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Designing communities that endure

Masterplanning is the alchemy that reconciles design, density and profit. It’s not just about designing houses, but designing the visible and invisible connective tissue that holds everything together.

The higher density you go – the more units on less land – the more pressure on design. You need skilled architects experienced at density to avoid the view-into-your-neighbours-bathroom scenario and to be able to create communities from a blank page, or sustain communities going through renewal.

As a society, we are returning to wanting more shared experiences. We don’t want to be isolated. Living in closer connection to others is a good thing and adds a new dimension to life. While the quarter acre dream is no longer in reach for many or sustainable for our cities, instead of bemoaning the loss, a generation are starting to celebrate the idea of designed communities. Chance encounters with neighbours and a sense of belonging is the stuff of a life well-lived.

Well-masterplanned communities are highly liveable. They have good transport connections, amenities such as schools, shops, green open spaces and foster good social interactions.

We believe there are five ingredients to a successful masterplan that creates a community:

01. Strong feasibility planning

We advocate a think first, design better approach - starting with market research to establish the masterplan brief, business model and feasibility.

The more thinking and planning at the outset, outlining the vision, market values, affordability quotient and psychographic mix, the better the community will be.

02. Varying up the mix

Lots with varied typologies e.g. mixes of different sized terraces, apartments and standalone homes, along with ensuring everyone gets a share of the sun and outdoor space, all come together as a creatively executed solution that takes into account yields, sales and market appetites.

A mix of typologies and housing has a strong impact on creating a sense of place. Careful thought to where each type is placed gives developments the feeling of a cohesive whole that works in practice. And providing options for people at all stages of life creates a diverse, safer community.

03 A sense of place

A key goal of a good masterplan is to create a strong sense of place. Houses with good connections to their neighbours, the neighbourhood and with the street. Investing in the design of streets, parks and community spaces – this is the glue that takes a development from good to great.

It’s the opposite of old-school thinking where large lots are carved up on paper with streets set out by surveyors. We need to do better. If you go taller and denser, your access ways, outdoor space and parking need all the more careful attention. A row of parked cars in front of homes doesn’t create a community. Whereas clever laneways that add practical, social and visual excitement do.

04. Landscaping

Good greening softens hard edges and creates a sense of place. And its more than just adding plants. It’s a careful strategy developed by skilled landscape designers to see the kind of harmony and amenity we’re seeing emerge in developments like Hobsonville. The design of everything from fencing, letterboxes and lighting helps to create a quality streetscape.

05. Connections

Good connections by foot, bike and car make neighbourhoods enjoyable to get around. Footpaths and cycleways encourage activity. Good thought to car parking avoids their visual dominance, and reduces the risk of cars taking precedence over pedestrians. They can coexist, but safely and slowly.

But wait, there’s more…

Last, but not least, great masterplanning will get you through the consents process more easily. Well-considered design that demonstrates how a scheme gives effect to council's policy objectives and long-term plan. Backed up with details of how it complies or doesn’t comply with planning controls, leads to a faster route to market.

And a plug for virtual building. Understanding what it’s like it to walk through the streets, and feel a place at human scale is critical in the design stage. We use tools like augmented and virtual reality to play around with typologies, density and height scenarios. We take our clients on a virtual journey to make the experience of living in a planned community real to them during planning. Spending time in a community virtually is the best way to design a community that works.