Where are the retirement villages for CBD high-rise residents?

Over the course of 2017 a group of like-minded consultants have been conceptualising a vertical “multi-age precinct” (MAP) in response to the lack of retirement options and the housing accessibility in the inner city.

Marchese Partners architect Simon Drysdale explained that the speculative project could be used to inform government and industry about the very best ways a MAP could host “third-phase” living.

He said the consultants had come together after debating what makes Melbourne liveable and, amongst other things, found that within the City of  Melbourne there was no dedicated retirement offer.

He said team participant Ellen Witte of SGS Economics and Planning had identified “demand” for such facilities and had studied innovative international exemplars that were not based on conventional “gated” communities.  Rather, they were based on a common desire to fight isolation by mingling a cohort of different ages together.

“Our idea presents a mirror image of the city,” he said. “Residents who choose to live in the high-rise of the CBD, Docklands or Southbank should have options. Our idea demonstrates ‘ageing in place’ at an urban level,” Mr Drysdale said.

“This idea means that you don’t have to go back to the suburbs if your city adopts these types of facilities. It’s an idea about social resilience.”

Mr Drysdale pointed out that the project drew a distinction between third phase living and aged-care facilities.

“Our ‘visioneering’ exercise aims to showcase how positive convergences can happen when an apartment community is intentionally designed to cater for diversity,” he said.

He said the consultants workshopped what such a high-density model might look like and generated a return brief.

Participating in this “consultant-led thought hackathon” are architects Marchese Partners, quantity surveyors Slattery, SGS Economics and Planning and landscape architects Papworth Davies. The project was later supported by community engagement group Capire and wayfinding specialists Vivid Communications.

“The Quay West apartment hotel in Southbank was chosen as the idea proving ground because of what is adjacent – because the site bookends Southgate and we wanted to explore adaptive reuse in a building form as more than a metaphor for ageing,” Mr Drysdale said.

“To be clear, there is no suggestion that this site is currently being converted into a MAP but, like a large chunk of new development, the fact that it is partly strata-owned diminishes its chances of it ever being suitable.”

However, Mr Drysdale said, a C or D-grade hotel, office building or a commercial car park would provide an ideal starting structure for such an exercise.

Some of the ideal elements for a MAP include:

  • Age and socially diverse;
  • Close to transport and services;
  • Mix of housing types, sizes and price points; and
  • Private and public shared spaces.

Mr Drysdale said these ideas contrasted with conventional high-rise that all too often result in a “prescribed disengagement through a lack of diversity of cultural, spatial and architectural options”.

“Those buildings generally keep people apart  rather than bringing them together,” he said.

Mr Drysdale said suburban Melbourne had a rich mix, but this was missing from Southgate.

“A multi-age precinct is exactly that – a mix,” he said. “Good design encourages residents at every stage of life to be confident and it is activated by what we call ‘design for encounter’ and intentional ‘neighbouring’.”

However, it is conceded that raw market economics were against the likelihood of such a MAP being built without government support by providing planning and financial incentives.

Belinda Coates, director of clients and strategy at Slattery, said the project was deliberately aspirational to gain the attention of government and community stakeholders.

“Marchese Partners have designed an extraordinary aesthetic building which has tantalised the taste buds of Melbourne’s decision makers,” she said.

Mr Drysdale said: “The challenge for government is to be able to see the value in the enrichment of communities that would flow from these types of developments.”

“It would allow people to live in a way that they perhaps otherwise would not be able to be assisted by the various different financial models available and understood overseas.”

“Whilst we understand that our children are different from those of the past the same focus needs to apply to the other end of the life spectrum.”

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