Defence Housing Australia is embracing biophilic design with its $136 million Arkadia apartment project in Alexandria, which includes chooks and bees on the roof.

The design for the 152-unit mid-rise by DKO in partnership with Breathe Architecture features extensive integrated greening designed by landscape architects Oculus, and will be built by Cockram Construction.

Elements include facade greening, a “village green” at ground level, elevated pocket parks, shaded public pedestrian throughways, vegetable garden allotments on levels two, three and five, and a rooftop garden on level six with reading pods, BBQ areas, more vegetable beds, a chook run and apiary.

Other sustainability features include extensive use of recycled brick for the structure and facade, a 50kW rooftop solar PV system that will power the common area lighting and a 50,000 litre rainwater storage for landscape irrigation.

There is no airconditioning for lobby areas; instead it has been designed for natural ventilation, and the common hot water system is an energy-efficient electric heat pump, DHA managing director Jan Mason says.

There is parking for 160 bicycles along with a bike workshop in the basement carpark. Parking for cars includes dedicated car-share spaces. Mason says it is hoped the facilities for cyclists will encourage residents to use cars less often.

The design was chosen following a competitive competition that had sustainability as a key criteria.

“DHA is committed to creating healthy and vibrant communities and sustainable living is a key part of that,” Mason says.

The project has also been designed to be as “fossil fuel free” as possible in terms of operation, she says.

For example, there is no gas reticulation for appliances or heating. To reduce electricity use, all the apartments and terraces will have induction cooktops and LED light fittings. Common area stairs, lift lobbies, corridors, carparks and bike storage areas will have LED lighting with motion sensors.

Mason says that natural cross-ventilation to all apartments has been maximised, including in many of the corner apartments.

Large overhangs to balconies and deep reveals for windows also increase shade and reduce thermal loads on the building.

Airconditioning in the apartments in the living and bedroom areas has been zoned for day-night and comprises one-phase systems with an energy efficiency rating greater than 3.5 stars.

“All up, we’ve gone to enormous lengths to make Arkadia sustainable, environmentally friendly and a great place to live,” Mason says.

Landscape was always part of the plan

The gardens were an integral part of the design competition brief.

“We wanted to encourage and facilitate interaction between residents. We want to bring neighbours together over gardening, leisure and recreation,” Mason says.

Vegetable gardens are being planted on the communal terraces for small community groups within the development, with each residential tenancy having a productive garden allotment.

On level two, there will also be perimeter and parapet plantings and fruit trees that will be maintained by the owner’s corporation.

Mason says the rooftop garden will promote a “real sense of community and exchange” between residents.

“Residents will be able to work together in the rooftop garden, share a drink afterwards and take in the city views.”

The development is also planned to be pet-friendly, and Mason says this has been included in the draft of the strata scheme by-laws.

The needs of people with disabilities have also been considered, with 23 of the apartments adaptable for disability.

DHA is retaining 81 of the dwellings for the use of Australian Defence Forces personnel and their families. Mason says the location is ideal for ADF members based at Victoria Barracks in Paddington and HMAS Kuttabul, Garden Island.

DHA will also be making a number of the retained properties available to investors via its sale and leaseback program.

The market loved it

Mason says the Sydney market reacted very positively to the project and its sustainability credentials, with 85 per cent of the 71 one-bedroom, three-bedroom and studio dwellings launched to the private market in October last year sold within seven months.

“Sales at Arkadia have been exceptionally strong,” Mason says.

“Currently only 10 apartments remain for sale.”

Aiming high in terms of sustainability is helping build DHA’s reputation, Mason says.

“As a progressive developer, we balance innovation and sustainability with the needs of Defence families and the broader community.

“This philosophy has earned us extensive recognition as a leader in the residential development industry, as well as more than a few awards.”

More than just a garden – it’s wilding the city

Oculus landscape architect William Whitfield says DHA specifically requested as much greening and green space as possible.

Whitfield says it was Oculus that suggested the chickens and bee-keeping to “extend on the community garden concept” and make the spaces more productive.

There is also an educational aspect, he says, in showing different ways of undertaking urban agriculture.

By seeing how it works, it will bring urban agriculture more into focus for residents.

The pocket parks and productive beds on every level also mean everyone has access to open space on their own level, as well as the communal rooftop.

The planting palette throughout, including balcony plantings, has a strong focus on flowering plants to benefit the bees, Whitfield says. Trees are also being planted on every garden level.

The plantings also spill over the edges of balconies and overhangs.

Whitfield says that because the plantings are integrated so closely with the architecture, Oculus worked as closely as it could with DKO to deliver as much spillover of vegetation as possible.

Close collaboration was also required for the design of the ground-level throughways and open spaces, he says.

The whole idea was to create a “wild landscape” where all the elements play on each other.

“So it is a more immersive experience, as opposed to having something quite manicured.”

There is also a positive effect for the residents of having the wild landscape in terms of the biophilic alignment.

Whitfield says it is also expected the shared spaces and natural elements will help Defence personnel living in the development – some of whom may be returned Veterans – and the other residents better connect and form community relationships.

It’s about “increasing the quality of the space”.

“It’s not just a BBQ area. People will develop community as they watch something together that grows over time.

“Residents will take ownership of the vegetable gardens and see plants grow through their lifecycle.”

There is another important aspect to all the greenery as well.

Whitfield says the project’s sustainability consultant, Cundall, undertook modelling that shows the greening on and around Arkadia will also contribute to improved thermal performance through natural ambient cooling and shading.

Generally, he says more developments are likely to look to greening as a way of creating more unique spaces.

“With towers there can be a sameness,” he says.

Choosing distinctive plant species can be a way to create a “unique identity” for the people that will live in those places.

As well as individualising the buildings, it also creates “little urban biomes”.