Density done right: The Altair
It's been a while since I've written a post in this occasional series, but that's partly because there are depressingly few good recent examples to choose from. I've been looking for exemplary inner-suburban infill developments, and while this one is stretching the definition a bit, other infill developers could learn a lot from it.
The Altair townhouse development in Newtown's Rintoul St is, at three storeys, what I would call a low-rise medium-density development. It's in a location that's almost perfect for such a typology: close to public transport and amenities, and just close enough to walk to town if you're feeling fit, yet far enough into the suburbs that apartment living would be less appropriate. If we're to encourage more than just childless young people and empty-nesters to live at higher densities, then developments like these, with small private courtyards and shared spaces, will be an essential part of the housing mix.
Of course, there are plenty of townhouse developments around, but with a few exceptions they are mostly aesthetic disasters of the sort that provokes backlashes against infill. I think that these are an important counterexample because they illustrate one way of being contemporary without being bland or aggressive, and of being lively and friendly without giving in to pastiche. The mass is broken down into smaller units; the two halves of the development have different colours and materials; the façades are deep and animated; and the overall balance between consistency and variety is remarkably well done.
Not everyone will like their rectilinear style, and they're not "in keeping with the historic character" of the neighbourhood in the narrowest sense, but I think it's clear that this is thoughtful architecture with quality detailing and solid materials. Once the development is complete and the trees have grown, this could evolve a character of its own over time.
I said before that this stretches the definition of "infill", and that's because it's a large-scale development on a brownfield site (well, literally speaking Athletic Park was a green field, but you know what I mean) rather than an incremental intensification of one or two quarter-acre sections. The comprehensive nature of this project makes it much easier to plan the site well, to produce a balance of consistency and variety, and to respect the street as urban space, all of which are tricky when you've got a single section on a narrow street frontage to work with.
There are some things I'm not so keen on, such as the street-side parking on the southern half and the ambiguity between public and private spaces: creating new walkways for the general public can be a good thing, as can creating shared spaces for the residents only, but spaces that are unclear tend to work out poorly for both groups. I'm not in a position to judge things such as the quality of workmanship or the appropriateness of the interior planning, and at over half a million dollars for three bedrooms they're hardly a solution to the housing affordability crisis. But this is a much better use of land than the low-rise retirement ghetto that is spreading across the rest of the Athletic Park site, and it's proof that large medium-density townhouse developments don't have to be nasty, flimsy and unimaginative.