In this week’s Flat Chat Wrap we talk about the proposal to introduce architectural pattern books in NSW.
Will they mean even more cookie-cutter apartment blocks or will it simply result in the buildings that we need in a hurry not looking like they were designed in a primary school handicrafts project?
Then we look at what has happened at an apartment block that was only a few years ago named as the best residential building in the world.
Falling planter boxes and rising concern about flammable cladding have blotted the Central Park tower’s copybook. Now the truly iconic building in Broadway, Sydney, has to work through these issues with multiple strata committees each having their say. Wish them luck.
Next we pick up on perennial parking problems and some innovative (and only slightly illegal) methods for dealing with rogue parkers (aka parking thieves).
Parking illegally in a multi-storey car park is wrong on so many levels. (Joke Stolen from Tim Vine).
And finally, our Lock Up and Leave Pick of the Trips takes us on a small group tour to the Land of the Rising Sun.
TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
So, New South Wales is going to have ‘pattern books.’
Yes, that’s fantastic. I mean, it works. When I say it’s fantastic, I’m in two minds, but it’s really interesting, because it goes back a long, long way.
We’re going to talk about that… We’re going to talk about what has been described in the past as the best apartment block in the world, but apparently is now considerably less so, in Sydney. And we’re going to talk about our ‘lock up and leave’ for this week and we’ll have a quick visit to the parking garage, to find out what’s going on down there. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
Pattern books, Sue; do you know a bit about that?
We know that Chris Minns, the Premier of New South Wales, was talking about the possibility of reintroducing the idea of pattern books. They would be to provide a template for things like terraced houses and apartment buildings, up to six-storeys. I kind of smiled when I read about this, because people were saying, “oh, it’s a really interesting, novel new idea.” But I did a book a little while ago, about Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the fifth Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie, and when she came over to New South Wales from Scotland, she brought a pattern book with her, a pattern book of buildings, because her uncle was a famous architect, and she was really keen on architecture. So she brought this pattern book, so that she could replicate some of the buildings that she knew in Scotland so well, in Sydney.
One of them is out in Parramatta, isn’t it?
That’s right. She had the pattern book for her childhood house, Ayre’s House, where she grew up, in the western highlands of Scotland and she reproduced that in Parramatta, for the Female Orphanage. It’s still standing there; it’s now a heritage building. It’s a beautiful building, on the Parramatta river and it is absolutely identical to Ayres House. We both went and visited Ayres House, you might remember?
Yes, it’s just north of Oban.
That’s right. It’s very beautiful. It made me smile to think we’re going back to the past and pattern books again.
So the pattern book thing; I mean, what Chris Minns is saying… First of all, they’re doing an international competition for people to come up with, I think they’re talking about five patterns for each style of dwelling. So you’ve got terrace houses, you’ve got apartment blocks up to six-storeys, you’ve got duplexes, you’ve got…
Well, terraces and townhouses, I think of them as being the same thing, really.
Do you? I don’t think they’re quite the same.
Okay, what’s different? There is a row of dwellings that share a wall in between them. And they’re going to do large single-storey dwellings as well. But the whole point of this, is to push through multi-occupancy as quickly as possible, in areas where it has been resisted.
And that means as soon as they’ve decided on these pattern books (and I think there’ll be a public competition for some of them, so the public will be able to comment on them, too). It does mean that they will be able to go ahead without going through the huge bureaucratic long-winded planning approval process; they’ll be able to push through really quickly. Yeah, it’s interesting. When I first heard about it again, I kind of thought we’ve gone a bit beyond that and I thought architects would really criticise that, because architects very much say that every building has to speak to its site. You know, exactly where it is, and its orientation and its function, and whatever is very close to it. And every building should be quite individual, to fit into that site. But obviously, having a template that is suitable for everywhere…
I’m thinking it sounds a bit like architects are saying “give us more work,” because if every building has to be a unique design, then that’s another architect.
That’s a very cynical view. They might be saying they might get more work as a result of not having a pattern book, but at the same time, it’s right that buildings really speak to their environment. The great buildings we’ve got (maybe apart from Central Park, that we’re talking about later), really suit their environment. For the residents, they have great light and solar access and great ventilation and stuff, because of the way they’re put into their place.
I’m trying to think of that apartment block that’s at the end of Hyde Park; right at the end. It’s an older one, it’s been there for ages?
The Connaught. Now, the style of that building fits in with all the other older buildings around, but still looks quite modern, I think. So you know, that thing about being appropriate for the area… What we’re talking about is, apparently there’s only two councils in the whole of the Greater Sydney area, that actually allow multi -occupancy dwellings.
Yes. I mean, it’s quite amazing, how many councils resist putting up…
Even small ones?
I don’t know the specifics. I mean, this is a statistic that Chris Minns threw out, but obviously, some councils really dig their heels in and resist putting up anything that isn’t a house. You know, you’ve got to jump through so many hoops to get approval. And there’s another aspect to this; there will be approved architects. So if you’ve got an approved pattern design, and an approved architect, you’re just going to sail through the approval process.
So there’s going to be a real battle to get onto that list, isn’t there?
Absolutely, but that’s good. You want the best people to be building the best buildings. And the fact that there’s five different designs… I mean, it’s it’s nice to walk down a street where you’ve got, let’s say, townhouses, or terraces and they are, not a uniform design, but of an integrated design. So it will they look like they’re meant to be there and it’s not just cookie-cutter designs, which hopefully this will not be. This kind of random throwing up buildings, where somebody just chucks up a building, which fits the building codes, but looks ugly and awful. Hopefully, we’re moving past that. It sounds to me like there probably is balconies on the other side, but they just stuck up a standard design that they got off-the-peg from an architect, who said “yes, we have balconies on both sides.” And nobody thought “well, maybe we should have sunrooms on the side, rather than balconies.”
Hopefully, it’s going to be a good balance. Because when I’ve travelled around Sydney, I’ve often seen apartment buildings which are really unsuitable for their area, like near the train station… I think it’s Strathfield; there’s this building just right on the line and it has all these balconies right over the railway line and it’s a really busy railway line. I mean, it’s probably quite a nice view of the railway lines, but it would be really noisy, really dirty and dusty. And most of those balconies have all been randomly fenced in by the residents, because they’re unusable. And you think that most apartment buildings would be designed with balconies, but it is obviously unsuitable by the railway station; the balcony should be on the other side. So you kind of think oh, I hope we don’t get some of this stuff. Maybe it was from a pattern book, Jimmy.
There’s a building down in Rushcutters. Bay… I remember when we were first looking for a new apartment; this is 20-odd years ago. This building, they would advertise to say it was handy for transport. In fact, it’s got a four-lane highway on one side and a three-way lane highway, plus a railway line on the other and it’s right in the middle of all this traffic. And I’m sure over the years, they’ve mitigated that with sound-proofing of some kind, but you think you can have too much convenience in some places. Somebody wrote on my Facebook page the other day (we’d done a piece about our new apartment in Kiama), saying “what a shame that they’re ruining Kiama with these new buildings, and it was such a lovely little town.” And I got really annoyed, because that building that they put up, it’s low-rise; it’s two levels, the ground floor and the level above. You can’t see it, until you’re right up on it, because it’s out of the town centre. I wrote back and said “well, where do you want us to build houses? You know, do you want us to build more high-rises in the town? Obviously not. Do you want us to just stop building in the town? Great; that means that the people who have been living and working there, will not be able to afford to live and work there anymore. Maybe they should just sleep in their cars?” I don’t think I said that! It really struck me, that this knee-jerk nimbyism; people going “oh, it’s a new building in an old town… It’s horrible!” Well no, it’s not. It doesn’t have to be and with the new pattern book, hopefully it won’t be.
When we come back, we’re going to talk about a new building that was lovely and fantastic, but is slightly less so now. That’s after this.
Sue, tell me about Central Park in Sydney, down in Broadway there… What is going on with that building?
Well look, it’s a fantastic building. Quite right that in 2014, it was voted the world’s best residential building, which is pretty good. Australia’s got a good reputation for architecture. We’ve just had the best commercial building in the world named as well, the Quay Quarter, the building down at Circular Quay.
That is fantastic.
Which is offices and retail. So Central Park is a lovely building and it really kind of broke the mould in lots of ways. It’s very environmentally friendly. They recycle water. I think they have a water plant there. Great solar access, and the building is incredibly green.
They have plants all up the side of the building.
So it looks really good. And they’ve got that amazing heliostat.
I was hoping you would remember the name of that thing.
Which shines the light…
It reflects light, that wouldn’t otherwise get down to the lower floors.
That’s right. It’s really well thought out; really cleverly designed. And unfortunately, over the last couple of weeks, apparently, a planter box fell onto the footpath, a planter box from one of the balconies.
Oh wow! That was one that was installed as part of the building?
Yes, that’s right. So they were kind of bolted on, but apparently, some of the residents are saying some of the bolts are defective, so they’ve now been tied on as well, with rope. Which isn’t a very good look.
Maybe they should use vines, like the jungle.
They’ve installed some kind of overhead hoarding over the footpath to protect people, because one of those could kill someone.
And it’s really difficult, because 2014… It’s out of its warranty period. But it’s a good developer, so hopefully, the developer may come to the party and say “look, we’ll fix this problem,” because it’s not fair to the residents; they’re going to have to pay for it. And also, some of the planter boxes have apparently got some flammable cladding on. It’s not the top flammable cladding, but it is quite flammable. If they have to replace that as well, that’s going to be another huge expense. And you look at it and think well, lots more buildings now are green. We’re seeing lots of buildings having loads of plantings on the balconies, on the rooftops; in common areas, as well. I guess we have to be very careful about these plantings. I mean, I’ve seen buildings that went up and they look great. They were fantastic and they had green leaves trickling down and you look at them a year later, and because they haven’t got proper watering facilities, they’re brown and mouldy and they’ve kind of dried up.
They have to be ripped out.
That’s right. Because sometimes it might be tenants in an apartment and they maybe don’t think to water the plants, or they don’t realise they have to. They perhaps think that there’s automatic watering systems.
There probably should be.
Exactly. So we have to really rethink this whole approach.
One of the things about Central Park; when you’re talking about they have the water plant there… Apparently, their water, their recycled water, is purer than the tap water, but they’re not allowed to use it for drinking, because the government in New South Wales has not approved the standards for recycled water, for it to be used for drinking.
Are they doing any work on that?
I don’t know. Probably somebody is sitting in an office somewhere, shuffling papers, but it’s typical of how far behind the times our politicians get very, very quickly. Here we are; we’re heading into El Nino. It’s raining now, but we’re heading into El Nino. There’s going to be another drought. We’re going to crank up the desalination plant and there are these big buildings that have recycled water plants in them and we’re not allowed to use the water for drinking.
I should say that this was a couple of years ago that I was last informed about this, but hopefully, maybe it’s changed, but I don’t remember it being changed.
I’ve not heard anything about it.
We’re so conservative in Australia, with that kind of thing. When you think, if you live in London, the water is taken out of the Thames basically, put through purification, comes out of the taps, goes into the toilet, goes back into the Thames, taken out again… You know that water; they say if you’re down at the southern end of the Thames River in London, the water that you drink has probably passed through six people, before it got to you. It’s that thing of, it doesn’t sound very good, but it works. We haven’t had bubonic plague in London for a while.
It’s the same thing in New York, I think. I read somewhere once that every glass of water had been drunk by at least seven people before you. It’s a weird kind of concept, isn’t it really?
And we’re still drinking water that was drunk by the ancient Greeks and has gone back into the river systems.
Oh, wow! Good luck to the residents at Central Park; hopefully they sort that out quickly.
I mean, it is a great building and you’re right, the developers have a terrific reputation and they should be (and probably already are), sitting down with the residents; the strata committee. I think one of the problems there is, it’s a multi-strata scheme, so you’ve got one strata committee for one building and another strata committee for another. I think there’s four of them and then they have a combined community…
They have a retail strata as well, so you’ve got to find agreement with all those people, which is very, very hard.
They call it the fourth level of government, for a good reason. When we come back, we’re going to talk about parking and we’re also going to have a look at our escape route this week; our ‘lock up and leave.’
A few weeks ago, we did a survey in the Flat Chat website, about the things that annoyed people most about their neighbours, and the number one thing was smoking. But there were two things that kind of sandwich between barking dogs, which was number three. Two and four, there were things about parking. One of them was people using visitor parking like an extra parking space and the other one was people actually parking in your space, just using your space and going “well, what are you going to do about it?” I’ve done a column this week, and I actually didn’t even get to the point of saying what can you do about it, because there doesn’t seem to be a lot you can do about it in some states. In Queensland, under certain circumstances, you can tow the offending vehicle, but that is not allowed or encouraged in New South Wales, based on laws I think, related to horse stealing, or something like that. It just makes you wonder (as we have said quite a lot); we bought into a new building and one of the things I suggested was that they should have a bylaw about visitor parking. And the response I got was kind of weird; I don’t think anybody grasped what I was suggesting. Visitor parking is for visitors.
What were you suggesting, then?
I suggested that we should have a bylaw that says this is what a visitor is and let the community decide what that bylaw should be, in terms of how they see it being used. But you know, the question I asked; is a visitor, somebody who comes and puts a car there for two hours a day, while they’re visiting somebody in the building? Yes, you’d think. What about somebody who’s partner/ girlfriend/boyfriend arrives on a Friday night and leaves on Monday morning and parks their car there all weekend… Are they a visitor? Well, kind of, but are they a visitor in terms of using visitor parking?
And somebody who’s perhaps hired an apartment for a week on Airbnb and the apartment doesn’t have a space, or the space is being used for something else; can they use visitor parking?
Or the parking that comes with the apartment is one or two spaces, but they’ve got four couples turning up for a weekend together and they’ve each got cars?
Oh my god! You’re giving me a headache, just thinking about it.
And families; grown-up families, where the kids have grown up and they’ve each got cars and they come to visit for the weekend, or for a week. They are visitors; are they entitled to park in visitor parking? I think one of the things is that you have to look at the actual patterns of usage. So I wouldn’t jump in and say “right, every apartment block should have a bylaw that says you can only park here for two hours,” because that just wouldn’t work for some places. Some places, people might expect to be able to park there all day. If visitor parking is near a lift, for instance, should you be able to park your own car there for 10-or -15 minutes, while you unload the shopping? But the problem then is, the enforcement; people will put stickers on…You can’t put a sticker on the windscreen, because that might obscure their vision and then if they have a crash, the building will be liable.
There needs to be a sensible discussion of this, does’t there and a way of dealing with bad parking people, that is across the board and that everybody is allowed to do, in Victoria and New South Wales, Queensland; everywhere.
You mean unified laws across all the states? You’re a crazy person!
There should be some way of dealing with that. It could be that maybe a building is allowed to clamp people and fine people.
We know a building where they have signs up saying ‘if you park illegally, you will be clamped,’ which they’re not allowed to do.
But they hope it’s going to be a deterrent.
Every so often, people on the committee take it in turns to park their car in the visitor parking and put a wheel clamp on it, so people will come in and go “oh my god! They do that here,” and then go and find somewhere else to park.
It’s brilliant, isn’t it?
I heard of one person who, they kept putting a note on the guy’s car. They were just being ignored; they’d find it crumpled up and thrown on the floor and then one day, they put it on the bonnet, under a house brick…
Like a threat…
They had to pick up the house brick, to read the note, telling them not to park there anymore. Apparently, it worked. So I have a new plan, which is only slightly illegal…
Okay, is your plan something like, put a note on saying ‘we’ve put sugar in your petrol?’
That’s an old one; that doesn’t work. What you don’t want is the clamping and the sugar in the petrol tank note. You would never put sugar in somebody else’s petrol tank, but what you might do is sprinkle a bit of sugar around the petrol intake and put a post-it-note saying ‘I have put sugar in your petrol. tank Don’t drive this car.’ The problem with that is the car is still there. The problem with clamping is the car is still there.
So what’s your plan?
Take their number plate. Actually remove their number plate…
Isn’t that illegal?
It’s quite probably quite illegal. You’d remove their number plate and then put a note on the windscreen, saying ‘your number plate fell off; I’ve handed it into the police.’ And then you go to the police station with the number plate and you say ‘this number plate fell off near our apartment block. Maybe somebody will come in and ask for it.’ What you’ve done is created quite a lot of hassle. The problem is, they shouldn’t drive the car without the number plate. They probably will; if they are the kind of people who steal parking, then they probably do whatever they want. But, I don’t know. It’s so frustrating. The problem is, you put bylaws in, but they only apply to the people who own and live in the building. Now if you can identify the owner who is allowing people to park in the parking spot, then you can give them breach notices and maybe even fine them.
And it’s much easier in buildings with say, a concierge, or a resident building manager, to work that out. It’s hard in buildings that don’t have that.
Yes, absolutely. I was reminded of that story (was it last year or earlier this year)? This tenant in a building had rented visitor parking to tradies working on a building site next door.
Oh, that’s right!
She had gone down to one of these electronic shops and got the same kind of beeper that she used, for getting entrance into the building, opened up the back, recorded them (which is very easy; it’s as simple as changing a battery)… Recorded all the beepers to work the entrance gate, and then had gone down to the builder’s yard and said “look, if you want to park in that building next door while you’re working, give me a $60 deposit for the beeper and it’s $50 a week, to park in there.” So several of them paid up and then the owners corporation, the strata committee, worked out what had happened, why there were all these tradie trucks in their visitor parking every day, so they changed the coding on all the beepers for the residents. Monday morning, there’s a huge queue of angry tradies trying to get in, because their beepers don’t work anymore. And meanwhile, the tenant fled the building; just disappeared overnight. That doesn’t solve anything, but I think it’s quite an amusing story.
Talking about fleeing, our ‘lock up and leave’ this week; what have you got?
On Mild Rover, there was a fantastic trip; 12-days to Japan. Luxury small-group travel.
That sounds nice.
Japan is just such an endlessly fascinating country and that trip seemed to have all the highlights… Mount Fuji. Kyoto, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Miyajima, that place with the deer wandering around.
You’ve been there.
I’ve done a tour of Japan and that’s all the highlights, really. So it’s fantastic.
It’s quite a decent price, as well.
I think it was. It looked like a really good trip and Japan seems to be the flavour of the moment. A lot of people are heading there. I mean, it’s not very far away from Australia, comparatively, compared to Europe. It’s a great place; great food. Fabulous people, incredibly polite.
The culture there is polite.
Very different to us in Australia!
One of the things that struck me and it shows how pathetic I am, the way I think… Hiking through Japan, you find a little village and there’s a vending machine that sells snacks and coffee and not a mark on it. No scratches, no graffiti; nothing. I’m thinking if this was back in Sydney, it would be on its side by now.
One of my fondest memories in Japan was I was in a coach and the coach driver had to stop suddenly; he had to brake suddenly for something in the road and he stopped and pulled over and then he came around to every single passenger, to apologise for any inconvenience he’d caused. It was incredible! We were like, wow! What an amazing country.
It is. So that’s Mild Rover, mildrover.com. You can find that and lots of other stuff. We’re putting new stuff in every week now. And it’s to the point where you’re thinking “oh, goodness me, there’s such a good idea here and it’s got to be pushed down the page, because we’ve got other new stuff that’s fresher and better.
And the joy of apartment living, is you can leave it quite easily.
As long as you don’t have pets, you can just lock up and go. Thank you Sue, you’ve got a busy day ahead of you and so have I. Talk to you soon. Bye.
Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website, flatchat.com.au. And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite pod- catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week, without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.