By Janette Corcoran – apartment living expert,
“What we see depends mainly on what we look for” – John Lubbock.
And what we look for in vertical villages is largely related to the role we play in the vertical living sector – developer, building manager, resident, investor, contractor, committee member or concierge – meaning that different things gain attention when viewing the world of vertical villages.
With this in mind, my column this year will seek to share some of these different perspectives of our vertical villages, with the aim of highlighting points of view other than “our” own. Who knows what might be brought to light!
To start this endeavour, I thought it fitting to talk with someone that vertical villagers typically first encounter when entering the high-rise, high-density sector – namely, the real estate agent.
And to see what captures the attention of those that know well the vertical village market (i.e. factors influencing buyers), I spoke with Cary Thornton. Cary is currently of LUCAS Docklands which unashamedly claims the title of vertical living specialists.
My first question to Cary was – what’s so special about vertical living? He said the most striking feature of this sector was its diversity. In his experience, traditional suburbs tend to have a noticeable “sameness”, largely because birds of a feather flock together. This goes to the point that suburbs tend attract people from the same socio-economic band and who are often on similar life paths. This results in not-a-lot-of-diversity within particular suburbs – there aren’t many backpackers in Toorak! This is not the case in our high-rise neighbourhoods, where most buildings contain apartments varying greatly in price – often starting in the mid-400,000s and reaching several million. Add to this different apartment sizes (one, two or three bedrooms), and it means most vertical villages have a mix of families, solos, retirees and visitors.
This point led nicely on to my second question about the key challenges confronting the sector. Cary then raised a point about the pragmatics of diversity, specifically in terms of challenges encountered by building management. This goes to the point that diversity means that different people value (or consider normal practice) different things. We know well the differences of opinion regarding, for instance, late night activity where dancing on the ceiling (borrowing from Lionel Richie) becomes all too real for the person living below. Or framed in terms of vertical living – one person’s floor is another person’s ceiling and differences in lifestyle, combined with too little insulation, means that these differences can escalate to division.
A second area of challenge noted by Cary was the focus of owners’ corporations (OCs) and the need for these key decision makers to have a vision for their building beyond just upkeep. According to Cary, “OCs need to be able to articulate what they want out of the building. And they need to have a long-term vision for where they see their building going.”
In terms of challenges confronting the wider vertical living sector, Cary’s opinion was that too often regulators were caught “on the back foot”, meaning that approaches to issues, such as short stays, have been largely reactive. “There is a wealth of experience around – and many issues could have been foreseen and helped by what has happened overseas. But there is a lag time in responding …”
Finally, Cary nominated the great need for tailored energy innovations. While he noted some signs of advances, such as the work undertaken by Lend Lease, Cary believes that greater attention needs to given to this aspect of vertical living – and it needs to happen now!
With regards to what current innovations have impressed him, Cary noted the advances in communal space design. In the past, many buildings have sought to offer it all, which resulted in a small pool, a half sized court, a tiny gym, a small shared kitchen and a cramped lounge. Trying to offer all these facilities typically meant that nothing was done particularly well and so were underutilised. Cary’s advice is to focus on one or two facilities and do these really well. And something done really well, which has captured his attention, is the use of animation (and maybe soon virtual reality?) in in-house sports simulation.
So, from the perspective of someone deeply involved in vertical living buying and selling, our sector has both the appeal and challenge of innate diversity and we are learning more about designing and managing communal space.
But what strongly came through to me from my chat with Cary was the growing need to be more future looking – both the OCs and regulators – with both groups needing to be more “on the front foot.” Maybe there could be an in-house simulation for this? •