Beulah International’s $77 million multi-residential Gardenhill project in Doncaster in Melbourne’s east is the first in the metropolitan area to create a dog-friendly development with a private off-leash garden area, according to BI director Adelene Teh.
The pet-friendly element is part of a broader sustainability picture that aims to deliver a long-term residential proposition that is energy-efficient, flexible and offers a lifestyle similar to the suburb’s surrounding low-density housing stock.
“Melbourne’s population is growing at an incredible speed and the amount of people living in apartments is higher than it has ever been before,” said Ms Teh, a co-founder of the company who has master’s degree in architecture from University of Melbourne who says she is following in the footsteps of her father, Datuk Teh Kean Ming, chief executive and managing director of Malaysian developer IJM Corp Bhd.
“Apartment living should never be seen as a compromised lifestyle and we understand that pets are an important part of many individuals’ lives,” she said.
“A big reason behind why dogs are surrendered is because the owner finds themselves in a situation where they are moving to an apartment or home that is not pet friendly and pet ownership is often frowned upon in apartments.
“There is a big gap and also a need in the market for something like this and we took up the challenge to fill it. Most developers would use the extra space to build more concrete.”
Project architect Eugene Cheah, senior associate and design leader at Woods Bagot, said the design aim was to replicate the experience of living in a detached dwelling in a leafy suburb in the multi-residential setting.
For a start, the 10-storey development, which comprises 136 apartments ranging from one bedroom to three bedrooms, has no imposing foyer, he said.
Instead residents enter through a pedestrian gate into a large garden area with natural turf lawn and plantings where dogs and children can play, which echoes the suburban front yard. The building’s foyer is a lounge-type area that also mimics the scale of a home.
The rooftop garden designed by Jack Merlo is “the experience of the [backyard] patio, the private back deck”, Mr Cheah said, and another space where children and pets can be outdoors. It also incorporates seating, a teppanyaki BBQ, sundeck, gassed area and edible gardens.
Overall, the aim is to add to the value proposition through the comfort and amenity aspects that contribute to lifestyle.
Mr Cheah said that instead of a focus on “overt moves” around including dogs and the concepts of ageing in place, the design has relied on “simple, honest, good design principles” that will ensure residents can enjoy long-term occupancy with flexibility in the individual apartment spaces to cater for changing needs. This, he said, was an important part of the sustainability equation.
One of the challenges the design team had was they had to work within an existing planning-approved scheme. This meant maintaining the building’s approved footprint and setbacks, while finding ways to design for improved building performance.
The major performance limitation was the shape of the building, with a front elevation that is a predominantly western-facing arc. This creates major issues in terms of heat gain and glare in summer.
The first line of defence, Mr Cheah said, was to design a continuous balcony overhang on each of the 10 levels. The second, the incorporation of fully operable anodised aluminium screens that allow for ventilation even when fully closed. These can be used both to block glare or extreme weather, and also to covert balconies into an additional private outdoor room.
The sustainability consultant for the project, senior Cundall associate Andrew Thompson, said that with the increased prevalence of high density residential development in Melbourne, balancing the important issues of daylight, glare and heat gain in both summer and winter was a key design challenge.
“Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than west facing apartments, and the sliding balcony screening at Gardenhill is a great solution,” Mr Robertson said.
“Views, winter sun and daylight can be maximised in the cooler months, and the stronger summer sun, associated glare and thermal discomfort of summer conditions can be blocked before they even enter the apartment.
“And the greatest part of the solution – the user has control of their environment and can adjust to suit their own needs. Just as people change their clothing to match the seasons, so Gardenhill can reflect the external conditions and respond to Melbourne’s famously unpredictable climate.”
The interiors of the apartments feature moveable walls in the form of operable timber veneer partitions that can screen off bedrooms, bathrooms and the working parts of the kitchen to create a large neutral, flexible living and entertaining space with deep natural light penetration and natural ventilation from the balcony doors.
The floors are a floating timber floor over concrete slab. Mr Cheah said the use of timber adds warmth, and is also easy to clean – a consideration when there are likely to be kids and pets running about in the spaces.
Other sustainability measures in the project include a five kilowatt grid-connected solar photovoltaic system to generate electricity for common area needs, and rainwater harvesting with 25,000 litres of storage. This water is to be reused for landscape watering and pet clean up in the gardens.
The insulation of the building comprises external wall insulation with a total R-value of 2.8, roofs with R3.2 added insulation and R2.0 added insulation in floors above external or unconditioned spaces such as the basement carparking.
For energy efficiency, LED lighting is being used extensively, with motion detectors for common areas, and carbon monoxide sensors will be installed in the carparks to control mechanical ventilation use.
Overall, the average energy performance of the apartments is higher than the six star NatHERS building code minimum.
The concrete used for construction will be a low Portland cement mix with 25 per cent slag or fly ash, and all composite timber materials such as the flooring and wall panels will be from certified sustainable sources.
For indoor environment quality, all habitable rooms have access to natural light and operable windows to reduce HVAC use, and low-VOC paints are being used throughout.
Mr Cheah said the design’s focus on the experience of living long-term in the dwellings echoed the way many sustainability benchmarking tools are now considering the experiential qualities for occupants.
The size of the apartments, for example, which is generally more than 50 square metres for the one bedroom dwellings, is close to NSW SEPP 65 guidelines.
“This goes back to [ideas around] ageing in place and the long term sustainability and viability of the units,” Mr Cheah said.
“We try to work the sustainability angle by pure, simple, good design.”
He said the “tick the box” approach taken by some projects was almost cynical, where a project might “add two or three solar panels on the roof and rainwater harvesting” and consider the sustainability dimension covered.
“That lip service stuff is almost as problematic as no sustainability [focus] at all,” Mr Cheah said.
“I think that warps the sense of what sustainability is or could be. Sustainability has an intrinsic value all of its own that adds value to developers and clients.”
BI International said the apartments were 80 per cent sold off the plan within three months of the project launch.