28-30 Apr 2020
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

The dilemma of ResCode for Architects

Residential development provisions, known as ResCode can set back the greatest idea and make it ‘considerably less’. With these requisite council setbacks for the second level of a home, the formula used by architects to achieve these setbacks, can be awkwardly expressed in the build.

In inner city areas, one can see Victorian terraces with staggered first floors to achieve these setbacks, minimising overshadowing and ensuring privacy for neighbours is achieved. “Sometimes, these extensions resemble a pattern book, with the first floor outline expressed in a clumsy manner,” says architect Antony Martin, director of MRTN Architects. “You see these one metre setbacks on the first floor and then an angled roof,” he adds.

Extending back instead of up to adhere to ResCode

Martin, along with most architects, regularly faces the dilemma of creating as much usable space for his clients. However, rather than creating a first floor that appears ‘ill-at-ease’, Martin will suggest not going up, but sticking to a ground floor plan only, whether it’s a new house, or a renovation. The other strategy used by MRTN Architects is to create a mansard-style roof, using the same material, such as steel for the sidewalls, as for the roof. “This creates a more holistic approach rather than seeing the first level as an afterthought,” says Martin.

Photo credit: Shannon McGrath

For MRTN Architects award-winning house in Carlton, dabbed the ‘Carlton cloister’ the architects built the first floor at the rear of the property, extending it in part over the garage that has access to a rear lane. “This scheme didn’t initially comply with ResCode, but because it was at the very rear of the property and didn’t overshadow neighbours, it was approved by Council,” says Martin. Although Martin and his colleagues manage to work within the ResCode guidelines, he often feels that the requisite setbacks for a second level are too restrictive, particularly when applied in the inner city.  “There was a recent increase in the guidelines to allow for an additional 200 millimetres in height for the second level, but this won’t dramatically change how the interior spaces feel,” says Martin, who sees the effect as ‘sandwiching’ spaces. “You typically find both the living areas on the ground floor and bedrooms above slightly marginalised in how they feel,” he adds.

Photo credit: Shannon McGrath

It’s paramount to have a good relationship with neighbours

Architect Anna O’Toole from Nest Architects appreciates the importance of not upsetting neighbourings with overshadowing from first floor additions. “The discussion of setbacks usually starts early in the design process, with clients typically wanting more space,” says O’Toole, who, as with Nest’s clients, is keen to ensure the brief can be met with the lot size available. “It’s often difficult to get across to clients that there are limits as to how much space can be achieved, particularly on small inner city sites,” says O’Toole.

Rather than arguing these cases out at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), Nest Architects tends to work with shaping the facades of the first floor to create more of a focus when viewed from the owner’s backyard. It is currently working on a house with a twist in one upper-level façade in order to remove the focus on the side elevation that adheres strictly to ResCode guidelines. “Each case has to be treated differently, but no one wants to be overshadowed by a neighbour or have windows looking straight into their back gardens,” says O’Toole.

Photo credit: Lauren Bamford

One of the ways less friction is achieved in these matters is with early consultation with neighbours. Rather than being alarmed once the advertising material is sent out, Nest approaches the various neighbours who may be affected. “It’s paramount to have a good relationship with neighbours, not simply satisfying a client’s brief but creating bad will to around you,” adds O’Toole.

Although a 200-millimetres increase in permissible height may slightly increase ceiling heights within a home, many second floors appear awkwardly placed when seen from the street. With more families moving to the inner city, these first floor additions will become increasingly important. “Living close to neighbours is inherent in city living. It’s really come to a point where regulations and guidelines have to become more relaxed. Otherwise, we will continue to see more poorly cement-rendered cladding to first floors,” adds Martin.

MRTN Architects can be contacted on 8548 4638
Nest Architects can be contacted on 9329 2390

About the Author: Stephen Crafti

Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990’s and is a regular contributor to DesignBUILD. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he was keen to share the things he saw, whether buildings, furniture, fashion or other stunning pieces of contemporary design. After many years of writing about his favourite things, and with numerous books and articles behind him, Crafti still delights in discovering and promoting exhilarating design. He is a regular contributor to several Australian newspapers and local and international design magazines.

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