High Density And Public Open Space: Are They Mutually Exclusive?


By Daniel Hudson, Director of Jackson Teece

How do we ensure that our cities will grow successfully and sustainably? How can we balance an increase in density with quality public spaces and amenities while accommodating an intensification of urban population to maintain a sense of community and social cohesion? How do we do this and capitalise on existing infrastructure and adopt the right new long lasting public infrastructure which will reduce urban sprawl and reduce the impact on the environment?

These are questions that Architects have been considering since the beginning of civilisation and our relatively young Australian cities have far more potential to adapt to our modern lifestyles than many old world cities.


Source: Jackson TeeceWithin the planning and architectural profession we understand some of the fundamental answers to these questions: Transit Oriented Developments which co-locate mixed uses such as residential, offices, retail and leisure activities over or adjacent to significant multi modal transport nodes; the allocation of public open space within our major developments, fringed and activated with retail and areas for recreation; the creation of taller more slender buildings by reducing building footprints and the introduction of negative podiums for people to use as open recreation areas at ground level.

Our City Councils, Planners and Government Agencies are constantly reviewing strategies and planning controls with the intention to provide a framework for the design of our cities. Both the development industry and Government Agencies share a common interest for our design strategies to be successful, although their implementation often raises concern that their goals are in conflict with each other.


Source: Jackson TeeceAs architects we so often find ourselves discussing building height as a major point of contention of any proposal, particularly in areas adjacent to lower density buildings. This is often at odds with our intention to maximise open space at ground level, provide density along transport corridors and high quality urban design. There is also the pressure to meet our client's brief in regard to yield and feasibility to also afford quality design outcomes. This is always a balance of the adequate provision and retention of amenities to the public and the desire to create a bigger and more beautiful project. 

The assignment of key areas for development adjacent to transport nodes and with established pedestrian and cycle connections allows for the concentration of development and density in the most beneficial areas. These dense nodes of development in selected locations also allow for the existing character of our historical suburbs to be maintained. In many historic suburbs in Brisbane there are significant under-utilised light industrial areas which present great opportunity for the existing communities to evolve and enjoy an expansion of accessible open space to enjoy, similar to the Green Square and Waterloo precincts in Sydney. Development of these key sites should be seen as a positive process and a great opportunity for the city. An increase in population creates vibrancy and activity, supporting restaurants and local businesses. 

Now the most predictable negative community backlash towards significant development proposals, is a concern about height and density and subsequent impacts on traffic congestion. Many cities, such as Sydney, are reducing the reliance on parking in development and promoting car sharing and public transport as one solution to this issue. Perhaps our industry is failing to advocate, educate or quite simply explain the benefits of these proposals to developers and the community as a whole.  Promising and forward thinking strategies can also be hampered by council and government representatives concerned about re-election issues, that it hinders their judgement when considering the merits of a project, zoning of a site, or the preparation of a strategic plan.


Source: Jackson TeeceWhile each situation and site requires individual consideration, one thing is quite obvious - significant density in our cities should be encouraged around transport nodes. We should be encouraging an increase in height where possible allowing for reduced footprints of buildings. These projects cannot be created at the cost of a quality public domain that can offer a diversity of amenities dependent on the needs of the locale. As much attention must be given to the ground plane as the ‘fifth façade’ as the principal elevation is required in order to achieve the spaces that can support high density environments.    

It is clear that high density quality development and public open space can sit together comfortably, their relationship and success can be symbiotic, they can each enhance the other’s environment and this can be achieved commercially. It just takes skill and communication. 


Daniel HudsonDaniel Hudson is an Architect, Director of Jackson Teece and Principal of Jackson Teece’s Brisbane office. He has gained a broad range of experience across numerous fields within the industry working for practices in Brisbane, Sydney and London.

Daniel played a lead role in the realisation of Brisbane’s first significant transit-oriented development, Southpoint, adjacent to Brisbane’s South Bank train station. This project, designed by Jackson Teece and developed by the Anthony John Group, was secured through an architectural design competition facilitated by Southbank Corporation. Southpoint will be realised over three stages, comprising 24,000sqm of commercial space, over 400 apartments, a 140 room boutique hotel and a restaurant and retail precinct. The main design principles for the project were centred around the creation of activated public space connecting to the train station at the ground levels through the introduction of a negative podium.

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