Spoonbill Beach House designed by Bark Architects. Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones

As more people flock to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland for the temperate climate and breathtaking views, the Sunshine Coast Council is looking for ways to accommodate growth without compromising sustainability, liveability and affordability. 

The council has launched a new design guide specific to the region, complete with 10 guiding principles specific to the unique climate and landscape of the region. The book was informed by a “brains trust” of local and experienced practitioners from various design disciplines.

While the word sustainability is not used prominently, principles such as “create shade spaces that put people first” and “strengthen and extend a network of green corridors” suggest that sustainability and human-centred design underpin design in the region.

This is no accident. For Lindy Atkin and Stephen Guthrie, who are both directors at Bark Architecture – one of the architecture studios consulted on the design guide – best practice design is now synonymous with sustainability.

“For too long, it’s been considered something that’s separate, but sustainability needs to be underpinning every decision made about design … it should be inherent in every design.”

Maroochydore Wetland Sanctuary. Photography by Krista Appleton

In the past, when a client asked for sustainability, they were effectively asking for solar panels. Sustainable design has come a long way since then, with passive design now key.

Fortunately, the subtropical Sunshine Coast climate is well suited to passive design. “You don’t need heating or cooling if you dress right for it”, Guthrie says.

The Goldilocks climate make passive design very achievable. Atkin says it’s all about positioning the living areas to make the most of the winter sun, and taking advantage of the natural breezes with well positioned and operable windows and doors to keep cool in summer.

The design guide also encourages the use of awnings, screens, verandas, louvered windows and battens to create “comfortable indoor/outdoor rooms”.

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The design book also spells out he importance of capturing and framing views of its beaches and green hinterland to create context. The danger of not providing context by capturing views is that people feel disconnected from place and risk becoming isolated.

Why does the region need its own design guide?

As one of the largest and fastest-growing local governments in Australia, the council is mindful of how unplanned growth could adversely impact the region’s special character and liveability.

“Density is something the general public is scared of,” Atkin says. This isn’t entirely surprising given the poor quality of some large scale developments in the region, which tend to rely on airconditioning and are oriented with the garage facing the road rather than for optimum passive comfort.

Beerwah Town Centre. Photography by Andy Maccoll

With plans for improved rail connectivity to Brisbane, increased density will be necessary to accommodate the expected growth. But the council wants to avoid “large-scale bland developments and hot, treeless streets” typical of poorly planned densification.

Atkin’s say the aim is not to replace single seaside dwellings with skyscrapers.

“They will need to be transformed into medium density.”

Atkin’s studio has been involved in a project to showcase what “happy medium” density looks like, with buildings no higher than five storeys.

“As more people are attracted to live on our Sunshine Coast, we need to encourage design that reflects our region’s values and characteristics and guide a design process that enhances and protects what we love about this place,” Sunshine Coast Council environment and liveability portfolio Councillor Peter Cox says.

Inspiring best practice

The document is about showcasing best practice design in the region – an optimistic piece of work intended to inspire built environment professionals.

The intention is for the book to be picked up by more than just residential architects, with the 10 principles accessible for building designers, developers, builders and drafts people to use as a ready reference.

Although the design guide represents an ambitious step in the right direction (to the envy of other Queensland councils, and prompting at least the Gold Coast among the council areas to work on their own region-specific design guidelines) Guthrie says there’s a long way to go when minimum planning parameters “still come out with something pretty ordinary.”

The hope is that the design guide will inspire voluntary improvements rather than being too prescriptive and asking developer to “tick boxes”.

A strong design foundation to build upon

The region has a strong design legacy going back 30 or 40 years, and is famous for producing some of Australia’s best architects, including the late Gabriel Poole and husband and wife team Lindsay and Kerry Clare of Clare Design.

As such, there were robust foundations to build upon in the creation of the design guide.

“The Sunshine Coast region has a good track record of producing quality architecture that’s been recognised at a national and international level. This book will encourage more high quality architecture and design in the region,” Lindsay Clare from Clare Design said.

The 10 design principles to protect and promote the values of the region are:

1. Work with the local climate
2. Create places that respect and incorporate landscape
3. Bring our cultures, arts and heritage to life
4. Capture and frame views and create vistas
5. Strengthen and extend a network of green corridors
6. Be inspired by the natural and built environment
7. Create shady streets that put people first
8. Create welcoming places that can be enjoyed by everyone
9. Design places to be resilient and ready for change
10. Create and add value.

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  1. …….Sunshine Coast Council is looking for ways to accommodate growth without compromising sustainability, liveability and affordability. ……Not possible. Every additional person increases environmental stress on the region. Why is it that you promote sustainability and growth? They are incompatible.

    1. They are not incompatible. What’s incompatible with sustainability is people wanting to hog all the best resources and not sharing. Sustainability is for the planet AND people.