Quality design for Perth’s high-density future

By Philip Griffiths.

As Perth continues to change and grow we have an unprecedented opportunity to be innovative with our built environment.

In a city that currently spans more than 50 kilometres to the north and south, population infill is no longer an option, but a necessity.

The metropolitan population is beginning to realise that the great Australian dream does not have to be a house on a block in the suburbs – it could in fact be an apartment with good amenities close to existing services and public transport. Americans and Europeans have lived like this for centuries, and, some would argue, with better social outcomes.

Many of our younger professionals and families have come to the same conclusion.

When apartment design legislation was passed in New South Wales over a decade ago to, among other things, mandate the use of architects in apartment design, it paved the way for better quality multi residential housing in our cities around the country. Now, most States are actively lobbying their governments to follow suit.

An important reason for the success of SEPP 65 (State Environmental Planning Policy No. 65) is because it was enthusiastically championed by the government of the day and received broad support from both the design and developer communities.

Indeed, residents of apartments designed after implementation have reported an overall improvement to quality of life, citing more flexible indoor spaces, outdoor spaces with greater privacy and security, more engaging public spaces, and reduced utility costs due to better design for climate. A review of SEPP65 in 2015 re-affirmed its importance and efficacy.

In Western Australia the State Government has wisely chosen to consult with industry groups and professional bodies in its ‘Planning Reform for Better Design’ process, which seeks to increase density while achieving good design outcomes for the community.

The Australian Institute of Architects has been resolute in its advocacy of a SEPP 65-like policy in WA, arguing that we need the best minds on the job when it comes to designing apartments that are respectful of their place and function well for modern lifestyles.

Research from the United Kingdom based Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) highlights a number of important outcomes of high quality design: reduced crime when public spaces and buildings are more appealing and valued; less impact on the environment from energy efficiency and preservation of biodiversity; increased sense of community when high quality buildings and public spaces enable socialising and participation; and the flow on effects to the local economy from increased visitor numbers and investment opportunities.

The recent decision by the State Government to allow a redevelopment of up to five storeys at the Guildford Hotel site is a good outcome for Guildford’s future and its residents. It balances the heritage significance of the hotel and the importance of conservation with its ideal location for density in a town with a growing commercial base and good transport links. It also demonstrates the need for experienced and talented professionals to undertake the task.

Public appreciation for building design quality is improving and the Institute is playing an active role in helping to enlighten governments and the community about the contribution architects make to society and the economy through creative thinking.


Philip Griffiths is the Western Australian State President of the Australian Institute of Architects and director of Perth architecture practice Griffiths Architects.