Is an attractive denser urban environment possible?

The best of both worlds: an innovative, smart, small scale, high density, lifestyle.
Is it possible to densify the Central Coast, create a more cohesive urban environment, and more attractive and active townships, while keeping the coastal lifestyle that is currently in place?
I believe the answer is yes.
Single family houses provide a great lifestyle. They offer privacy and seclusion, outdoor living areas, generous backyards, quiet interiors, and direct contact with nature.
However, they also create isolation, build reliance on cars, and produce disjointed empty streetscapes, resulting in weak communities, the death of public space and a generally poor urban environment.
Is it possible to combine the good private elements of a single family house with the public and social advantages of denser environments?
How can we provide a nice laid back Australian coastal lifestyle and at the same time offer compact, pedestrian friendly, active urban environments?
With the increased popularity of the Central Coast and the demand for more housing, the area is rapidly transforming.
New job opportunities within the Coast and the rise of flexible work agreements have seen a significant number of Sydneysiders move to the Coast.
With the population of the area increasing, we need to figure out how we can provide more housing opportunities without compromising the coast’s unique lifestyle.
We need a new residential environment that while denser still preserves the characteristics and the feeling of the traditional stand-alone homes currently in the area.
If we do not do this, or we choose to resist change, we will end up with more and more generic developments that do not relate to the context, nor align with the desired lifestyle.
Don’t believe me? Look at Brighton le Sands.
Our recent multi-residential projects in the Central Coast have given us the opportunity to explore these questions and work on providing an answer to them.
What we have come to realise is that with smart design and careful consideration it is possible to take all the features of an individual house and incorporate them into new, denser, and exciting building types that will provide a better urban outcome without compromising the traditional “Coastie” lifestyle.
New development and housing types that create a more compact urban environment while still giving each family the space and the features of a single family home
What we propose is a mix between a house-townhouse and a standard apartment block; a three or four storey hybrid that takes the best of both worlds.
A high street urban environment with continuous, active facades and vibrant public areas on the outside coupled with the spaces of a coastal home behind and generous outdoor spaces within.
It is a new type of dwelling that preserves and improves on privacy, that still gives you a generous backyard or a rooftop terrace, that offers you a fireplace, that has a place for your car and for your workshop, and that keeps the leafy outlook.
It is an environment where driveways are reduced, communal courtyards and play areas are bigger and safer, and where internal spaces are more generous.
This can be done through a series of simple steps.
Substituting the front garden with an internal courtyard moves the houses to the street creating a better defined streetscape with a clearer frame, more legible entries and less wasted space and dark pockets, while providing each house with a more usable and controllable outdoor space in the middle of the house.
Reducing or eliminating side setbacks allows for bigger and more private inner block open spaces and at the same time creates a continuous street façade reminiscent of traditional towns.
Changing the roof levels allows natural light into the deeper areas of the house, opening new layout opportunities.
Shared underground communal car parking and communal urban courtyards create nicer and safer urban blocks that are pedestrian friendly, while still allowing each individual to own their own house.
Stacking two full size homes one of top of each other, allowing people to choose between gardens and rooftop terraces while not compromising on the size of their dwelling, and still accessing each dwelling directly from the street.
All these elements will create nicer neighbourhoods with less driveways and more active public spaces. The overall urban feel will be improved by well-defined streets, active facades and better lighting.
So, let’s stop making generic shoeboxes. Instead, let’s create with intent.
Let’s reinvent the villas and the low rise bungalows. Let’s provide courtyards and communal block gardens.
Let’s deal with garages and cars in a more innovative way. Let’s build more rooftop terraces. Let’s improve our interface with the street.
Let’s make our streets more walkable, let’s generate more active pockets and plazas. Let’s increase the density so there is a critical mass of users for plazas and parks to work, and for retail shops to stay in the area.
Let’s develop an environment where courtyards, gardens and rooftop terraces are a big part of the new dwellings. Yet, an environment dense enough to create vibrant town centres and active streets. A walkable environment where cars are less dominant and plazas start to work.
Let’s develop a true Australian 21st century typology.

Email, 17 June 2019
Pedro Garcia (architect), Woy Woy

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