Stay Up to Date

Architects Discuss the New Urban Garden

Stephen Crafti, leading architecture and design writer, speaks with major Melbourne architecture studios for their take on contemporary rooftop gardens.


The back yard was once synonymous with outdoor entertaining. However, as people ditch their patch of dirt for the convenience of apartment living, architects and designers come up with ways of ‘greening’ the inner city urban abode. Some developers are keen to squeeze every square metre into spaces that provide an immediate return in a financial sense. Others see the benefits in providing outdoor spaces, such as rooftop gardens, to create a richer environment for residents.


“It’s important to provide an environment that’s comfortable to be in during the extreme weather, either hot or chilly,” says architect Hannah Jonasson of DKO Architecture, who reflects on some of Melbourne’s 35 degree days. “It’s also important to have outdoor experiences, whether you’re having a few friends over or entertaining the family. It’s not dissimilar to having your own back yard,” says architect Jesse Linardi of DKO. “People love to connect with nature,” he adds.


According to Linardi and Jonasson, providing flexible outdoor spaces that aren’t dedicated to one function is also paramount. “Providing outdoor amenities is more than just ticking boxes on a marketing brochure. They have to be used for a variety of purposes, whether it’s reading a book or standing around a barbeque,” says Linardi. “It’s a deliberate move to create outdoor spaces that are pleasurable to use,” agrees Debbie Ryan, Principal of McBride Charles Ryan.  “Having the right outdoor space simply lifts one’s spirits.”


Jonasson sees successful examples of rooftop gardens overseas, in countries such as Denmark and The Netherlands, and cites a recent example in France, where a mandatory law has just been made to create green roofs that reduce the heat load in urban environments. And while the Highline garden in New York (a disused railway track) comes to both their minds, “the Highline is for the general public rather than for private use,” says Jonasson.


Closer to home, Melbourne is fortunate to have a number of well-planned examples. There’s the award-winning The Commons apartments, located in Brunswick. In this instance, there’s a vegetable garden on the rooftop, tended to by all residents, together with a laundry and protected area for drying clothes. Barbeque facilities orientated to the city skyline enliven outdoor entertaining. Not dissimilarly, Neometro, MA Architects and architect Grant Amon provided a rooftop garden in their design for 231 Moor Street, also in Brunswick. While this rooftop garden is relatively modest in scale, it does offer residents in this boutique development an important ‘breathing space’ for the inner city.


Not far away, in Pelham Street, Carlton, are the Bravo apartments by Hayball. For Bravo, which includes a number of different apartment typologies, the rooftop garden allows for different experiences. There’s a bench-style table for residents to entertain friends, with Melbourne’s city skyline as an impressive backdrop. There are also seating areas to enjoy the northern aspect over the Carlton neighbourhood. “We wanted to create a sense of the public square. But the difference is that it has been elevated to focus on special characteristics found in the area,” says architect Ann Lau, a director at Hayball.


At NewQuay, the rooftop garden at Elm & Stone is part of an expansive green design by DKO that also features two rooftop terraces, a reflective pond, an infinity pool and, most strikingly, an extension of the greenery to the facades of the towers, where plant life cascades downwards to create a living veil. Other NewQuay developments like Banksia and The Quays feature designs with a similar eye toward green spaces.


The rooftop garden is certainly not trying to replace the suburban back garden. However, as more people move to apartment living, having a sense of greenery around them is important. “People need outdoor space whether they’re in a house or an apartment. Having a rooftop garden not only adds value in a financial sense, but also to your everyday well being,” adds Ryan.


Stephen Crafti is a leading Melbourne architecture and design writer. Since the 1990s, he has written and commented extensively about interior design and residential architecture in books, on radio, and in numerous newspaper and magazine titles, including a regular column in The Age.
Return to News