Are the high towers in Sydney making us sick?

Concerns over light and ventilation

Long, artificially lighted halls, balconies in which you cannot sit because of the wind and apartments with no cross ventilation, can make people sick on the long term, some of Sydney’s urban designers are warning inhabitants, reports the Building Designers' Association of Australia.

'Long corridors, deep corridors, closed-off corridors where many apartments might share the one lift – this is not considered best practice anymore,' Timothy Horton, registrar of the NSW Architects Registration Board, said. Furthermore, Benjamin Driver, architect and senior urban designer with Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects says that: 'Physically, these buildings are sick. In the long term, they make us sick.' But what made them reach this conclusion?

The Sydney Architecture Festival aims to educate the public on best practices, to praise the best projects and to discuss excesses. This year’s theme was 'What makes a building great again?', and about 1500 architects, urban designers and members of the general public from Sydney gathered to discuss it. Mr Driver proposes the idea 'gentle urbanism', a project that doesn’t allow the construction of tall and bulky 30 story- plus towers, in favour of small buildings, landscaping in order to give shadow and natural light to the residents and with spacious three of four bedroom apartments.

The most important in people’s home life was the access to natural light, a survey of 2000 NSW residents by NSW Architects Registration Board, shows. Of course, an apartment owner might gain marvelous views, but he won’t go outside and talk to friends, Mr Driver said. There is also another perspective you should consider. The apartments are well above the tree line so they are more prone to hearing and sitting on the balcony is not enjoyable because it is too windy. Besides, you limit your exercise by not taking the stairs and going up by lift. This way you also limit the social interaction with your neighbours, Mr Driver explains.

Andrew Nimmo, president of the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects backs the idea that many developers don’t supply the basic need of natural light and ventilation for people who live in their apartments. On the other hand, a great example is a winner of the NSW Architecture Awards, Fox Johnston who developed The Rochford in Erskineville, a building that values these basic needs. The Griffiths Teas building in Surry Hills, another winner was renovated by Popov Bass. For the 38 new apartments they kept the best qualities from the old warehouse.

International House Sydney at Barangaroo by Tzannes, the first fully engineered timber building, 'Is a calming place to work where the gentle scent of timber pervades', Mr Nimmo says. The building achieved the six-star Greenstar rating thanks to the 350 photovoltaic panels and because the building locked in 2700 tons of carbon in its floors, columns and beams.

Urban designer Laura Harding thinks that the city is more interested in private interests than in having a healthy city. Once the damage has been done, people are left with only an apology. She says that the city should renew itself but in a limited way. 'The public realm has a lifespan that is much longer than individual buildings and we should not tolerate it being shackled by developers in this way.', says Laura Harding. She also suggests keeping in mind the mistakes that were made 30 years ago at Darling Harbour, where buildings raised without having any chemistry or respecting any rules of collective design. Laura Harding remembers: 'When it was recently decided to replace the building stock – we razed the entire precinct to the ground to do it. We made a city precinct that did not last more than 30 years. We made a disposable city. What an unprecedented failure of civic imagination and, in sustainability terms, utter lunacy.'

Unfortunately, nobody learned from that mistake and now it perpetuates at Barangaroo, at Green Square Town Centre, Mascot, Wolli Creek, Wentworth Point and Rhodes, Mrs. Harding says.

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