we try to get everybody involved.” Nearby, the Royal Como development also
recently awarded abstract artist Andrea Eckersley a $10,000 commission to create a work for their eventual foyer.
At BPM, Jonathon is working on public gallery spaces in his residences with “a real theme that will be seen throughout the building. My first building theme in L.A. completely centres around the hip-hop culture of the 8os which has a great impact on street culture today.” Included will be photography by a well-known artist who documented the era. Externally, BPM also sponsors the National Gallery of Victoria’s new Summer Architect Commission project to help establish their relationships with artists and the community at large. “Our buildings are to be places that people visit, even if they don’t live there,” envisions Jonathon.
Moving with the Times
Globally, inventors are seriously toying with the idea of Futurama-style transportation tubes. Until then, transport -and parking – is a major cause of objection to dense residential plans. Morris believes we will have self-driving cars in the next 10 years, “one in four cars sold in 2020 will be capable. Volvo, VW, Merc and a few others already have apps that will theoretically allow the car to park itself, the technology exists, laws just need to catch up”. The car could park itself kilometres away, saving time and valuable space within the building. “The car will know you want it
because you’ve started moving out of the house so it will call itself up and be ready for you,” he says. Expect to be riding around in vehicles akin to KITT from Knight Rider sometime soon.
Shopping by boat? Hopes for a ferry route from the city to the Alexandra Parade/Chapel Street junction have been, excuse the pun, floated as a tourism and transport boon. And shared transportation, such as Uber, bike schemes or communal cars, is already increasing. Michael likes to have “two cars owned by body corporate, so tenants who don’t have car space or only need a car for an hour can borrow the electric car. They don’t have to wash it or park it; the caretaker plugs it in and cleans it. Councils have created their own minimum number of bike racks and they’re always crowded so it’s working, as are the electric cars. They’re fully booked out on a weekend and councils have restrictions: eg. for 100 apartments you can only have 66 cars.”
If moving via public transport and lessening our reliance on owning a car is a priority in Melbourne, it seems odd that a recent “deep green” residence intended for Brunswick by a group of local “ethically-minded” developers was thrown out by VCAT for not providing private car spaces. Already council-approved, the sold-out development consciously sits next to a railway station, bike path, car share service, bus route and tram line and like-minded residents are willing to sign contracts that they will never be allowed street parking permits.
On the Inside
We’ve looked how moving on up (and in) might impact our external lives and environment. But they do say that “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” We ponder how dwellings of the future will look and feel.
Morris looks to Japan, “they have apartments that are basically a square box. In the middle, it has another large-ish box and that box rotates with four sides. Every side is different; one side is a kitchen, one side’s a bedroom, one’s an office, one is a loungeroom. Sounds kitschy but it actually works beautifully!” Morris says we will demand more from internal architecture. No more pushing buttons on the lift. The elevator will recognise you personally and take you home. Your apartment will let you in, dim the lights when you lie down, play the song you were vibing to on the train home. Walls may move or disappear. Furniture, the room and even the mood of the space will reconfigure themselves depending on what you’ve got planned on your digital calendar. Sound like sci-fi? Welcome to the “Internet of Things”. Morris says the real beginning of this trend is only five to ten years away.
Mary thinks we’re about five years behind the rest of the world in terms of innovation. The ageing population is a major factor. Rather than rushing to build care facilities for the elderly we should be designing so they can stay at home, independently and longer. It’s not sexy, but she wants to see a focus on non-slip surfaces, building with materials that are easy to lift, don’t need maintenance and with zero emissions, “so they’re not going to kill us”.
Whether we are in golden years of life or growing up as part of the Internet generation, personal connection is crucial to our mental and physical wellbeing. How can we combat the isolation of
compartmentalised living? Technology may have the answer. BPM is creating an app, similar to Whatsapp, only dedicated to the communities within their buildings. Jonathon explains you can use the app to contact your neighbours via apartment number, “if you want to speak to apartment 102 or if you’re wanting to let everybody know ‘I’m having a group of people at the pool this weekend: all welcome’ or ‘I’m having a private gathering in one of the libraries’ you can let everybody know”
So let’s strive for smart buildings, smart designs and smart ideas. It seems that Melbourne will only maintain its status as the most liveable city in the world into the foreseeable future thanks to the contributions of smart people.
/ Originally published in the Spring/Summer 15/16 print issue of Chapel magazine.