L-R: Ken McBryde, Sydney Architecture Studio; Philip Vivian, Bates Smart; Jeff Morgan Grimshaw Architects

By 2053, nearly 89 per cent of all Australians are expected to live in capital cities. As more and more people enter these cities, residents are becoming increasingly concerned with impacts on liveability.

So how do we carry this density without destroying communities’ liveability? And how do we increase accessibility to jobs in a way that is sustainable and beneficial for all those involved?

The answer is public transport, according to this week’s Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat conference.

Tall buildings interconnected with transit systems will bring urban functions, circulation and greenery out of the ground level and up into the buildings, essentially becoming extensions of the city, the conference heard.

A soon to be transformed Sydney

Sydney is one of the few cities that does not have a metro network, which helps to explain problems with traffic congestion, carbon emissions and disconnection with employment.

However, new metro stations in the CBD and North Sydney are set to open in 2019, with rail to be extended in 2024 under Sydney Harbour, through the CBD and beyond Bankstown. There will be 66 kilometres of new rails along with 31 new metro stations.

The metro will also put about 50 per cent of Sydney’s workplace within 15 minutes of Crows Nest in North Sydney, according to Bates Smart director and conference co-chair Philip Vivian.

Sydney Metro is a plan that will completely transform the city into an interconnected hub, offering retail, community, residential and commercial opportunities.

“In this century and as cities grow, we need to provide more sustainable forms of connection, which needs to be a mass transit system,” Mr Vivian told The Fifth Estate.

“People think high density is going to kill out cities but there’s still going to be suburbs as a choice, there’s just going to be a lot more apartments in city-like centres where you have active ground floors with cafes, parks, schools and hospitals that are all accessible by transport.”

Mr Vivian said everyone talks about tall buildings for what they are, but it was really about urban habitat and how we build cities.

Because Australian cities are designed around cars, there is a high-density centre with low density sprawl, which makes residents in the outer areas more car dependent, contributing to carbon pollution and traffic congestion.

But the input of tall buildings connected to a mass transport system like the Sydney Metro would create mixed-use centres and walkable cities, allowing people to live and work in the same area, Mr Vivian said.

Sydney had reached its limits with how far it could expand outwards with cars, Mr Vivian said, but with this new transit system in place, the old radial structure will become looped, connecting all of Sydney.

What used to be a “frightening” hour-long drive through Sydney suburbs, will now become a 5-20 minute train ride.

The changing face of resi

Sydney’s residential structure could change as well.

Sydney Metro would create a polycentric city with multiple dense clusters. This is the most sustainable form of city development because more people would rely on public transport over private cars, Mr Vivian said.

He said the Greater Sydney Commission plan to have three city centres with a metro system connecting them was a fantastic idea, but architects and engineers needed to focus on the greater picture.

“Making each individual building more sustainable, like using timber to sequester carbon, is a great idea but implementing a transit system will achieve faster results,” Mr Vivian said.

“Sustainable media focuses too much on one-off buildings, but we have to focus on the big picture.”

Infrastructure could give more than it takes

Sustainability is much more embedded in architectural practise, and is now an expected part of architects services, associate principle of Grimshaw Architects and CTBUH conference co-chair Jeff Morgan said.

Young professionals are moving back into the cities because all the amenities they need are there, but with the advent of new transit systems comes new services as well.

eople believe that adding tall buildings in their cities will take away green space, shops, cafes and other amenities, but they could actually bring more to them.

This means more grocery stores, schools, medical centres, gyms and parks all within the same area bringing home, work and relaxation into one space.

“These places won’t be actively vibrant without the people, and the people won’t be there unless they’re living there,” Mr Morgan said.

“Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it.”

How transport changes the workplace

Bringing transport from the streets and into the buildings is an idea that Sydney Architecture Studio director and conference co-chair Ken McBryde was interested in.

“You can make greater efficiencies inside a building by thinking about circulating up and down a high-rise building and the way you might circulate up and down a high street,” Mr McBryde said.

“You can apply that infrastructure thinking to what it’s like to be inside a building.”

Travel within buildings is just as important as travel outside of them, he said.

Instead of lifts stopping on every floor, they would only stop on the social floors where chance encounters could happen. Someone who works in an organisation in the building could run into someone who works on another floor.

This enhances face-to-face communication, which plays an important role in innovation, and increases physical activity by forcing people to take the stairs to their desired floor.

“We’re looking for chance encounters that goes beyond a particular organisation, and that’s thinking that’s brought from the high street into the high rise.”

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  1. plannign and design should start with the human scale and form.
    you might want a 3d model to make human scale analytical decisions – not fly like a helicopter over the rooftops.
    a lite version: https://urbancircus.com.au/3dOnline/3dMEL/

    Sydney is such a beautiful landscape form, the city really cold respond to create amazing place – but we need the tools to have the conversations.
    good luck.

  2. Surely it’s time we redefined what is a “capital city” or else devised new terminology that reflects the fact that it makes no sense for 90 percent of our population to live in seven increasingly overcrowded cities? With modern online communications we have the opportunity to create a far larger number of “major cities”. Rather than focus solely on new transport system within cities we need to look at better transport connecting cities. A fast train from Sydney to Newcastle, or Melbourne to Geelong, Ballarat or Bendigo for example. Above all, we need to involve more people in the decisions we are making. In my opinion you can build as many metros as you like, but just as in the US, most Australians would prefer to drive to work. That remains viable if we adopt a long term strategy to decentralise and create new “Smart Communities” across the country.