The Reality behind Ellivo Architects’ Apartment Designs

February 02, 2012

As Architects we strive to deliver the best product possible in response to the project brief, budget and perceived end user requirements.

As part of a Research and Development Day, Ellivo Architects have carried out reviews of past projects, visiting and getting feedback from residents and building managers in post occupancy inspections, to understand how the designs of the buildings are working for them as owners, occupiers and managers two years after completion.

Some of the results are as you would expect, and others are quite surprising and will lead to a shift in our apartment designs.

Largely, tenants, owners and managers were very happy with unit layouts. Interesting, but not unexpected observations included:

• Within apartment developments reviewed, there are apartment layouts that have waiting lists and command higher returns from tenants who are keen to move when a vacancy arises; and others that don’t command this additional rental bonus.

• As expected, the most popular unit layout for investment stock has become the dual master bedroom units, (two bed, two bath (ensuite and a two way bathroom for second bedroom), simply because the apartment handles two occupants contributing equal rent with no superior tenant.

• With the constant reduction of internal unit sizes, communal external breakout spaces are proving increasingly popular. This inspires us to continue to include these and look for new ways to incorporate quality outdoor breakout spaces outside the floor plate of residents’ units.

There were also a couple of surprising discoveries, which will direct us to modify designs for future apartments where it is appropriate:

• The landscaped areas of private courtyards have not had their gardens maintained to the level that developers had expected or hoped. Few tenants have used their planter boxes in their private spaces and they have become quite bedraggled in some courtyards. This is despite the body corporate maintaining planters and gardens in communal spaces impeccably.

• In some units we designed access to a balcony from bed 1 as well as the living space, resulting in reduced wall space but better light and circulation to the bedroom. We have found that tenants would in some cases prefer reduced access to the balcony from private areas, and increased useable wall space. In one unit we found a tenant had shut the curtains and pushed a dresser up against the sliding glass door rather than use the outdoor light and access to the balcony.

These two observations alone will influence our current apartment designs, encouraging us to focus on well-landscaped communal areas and minimizing individual and expensive courtyards that require gardening upkeep from owners and tenants. We will also contemplate the need for a balcony access door from the bedrooms of an apartment, considering instead the creation of extra wall space for tenants to place furniture against.

It is a very valuable and insightful process talking to owners, occupiers and managers of a development a couple of years after the development is completed and apartments are in full use. These observations give us the knowledge and confidence in making valuable decisions during the design stage for future projects.

These post-occupancy evaluations have been done as part of a research and development day carried out by the entire Ellivo Architects’ team. In order to keep our work at the forefront of design we have committed to devoting valuable studio time to R&D exercises throughout the year to stay in touch with:

• international trends

• new technologies/ materials

• new software

• evaluations of built product

This article is written by Dan Volpato, Associate of Ellivo Architects.