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Darebin council gets its first city architect on its way to better quality

Munir Vahanvati
Munir Vahanvati, Darebin Council

The fast growing Darebin City Council has appointed its first city architect to ensure new developments are up to scratch.

The council’s new city architect, Munir Vahanvati, has a background in architecture and urban design with experience in overcoming design quality issues. This includes his work during his last position at the Moreland City Council on the Moreland Apartment Design Code, which aims to improve the quality of apartment-style developments.

Made up of inner Melbourne suburbs such as Northcote, Preston, Reservoir and Thornbury, the Darebin City Council is one of the most progressive in the country, and one of the first to declare a climate emergency.

The municipality is also littered with light industrial pockets that are fast becoming townhouses and apartments. Vahanvati says these sites of fast-paced growth are where design quality issues are starting to crop up.

Part of the problem, he says, is that Melbourne is still an emerging market for apartments, at least 10 years behind Sydney. Until recently, when the Victorian Better Apartment Standards came into play (which Vahanvati was also involved in), there’s been little quality control over apartment design.

Central to Vahanvati’s new role will be promoting design excellence in the municipality. Vahanvati sees himself functioning as “a bridge between architects and developers, and the planners within council”.

“I will be working closely with the applicants on larger applications as part of the pre-application process to provide certainty and clarity on council’s expectations so that we can achieve better development outcomes,” Vahanvati said.

Darebin chief executive officer Sue Wilkinson says that the council has been left frustrated by Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

approving numerous planning applications despite the council’s objections to their design shortcomings.

“We look forward to Munir working proactively with the design industry to highlight the quality of design we expect in Darebin,” Ms Wilkinson said.

The city architect position fell out of vogue for a while but Vahanvati says it’s a position that’s coming back as council’s across Australia grapple with their own design quality issues.

Development for everyone, not just homeowners

His priorities for the municipality will involve maintaining the existing character of the suburbs as they densify, and making sure new developments add value to the area and not just for the people who live in them.

“What I want to see is buildings designed not just for the people who live in them, but for everyone.”

He also wants to ensure the city is made sustainably, accessible and liveable as it grows. This includes strong standards around energy efficiency and leveraging renewables where possible.

“It’s really now a given that developments should have the highest ESD standards possible. It’s getting both hotter and colder and more extreme so will need better buildings to cope with this better.”

Side hustle in bamboo to boot

Sustainability is something Vahanvati is passionate about, having established an organisation, Giant Grass, dedicated to promoting bamboo as a sustainable material choice in small scale buildings. It develops building designs using bamboo and runs workshops to teach people how to construct buildings using the structurally high-performing, low cost material.

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