We turn back the clock – but just a little – for this week’s podcast when we look at the weirdest and wackiest questions asked and problems presented on the Flat Chat Forum in recent months.
And we have a long chat with Kathlyn Loseby, President of the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects as well as COO of Crone Architects.
She’ll be talking about the importance of good architecture – and what architects can bring to a building that no other professional can.
First up, though, it’s our cavalcade of chaos starting with a strata manager who won’t let an owner even nominate for election to the committee because the resident has taken a complaint against the owners corp to Fair Trading and NCAT.
Then there’s the owner who put a video camera on common property outside his front door without permission. When the owners corp complained, he attached it to a peephole inside his front door – which is still common property.
We recently had someone ask if they could post on their notice board pictures from their security camera of people who had buzzed every apartment in the middle of the night until they found the one they were looking for.
And there are a lot more example on the podcast, all results of people not knowing how to behave, or not caring.
One bunch of people who do tend to care are architects, and we talk to Kathlyn Loseby about why architects are often employed to help get approval for building projects, and then their reputation is used to sell the apartments, but they are cut loose when things get tricky, especially when developers want to cut corners.
NSW is about to bring in legislation that means any building over two stories high must be designed by an architect. But Kathlyn gives a compelling case as to why architects should be locked into projects until they are complete.
As she says, a problem that costs $1 to fix during the build cost $15 to fix after completion and $45 once people have moved in.
And there is only one profession that understands all the elements that go into a whole building – and that’s the architects.
Oh, and we ask her for her favourite apartment building in NSW and she choses the 1948 International Modernist No 17 Wylde St (pictured above, featured here). Definitely a stunning example of inspiring architecture.
You can hear Kathlyn in conversation with Jimmy and Sue or read the transcript below.
Transcript in full
Here is a trancript of the podcast. Broad strokes by a computer, fine lines by an endlessly patient human.
It’s that time of year, when you start looking back on the previous year, and obviously a lot of it is to do with; if it isn’t Donald Trump, it’s COVID. But in strata, we trundle on, doing what we always do. I’ve been looking back at some of the weird and not very wonderful questions that have been asked on the Flat Chat forum.
That should be interesting.
Later on, we’re going to talk to Kathlyn Loseby, who is, Sue?
The New South Wales President of the Australian Institute of Architects, and the CEO of Crone Architects.
She’ll be talking about design and the latest in design of apartments.
Okay. I’m Jimmy Thomson.
And I’m Sue Williams.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
Looking back on the year, I decided to go back through all the forum things that I do every week. Every week, I do a little roundup of the latest questions on the Flat Chat forum. So, I went through them and it was quite amazing.
What was amazing?
Amazing thing was I’d planned to go through the whole year, and I got to September and already had more than enough.
What was the most bizarre question you’ve been asked?
I think one of the most bizarre and most disturbing was this guy is in dispute with his Owners Corporation. Basically, the motor that runs the garage gate is right next to his bedroom.
Oh, no. So, if anybody drives in late at night, it wakes him up?
Right, or early in the morning, and it’s old and clanky and clunky. He has said to his Owners Corporation, “hey, guys, you need to fix this, this is common property.”
Sounds perfectly reasonable.
And they’ve said, “well, nobody else can hear it, so you know, it’s just your bad luck.” He has taken them to NCAT, to Fair Trading, to get some sort of resolution and in the interim, there’s been an AGM in his building. When they say, “would anybody like to nominate for the committee?” He said, “yeah, I would.”
Good idea, so he can get something done.
And they’ve said, “you can’t.” When I say ‘they,’ the strata manager said “you can’t nominate for the executive committee, because you are in dispute with the strata scheme. Therefore, it’s a conflict of interest.”
That is so ridiculous.
It’s absolutely ridiculous, especially coming from a strata manager who’s supposed to have done a bit of training on this. Even logic dictates ‘well, if he is in dispute with the Owners Corporation for whatever, and that means he can’t stand for election, then neither can anybody in the Owners Corporation.’
Because they’re in dispute with him.
Exactly! I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense. If you’re listening, Mr. strata manager, (and I think it’s a man), I think you might want to go back to strata management school quite soon, because you do not know what you’re talking about, buddy!
It’s a shame because I think when a strata manager rules that something’s illegal, or something’s possible, people sit back and think, well, he’s the voice of the professionals, she’s the voice of the professionals, so we should take notice, and that’s often not the way things go.
Yes, and it’s funny, because the latest thing was there was a committee meeting and our Flat Chatter wanted to go to it, where they were going to be discussing a new bylaw that transferred responsibility for all common property back to the individual owners.
And he said, “oh, yeah, I want to be part of that,” and they said, “no, you can’t; because you’re not a committee member you can’t come and listen to a committee discussion.” It’s in the strata law; any owner can sit in on a committee meeting, but they’re not allowed to speak unless they’re invited to. Every child in strata knows this. The three people who don’t know this are this building’s strata manager and the two strata committee members.
Maybe your Flat Chatter should send the transcript of this podcast over to that strata manager and see where it gets him.
Maybe just play it over the phone. “Listen to this.”
And you also had an owner who wanted to attach a video camera to the peephole in his front door.
Oh, he’s done it.
He’s done it.
This is somebody who we have a bit of a history with. He has been complaining to Flat Chat about his neighbors and we have taken it in good faith that he was the victim. He’s been printing out all the stuff on Flat Chat and putting it on notice boards and putting it through people’s letter boxes. And then it turned out, it may be that he’s the troublemaker.
So, we’ve kind of taken a much more neutral stance, and just said, “look, this is what strata law says.” I got a complaint from him the other day saying, “this is terrible; you’re not addressing the facts. I demand that you take this down immediately, because these people are printing it out and passing it around the building.” One of the most recent issues was that he put a security camera outside his front door.
Oh, so he’s actually filming…
Anybody who walks past and it’s on common property, because it was on the wall outside his front door in the common area.
That’s not legal because it’s on common property, and he has to ask permission from the Owners Corporation to do that.
Absolutely. He has drilled a hole in his front door, put a peephole in and attached the camera to the inside of the front door, which is also common property.
Yes, that’s right, because it’s a fire door.
Drilling a hole in it has compromised the fire safety and attaching a camera to the inside of it is in breach of the common property bylaws. So, he’s still in breach and very upset. His neighbors are starting to get a gist of what should be going on and what shouldn’t be going on and I expect he will be getting orders from NCAT any day now to remove the camera.
To stop the peeping Tom.
He’s not a peeping Tom and we must make it clear. He’s just an anxious neighbor who has overreacted.
Personally (and I couldn’t recommend that anybody else ever did this), but I would just happen to walk past with a little bottle of black nail varnish. That’s me and I don’t think anybody else should do that.
And I think in the same gist, you had a question for someone asking if we can post pictures of people buzzing their flats? Why was that? Was it a scam or something and they wanted to warn other people?
I don’t think so. I think it was people arriving who are guests, possibly even Airbnb guests. They were arriving and they wanted into a flat, but they didn’t know which number it was, so they buzzed every flat in the building.
But they didn’t realize that every time they buzz, a picture was being taken. This was a question, saying ‘can we put this on the notice board,’ basically saying I’m guessing, ‘do you know these idiots, because they buzzed every flat?’
What was your response?
Yeah, go ahead, as long as they don’t do anything defamatory; as long as they don’t say these people are criminals or drug dealers. I think you can maybe not say they’re idiots, just say ‘do you know these people? They buzz on every door in the building.’ They will have witnesses to that effect. They’ve got photographic evidence.
And there was also something about scramble parking spots, which is kind of interesting, isn’t it?
Scramble parking is basically where you’ve got a building with some car parking spots, but not enough for everybody, so it’s kind of an old-fashioned idea.
First come, first served.
Yeah, so rather than allocate parking spots to individuals, they just say ‘well, look, it’s first come, first first serve.’ These people had bought into the building and the real estate agent said “oh, by the way, that parking spot is yours; that comes with the apartment.”
So they turn up, they start parking their car there and then somebody who was used to parking their car there got absolute dog’s abuse from the people saying “you’re in our parking space,” and he said “no I’m not, because it’s communal parking space, so it’s first come, first served.”
They said “no, we were told by the real estate agent when we bought the flat that that was our parking space.”
It’s just escalated to a ridiculous degree, where the new comers have now bought a second car that they don’t use but they park it there, so they’ve always got one parking space. People go crazy over parking, but it’s the real estate agent’s fault. Okay, the other people are overreacting, and apparently one of them is a black belt in karate, but it’s the real estate agent’s fault. They just either didn’t bother to check or they said something that wasn’t true and just caused all this strife. It’s terrible.
And I think you have something about inaccessible windows. What was that?
Somebody wrote to us and said their Owners Corporation is passing a bylaw. It’s a standard bylaw that says you have to clean your own windows, unless those windows are inaccessible. In which case, the windows are cleaned by the Owners Corporation. Or, they pay for them. Strata committee doesn’t actually get out with buckets and mops.
And somebody said, “well, what happens if you become too old and frail or disabled and you can’t access your windows, are those windows then, not accessible?” My response was kind of rude. I said, “this is bush-lawyering of the worst kind.” What I actually mean is if they cannot be accessed by ordinary people, so okay, you might not be able to access some, but you could pay somebody to come in and wash them. Or, you could ask a friend to come in and wash them.
But what they’re saying is, if you become unable to access your windows, then the Owners Corporation has to clean them. I would think in that situation, most of the Owners Corporations that I know would go, “we’ll clean them for you, if you ask, while we’re doing the other windows.” Most reasonable ones would.
It’s a difficult thing. I remember when we were pursuing a defect claim against the developer in this building. The big, heavy, sliding doors going out into the balcony stopped sliding in lots of apartments, and the ball bearings or whatever they were underneath the sliding doors, were deemed too pathetic to actually carry the weight. The developers said, “well, it’s fine, because the owners of apartments should lift off those sliding doors, and replace all the bearings, so it’s not a defect.” And we said, “how on earth, do we lift them up?” They were so heavy, it was incredible.
And in the end, we had to get specialized people to come in and invent specialized machinery to get them off their tracks and put on special ball bearings. Some people kind of just set off, “you can do the kind of stuff yourself.” Actually, it’s really difficult without the knowledge, without the brute strength and without the technique. So, I have a bit of sympathy for some people who say these windows are too difficult.
Yeah, so do I and like I say, most reasonable Owners Corporations, if somebody was rendered incapable of cleaning their own windows, would probably help out.
This is an interesting question; can 75% of owners force an individual to sell their unit when they’re not selling theirs?
Do you want me to expand on that?
Because I would have thought, even if they’re in the 25% minority, they could still push for the 75%.
The 75%, (and we’re talking purely New South Wales at the moment, although these laws are gonna come in in Queensland and before that in Victoria). In the old renewal, or redevelopment laws that came in, are what we call the ‘forced sale laws.’ It used to be that if you wanted to sell your building to a developer, you had to have 100% of owners and that led to situations where one or two owners could hold out to try and get more money. So, they changed the law so that 75% of owners could force the other owners to sell, if everybody was selling.
Ah, that’s the rider is it?
Everybody’s got to be in this and it is quite complex; it’s not just a matter of everybody sitting down at a meeting going “hey, we’ve got a 75% vote to sell the building, you’d better start packing.” You have to come up with a plan, then you have to create a committee to look at the options, then you have to get 75% of owners as a total of unit entitlements to agree to it, then you have to move forward with the plan and at the second-last stage, you have to have 75% of all individual owners (regardless of the unit entitlements) agree to it.
Even then, the plan has to be approved by the Land and Environment Court. There’s a final option there for any owner to go along and say, “look, I’m getting screwed here. This plan should not go ahead.” Even though the laws exist that allow you to compel somebody to sell their apartment, there’s so many hoops to jump through. One of them would be everybody is selling, not just “hey, Mr. Smith, we hate you and we want you to sell.” Tempting though that would have been in some cases.
I think you’ve had issues with drunk committee members as well, haven’t you?
Somebody wrote to us and said ‘what can we do about our committee; everybody gets on well, and they all get together and they start drinking and then very quickly the ability to make sensible decisions disappears.’
The meetings would be fun!
They have a lot of meetings, but not a lot gets done. What I suggested was standing orders, that the wine doesn’t get opened until the last item on the agenda has been voted on.
That’s a good idea, because then people will do everything briskly.
They’ll get through the meeting. It’ll be like the old Privy Council in Britain; when they meet, they have to stand. They’re not allowed to sit down. Queen Elizabeth 1 brought this in, because meetings were going on forever, but if everybody had to stand in the meetings, they wanted to get them over with and get done.
Well, how modern, because now we have stand-up meetings, well we did, just before COVID. We had stand-up meetings to make sure that things went quickly and also because sitting is meant to be the new smoking that’s really unhealthy for you.
Sitting is the new smoking?
Yeah. I had one more question for you, Jimmy. Is there anything you don’t know about strata?
Lots. Every week a question astonishes me. I’m always thinking, sooner or later, these questions are going to run out. I’m going to have covered everything a couple of times, and everybody’s going to know either what the answer is or who to ask. And there’s always something new.
There’s one there about a father and daughter. The father doesn’t own an apartment, his daughter does. They’ve come along to meetings, and absolutely bully everybody. They’re in the minority, but she would say she wanted something, and he would shout and rant and rave.
There’s not much you can do; you can’t tie somebody up and gag them. And then the committee would agree… Let’s say they’re going to paint a certain part of the common property cream. The painters would turn up, dad would pop out of the apartment, and say “can you come and have a word with me first? I’m the chairman here. There’s been a mistake. It’s not cream, it’s blue and it’s not the common property, it’s the outside of our apartment.”
Do you think strata brings out the worst in people?
In some people.
I know you had a chair sabotaging the sale of a unit too, by putting up ‘this building is not pet friendly’ signs.
It wouldn’t make any difference now, because we’re all pet-friendly in 2020. I’m going to do a bit of a round-up of these. There are so many of them, I’m going to have to break it down into serious ones and funny ones, but there’s so much material. So, keep your eyes peeled for that.
After this, we’re gonna be talking to Kathlyn Loseby of?
The New South Wales Australian Institute of Architects.
That’s after this.
And now we’re talking to Kathlyn Loseby, New South Wales President of the Australian Institute of Architects, who’s also an architect herself, and the CEO of Crone Architects. We’ve done this on Zoom, so you might notice that the sound quality is a little bit less than when it’s just Jimmy and I chatting, but it’s so much more interesting. Hi, Kathlyn.
Hi, Sue. How are you this morning?
Oh, really good. Thanks for joining us.
It’s a pleasure.
Hi, Kathlyn. It’s Jimmy here.
Hi Jimmy, Thanks for the invite. I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Well, we’ll try and keep it short and sweet because we’re all sitting, suffering in this horrendous heat.
Kathlyn 18: 40
We are indeed.
We’re in a cross-ventilated building, which was designed 20 years ago and won architectural awards for its fabulous self-cooling properties, which we’re now finding out, hadn’t anticipated global warming.
No, and the 40-degree days. There is a limitation when you have warm air that’s outside; doesn’t matter how much you open up your windows, does it?
No, if the outside is hotter than the inside, you’ve got a problem with cross-ventilation.
And as well, we always have problems with gale-force winds. If we open up both sides of the apartment, we do get cross-ventilation, but we also have papers flying everywhere, cats flying everywhere. Everything falling off walls.
I think we should send our award back to whoever it was that gave the building the award.
There’s been a lot of negative publicity about apartments and the quality of build. But what are the positive things that are happening in apartment buildings now?
Look, I think there’s been a huge change in apartment buildings over the last 10-15 years and it just basically keeps getting better, really, in terms of the design component of it. So, minimum sizes, and I must say here in New South Wales, we really need to stick our guns. In Victoria, they’ve got much smaller apartment sizes and the Productivity Commission wants to try to make them smaller in New South Wales.
Certainly, the Institute of Architects will be trying to defend New South Wales, to keep our apartment sizes, because you need a minimum area to fit in your furniture, to be able to move around in it. We now have higher ceilings in our apartments, which is much better for daylight, for natural ventilation, and of course, to be able to install a ceiling fan up the top to help ventilation. Minimum building separations between neighboring apartments or any other type of building to make sure that there’s visual and acoustic privacy.
I think that there’s quite a big difference in terms of location as well. So, location-specific apartment designs, which bring in both benefits for views, but also the benefits that there are in those particular areas. Every area has its own nuances. And I think that should be encouraged in the apartment design. So, they’re not just apartments.
What are the trends in design of apartment buildings? Not necessarily things on technical stuff like sizes and ceiling heights?
I think we’re all becoming far more aware of sustainable options. We’re in a heatwave at the moment and we know it’s because of global warming. So, what it means is we’ve got to look at adaptation of existing buildings, whether they’re a heritage building, or perhaps they’ve got a different function, and then repurposing them.
If we look at an example of a building; the Burcham Rosebery, it’s an adaptive reuse of the original Wrigley chewing gum factory building, with some new apartment buildings; two new apartment buildings next to that but using that as well. Using a lot of communal open spaces to enhance that living experience between them.
It’s looking at what building stocks we have, how we can reuse them, repurpose them, because what we don’t want to be doing is getting rid of all that embodied energy that there is. I think that we’re all quite aware that there’s been a recent spate of construction not being as good as it has been. A lot of these buildings that are over 20 years, 50 years old, they were built in a time when they’re really solid. We don’t want to be getting rid of them, we want to be able to use them
I’m just thinking about the Wrigley’s building; wouldn’t be nice if every floor or every section had a different flavor built in? This is the spearmint floor. This is the juicy fruit floor… I’d want an apartment; I want to live in juicy fruit.
I think there’s a few other things too, I think we’ve got some developers who are aware of the market and they’re actually building much larger footprints. So, if we look at the Verve development in Newcastle, it’s actually quite substantially larger than what a standard department is, and this is recognizing that people in Newcastle who might be looking to live in an apartment are probably downsizing from a house and used to a bigger environment.
So, a much bigger floor plan is necessary. Whereas, if we look at let’s say, inner-city Potts point, people are often quite happy to have a smaller footprint because of the other benefits that you get; that you’re actually really close to lots of cafes, shops, go to art galleries, etc. I think it’s important to actually think of those aspects as well.
The other example of the smaller one is 537 Elizabeth Street, which was by Woods Bagot, that is one bed plus study in it. However, because they’re quite small units, they’ve been incredibly well designed, incorporating furniture in them. The craftsmanship and attention to detail means that you get to completely maximize all of the area, because the furniture is very clever. The table can flip down for instance, flip it up when you want to entertain, so you can really maximize that space. It’s a matter of purpose-built apartments for where they are, which I think is a really intelligent way.
That’s fantastic, because I guess you’ve got purpose-built and then what you were talking about before, repurposing old buildings. We’ve had lots of repurposing of old industrial buildings and old commercial buildings and also we’ve been looking on this on this podcast at repurposing older apartment buildings as well, because there seems to be a real movement towards buildings that are getting to the end of their lifespan, but going in and rescuing them and renovating them. That’s presumably a much better idea than cleaning the slate and building something modern in their place?
I think if we can do that, to renovate, ‘to rescue’ a building, as you put it, Sue, is perfect. It’s already got all the services. If they’re an older building, it probably actually even has even higher ceiling spaces and would have something that is unique. Maybe it’s a different type of window system. If we’re talking quite old, it might actually even be steel-frame windows; they might be solid timber-framed windows. Whatever it is, I think it’s something that we should definitely be using. We’re part of Architects Declare, and of course, the first thing we have to ask ourselves is, can we reuse this building? It’s not the appropriate response to knock everything down and start again.
I think the modern consumer really likes to have something that’s quite unique and a little bit different to the normal cookie-cutter kind of new apartment. If there is something old, it tends to have its own character. And that’s a real selling point, I think.
Definitely. Uniqueness, sculptural issues; something that makes something a landmark, is an identifiable feature. Everybody with their home wants to be able to go back, feel safe, feel secure, but to actually have something that you can feel really proud of. If it’s in building form, or an identity that is unique, that’s got a really attractive appeal to it.
We hear a lot about fancy extras like music rooms and cinemas and things like that, but at the other end of the market, what’s being done in design to improve the quality of life of the majority of apartment residents who can’t afford these fancy extras in their apartments?
I think the important thing here is that we have public and communal spaces; that we adorn these buildings with artworks, whether they’re incorporated within the walls or whether they are a painting that can be attached. We look at say, for instance, the North Rocks development that was done by Candalepas Associates. That’s a building that was pretty much on the low-cost; used quite strong, robust materials, reinforced concrete everywhere. But the important thing is the amenity throughout, so to make sure that you do get lots of natural light to each individual apartment; a tension placed particularly on the passive systems. I know we were talking about cross-ventilation; getting light. Cross -ventilation, when it’s a day like today, it’s 40 degrees and there’s only hot air, of course, there’s always going to be limitations. But in terms of longevity of those materials, I always think of another building called Imperial.
It flanks, the Illawarra railway line, just near Hurstville. At the base is a street of retail spaces, which are incorporated to connect through. So, it’s easy-use for people who are living in the apartment (of course, to anyone else as well.) They’ve got a really wonderful public space, which is a sky garden at mid-level, which is just for the building tenants, where they can go to a garden space and outdoor area. It’s really good for social connectivity and community engagements. So that area didn’t really cost that much to do because it’s open space.
Another one is Lighthouse in Dee Why, where there is the integration of retail, there’s a childcare center and a community center to hire, commercial for easy access.
Plenty of parking spaces downstairs for the shops, but also dedicated for share cars, so you don’t need to have your own car. A lot of people who live in apartments do not need to have a car, but you’d like to have access to a share car if you can, at times. It’s looking at the benefits that you can get from communal living. Of course, though, you still need privacy; it’s important that we maintain the privacy of the individuals who are in each one of the apartments.
That seems to be a real advantage of newer apartments over old in some ways, because there is such an emphasis on communal spaces. Lots of new buildings have communal rooftops, whereas the older buildings always used to just reserve those rooftops for the penthouse, so they would have exclusive use. But now there’s more communal areas and a lot more thought given to those.
I think that’s reflecting now that we’re thinking, people live in apartments because it’s a choice. 30 years ago, you didn’t live in an apartment because it was a choice; it was because maybe you’re transient, you’re doing it for a little while and then you’d move on to eventually to get a house. If we look at European examples, say Gaudi apartments in Barcelona, people would live in houses. That was their choice; they were decent size, the rooftop was actually dedicated to communal areas, which they would use for washing, of course, but we tend to not need to do that.
We can have rooftop gardens where you can have barbecues that you can hire out or dedicate the time that you want to use it for your own specific uses. Somewhere to go, that you can meet with friends, bring your friends in. Allen Jack + Cottier have done Moore Park Gardens, a whole series of different buildings and in between those are communal spaces, which means that you can be in one of the apartments and look down and see your kids playing there; you know that they’re safe, they’re not going to run onto the road, because it’s contained, but you can still have eyes on them and see what’s going on. The whole community then starts to have an understanding and appreciation and care for the other people that are living in their environment, which is actually really lovely. It’s encouraged as a community spirit.
That’s fantastic. I guess we’ve, we’ve always had mixed-use, because we’ve always had old apartment buildings with some shop’s underneath. But now it seems that developers are trying to curate those shops underneath; the retail or the office space underneath, for the residents. You might have a childcare center, or you might have a commercial gym, or you might have a nice restaurant or a providore (I guess they used to be called delis in the olden days).That’s kind of nice for residents as well, rather than just being built over a couple of shops and nobody really quite knows what they are.
I think we’ve really come to be aware of this in COVID. We all know where our good sourdough bakery is in the local community; where you get your decent coffee, where you can go down and get your fruit and vegetables, going to the local butcher rather than going to the big commercial one in the shopping center. All of those things, I think we’re actually starting to become more aware of, and it encourages a better understanding of community, knowing who your neighbors are, which makes us all safer.
How do you feel about the whole move, (which is just starting really) towards build-to-rent? I’m talking about building what is basically almost like a hotel, or a resort-type apartment block, where the rents are higher than normal, but the facilities are better.
I think that what we need is a substantial variety of different housing models to be available to the community. At the moment, build-to-rent is touted as this is the be-all-and-end-all. I think it’s one; I think it’s good, but I think it’s only one of many different options that we should be considering. So, there’s collaborative housing as well, where you get a community co-op together. I know when I lived in London, they would have co-ops that you could join, so that people who couldn’t potentially buy their own apartment, can buy 50% of an apartment, owning the other 50% with the co-op.
Do they have that here?
It’s not formalized; I think there’s probably only one or two buildings that I know of. That’s the type of thing that we need to be able to look at. Then, there’s also subsidized housing, of course. Again, in the UK, I know the local councils would do that to help people. There’s supported housing, so there’s aging for housing stock that’s getting older, to access to loans to be able to fix it up if you can’t afford it, to make sure that you have a better outcome. There’s the missing middle; a lot of our suburban areas, infill housing in-between.
Where I live in the suburbs, we have a granny flat but it’s very well-designed, obviously, because we’re both architects. It looks completely normal, but it means that this huge block of land, it’s good if we can actually have somebody else here and adds more diversity to the community. So yes, I think build-to-rent is good, but it’s only one; it’s not the quick fix. There’s also a whole lot of definitions around build-to-rent. At the moment, the definitions that are coming out are really defining that it’s aimed more at the bigger developer; he wants to do 50 units, or more.
My concern is that there’s a lot of the mums and dad developers who could actually do a really good model but would need to be much smaller and it’s not economically viable for them to do that at the moment, the way it’s being set up. Traditionally, the smaller mum and dad developers do a really good job. They usually have one that’s for a member of the family that’s there as well to make sure that it’s actually all looked after. So yes, it’s a good model, but it’s not the only one and I think there’s other things that we need to look at.
Do sometimes, those mum and dad investors design their own buildings themselves? Or, should all buildings be designed by architects?
There’s some countries in the world; Europe, for instance, Germany and France, you can only get an architect to design any building at all. Here, various different states have different rules. The Design and Building Practitioners Bill is about to come in that says, just up to two stories can be designed by anybody else and anything over that must be done by an architect, if it’s an apartment building, for instance.
I think what we should be looking at is future-proofing our society and our built environment. Buildings are going to become even more complex. An apartment building that we would do now (even a smallish one) will have at least 25 consultants, by the time you get the BCA consultants, the disability consultant. We’ve got landscapers, we’ve got environmental engineers, we’ve got structural, mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, etc.
We just go through loads and loads of them, but it’s going to get even more complex. We will end up with buildings that will have built-in panels on the wall, on the external, but they will not look like solar panels; they will look like normal materials, and they will be driving energy to supply that building. We’ll have automatic windows that open and close throughout the day to allow the building to ventilate properly, so that we don’t have too much heat gain. We’ll have food sources within larger buildings, probably in the basements where we used to have cars, and we won’t be having cars, because we’ll be moving to a different model that’s more socially and environmentally better. And there’ll be food being produced there. So, you know, the mushrooms; lots of food products.
Funnily, that is exactly where my head went to, mushrooms in the in the car park.
There’ll be lots of other foods growing there as well. Buildings will become more complex and the advantage of having an architect is that we spend five years full-time at university, developing the skills to be able to be aware of what we don’t even know yet, but how to coordinate, communicate, and integrate all of that information.
That’s my concern with buildings going forward, that they should be designed by architects, especially any building that has public or non-informed people. And by non- informed people, I include people who would buy an apartment building, but may not necessarily know what they’re looking for. If you’re building your own house, you tend to drive what the brief is, and you’re watching it every day. But if you go to buy an apartment, you don’t have that opportunity and you usually have a career in something completely different.
You’ve got no idea. If you want to be in an aged care home, for instance, or a public building, which is a healthcare building, or an assembly building, or a workshop, or boarding houses, hostels; all of those buildings, should be mandated that it’s an architect involved in those, because of the complexity and because of protecting the public and the consumer who isn’t necessarily an informed individual in those areas.
In Australia that doesn’t exist as yet; we’re hoping with the review of the Australian Building Codes Board looking at what different legislation should be around who does what, and we know the Shergold Weir Report that came out in 2017, about construction issues, a lot of the problems with construction issues is that you have a really talented, intelligent, educated market in Australia, of architects, engineers, etc.
But typically, we’re only employed at the beginning of the project, rarely throughout the whole project. If we are, it’s probably just nominal ‘come and have a look at this once or twice,’ but you don’t get to see anything. So, you’re not using the intellect and there’s no checks and balances involved in there. So yes, when you ask, should it be architects that design buildings? I would say yes, but it’s got to be design and document and be involved in the construction as well.
That leads me to the next question, which is how do you feel about architects being brought in, you know, basically to put up the best possible scenario in terms of getting permission for the building, and then being shunted out as soon as the developers start building the thing and start making their own compromises? Should it be legislated that if you’ve got an architect in the beginning, they should be there ‘til the end?
It certainly makes sense and that is basically what the Shergold Weir Report said was that there’s no peer review throughout the whole process, because we’ve developed this just in time scenario, where, and I’m not saying all developers do this, because that’s not the case. Many do; the good ones do, but the other end of the market, it’s just get your professionals to do the minimum they absolutely can. Let’s then hand over, and let’s just deal with it onsite. And we have problems and the New South Wales Building Commissioner has proven if it takes you $1.00 to design and document something now, if he picks it up before it goes to occupation (so in the last couple of weeks) and finds something wrong, it’ll cost you $15.00 to fix it. If you wait until people actually move in and there’s problems, that can cost you $30, $40, $50 to fix, so it’s actually very poor analysis to think, “oh, I’m going to save on my designers, my architects and my engineers and not pay for them to be involved throughout the whole process.”
It actually would save the whole community, because I know it’s cheaper for the developer at the beginning, but the end-cost goes to the consumers, like the poor people in Mascot Towers now. Where are they left, those individuals? It actually affects all of us because it affects our insurances. So, the insurance market affects every other component of our society. It’ll mean that our car insurance will go up, our general house insurance will go up, across the whole community. So, it’s actually poor consideration.
I do understand that when buildings are going up, they suddenly have to make compromises that they didn’t expect to have to make. But surely, the best person to advise on those compromises would be an architect?
The one that’s done the design and can think of the holistic impact. The architect’s role really is to coordinate all of the consultants. So, to understand what’s happening with the structural, the mechanical, the electrical, the hydraulic, the landscape, the building code of Australia, the disability access; all of those things. To cut out an architect means that you may individually get the structural engineer to look at something, but if they don’t understand the holistic nature of how everything affects one or another, you could make a change that has huge ramifications for the rest of the building.
I think architects are getting a bit more bolshie about this, aren’t they? I was doing a story the other day about a building that was being touted by the developer as being designed by a really well-known architect, and the architect phoned me before the piece went to print and said, “if you’re writing about this building, please don’t mention my name because I was sacked off the project.” So then suddenly, the building becomes a lot less valuable in everybody’s eyes because they can no longer use the architect to advertise the building.
I’ve got a final question for you, so we can all go and cool off. I’m gonna put you on the spot here. Kathlyn. What’s your favorite apartment building in New South Wales, or anywhere in Australia?
That would be Wylde Street by Aaron Bolot, which is in Potts Point. It is absolutely beautiful. I would call it sculptural, you may not. It’s on a curved corner and each one of the levels has slightly nuanced back of house. What you see is this white building with beautiful big windows onto facing, what direction would that be? That would be south-east. It’s a very interesting building and actually, this is some type of communal title. There’s only a couple of them in New South Wales.
You have to be interviewed, if you’re going to buy into that apartment. It’s very hard to rent, because they like to know who lives there. When it was built, it actually has a massive timber turntable in the bottom so that people could drive their cars in, go around the turntable and then push them into the parking spots. It has a rear-deck access for fire escape, but it actually means that every unit has got two facades, so it can cross-ventilate. Lovely high ceilings, lovely parquetry floorboards. They each individually had verandas; a lot of them have actually filled in those verandas.
It was very futuristic when it was first designed and built.
And I think that’s the building that’s been in the news a few years ago, because some of the owners wanted to be allowed to have a dog and the board said “no,” but they actually managed to persuade the board to allow them to have a dog and it’s now very pet friendly. I remember that building from that too.
That building also has a rooftop, which all of the tenants or owners have access to and the most beautiful view. Again, talking about your communal spaces.
Thank you so much, Kathlyn, it was great to talk to you and hear about apartments and design in the future, and the bad things in the past. Thank you so much and we look forward to a much better design future.
Thank you, Sue and thank you, Jimmy. It was a pleasure.
So that building; her favorite building… Is it noteworthy that it’s old?
I guess its location is pretty amazing; pretty special, and its position on the street. The architect had really designed it for that place on the street. So, yes.
That was the period of that kind of thing where people-built buildings to make an impression.
They probably spent a lot more money on them, really.
Not just to fill a space. You know, let’s maximize the floor space ratio. Must be fascinating, being an architect these days.
Oh, I think so too, and I was really interested when she was talking about apartment buildings of the future, when we’re gonna have solar panels on the walls, because I know in our building, we’ve often tried to get solar panels in and it’s never quite worked, but if we were able to put them on the walls, these really thin, photovoltaic cells.
They don’t look like solar panels; they look like flammable cladding.
But also, growing food down in the basement, because you’re not going to use all those car spaces anymore.
Mushrooms in the basement.
That’s interesting. Because you don’t really need sunlight.
The two things struck me immediately about growing stuff in the basement were mushrooms and marijuana. You use the solar panels to fire the lights that the marijuana needs, and the hydroponic water delivery system. Don’t do this at home, kids. I’m just joking. We do not want marijuana manufacturing or growing in our apartment blocks.
We don’t want ‘high’ buildings. Yes, that’d be kind of interesting, wouldn’t it, if we could all grow our own food and be completely self-sufficient. You would need a chef in the apartment building as well, to actually turn it into meals, because people like me can’t cook.
You could grill the mushrooms, surely? Mushroom omelet? You could have chickens.
I don’t know how to use the cooker.
This is true folks. This is sadly true.
You could keep chickens and have eggs.
Yeah, that’d be great, wouldn’t it? You’d never have to go shopping again.
Breakfast of champions. When we come back, we’re gonna have our Hey Martha’s for this week.
And we’re back. Okay Sue, what is your Hey Martha for this week?
I went to the Sydney Dance Company this week. This was their first performance back after COVID, and it was fabulous. It was a program of four new choreographic works from actual members of the Sydney Dance Company. One I wasn’t too keen on, but one I thought was fantastic. The other two were really good.
This was a pretty A-list evening, I believe.
The Governor of New South Wales was there. Our local MP was there. There were lots and lots of people. Linda Burnie was there, Federal MP. Yeah, it was a star-studded group … and me. The Welcome to Country was amazing. A guy called Brendan from the local Aboriginal Land Council talked about having been taken away from his mother at Crown street Women’s Hospital. They took away Aboriginal babies, and his mother had been a stolen child as well. So, two generations had been stolen; quite astonishing, really.
It was a great evening, except one thing almost spoilt it for me. I think I’m just not used to going to live performances anymore. Just before it was about to start, I went to turn off my phone, because I always turn off my phone now, since I discovered that when you have an alarm set, it overrides the fact that you’ve turned off the sound. That can be devastating. So, I was turning off my phone and I hit the wrong button. I had been looking at The Guardian website, and suddenly, a voice started telling me all the stories on the Guardian website, reading the stories aloud and it was really loud and everybody around me started looking at me and hushing me and tutting and I just couldn’t turn it off. It took ages to turn it off. I managed to, in the nick of time, but I thought goodness me I’m so out of practice at going out.
How about you Jimmy? What’s your news of the week?
It’s good news from America ‘cause it’s not to do with the election. That’s a foregone conclusion. The White House will not only have a First dog, it will have a First cat as well.
This is all part of Joe Biden’s diversity and inclusiveness thing.
Because cats are not getting a fair go.
You see cats tend to be a British thing, don’t they? There’s always a ‘Number 10’ cat.
Oh, that’s true.
There’s always been cats at Number 10, but in the White House, it’s always been dogs. Well, now they’re gonna have both. Right across the board, he’s appealing to dog lovers and cat lovers and everybody else in between. Which I think is good. He just sounds like a nice man.
He’s the kind of person you’d like to be your uncle.
Or even your dad.
Maybe. I think your father might have something to say about that, Sue. Especially since his politics don’t exactly line up with Joe Biden’s.
And that great movie’s coming out this year, ‘A cat called Bob,’ about The Big Issue street seller who has a cat called Bob. It was a great book and the movie is coming out soon.
Oh, that’d be nice; nice uplifting story for Christmas, hooray. Okay, thank you again for coming onto our podcast. Thank you for indulging my reminiscences about strata disasters past. And thank you all for listening. And we’ll talk to you again, probably next week.
Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website, flat-chat.com.au and if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite podcatcher. 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.