Australian Design Review
28 September 2020
Architect Koichi Takada uses his Urban Forest residential development to imagine the tranquility and restorative powers of a rural retreat within a bustling cityscape.
“It is possible to design buildings that reconnect people with nature even in densely populated, inner-city locations,” says Takada.
The founder and principal of Sydney-based Koichi Takada Architects takes his cues from nature, harnessing light, solar and wind energy in ways that enable his designs to echo nature rather than constrain it. His ambition is to uncover ways to swap out “dead materials” like concrete, steel and glass for “living” materials — native planting, locally sourced timbers and natural stone.
The result reconnects city dwellers with their natural environment, providing what Takada describes as vital “breathing space”.
“Inner-city developments can be designed responsibly — for the planet, the community and the economy,” Takada says.
This approach is shared by ARIA, a developer within whom Koichi has found synergy. To date, the pair has worked on three projects together and their creative partnership is proving formidable.
Brisbane’s Urban Forest
Urban Forest, located in South Brisbane, is a proposed 30-storey mixed use residential development that made headlines for the densely forested vertical gardens (some 1000+ trees) set to grace its façade, along with its green credentials targeting a 6 Star Green Star residential rating.
Every element of the proposed design showcases the goals of the Koichi/ARIA union. “Together, we’re equally determined that the Urban Forest becomes a benchmark for buildings that make a positive contribution to society and the planet,” explains Takada.
ARIA will own the building rights — long term — so the developer can both maintain the building and contribute to its legacy. Simon White, Head of Design at ARIA, is intent on “curating” the South Brisbane suburb with a mix of retail amenity and inviting public spaces.
“Creating communities, enabling pedestrian access and stitching the public realm together is a big part of our ethos at ARIA as developers,” White explains.
At Urban Forest, Takada and White aspire to create a “green spine” — their descriptor for a series of walkways that will link the building, and it’s ground-floor park, to nearby Musgrave Park, South Bank and the Brisbane River beyond.
“Ideally, we’d like to see the existing four traffic lanes reduced to two,” White says. “By doubling the footpath and planting an avenue of trees we could effectively transform what is now an incredibly hot, asphalt-based walkway into an appealing pedestrian alternative.”
Reimagining residential design
Echoing Takada’s earlier references to the creation of “breathing space” for city dwellers, White praises Urban Forest’s generous floor plans. “Unlike more traditional developments that boast just a handful of ‘hero’ apartments, each and every Urban Forest apartment features substantial terraces (up to 25sqm) that connect with the tree-lined façade,” White explains.
“If residents don’t have a tree right at their feet, then they’ve got a tree on the level below them and above them so they can still enjoy the canopy. It’s exciting to be in a position to offer all residents — regardless of their price point — that vital connection to nature.”
According to White, the building’s sustainability credentials will also offer occupants much more than expected. The energy efficiencies are just the beginning. “In my view, sustainable buildings are better places to live; they’re healthier buildings and I think healthier buildings make for happier occupants.”
Urban Forest’s green credentials are so substantial they look likely to garner the design a 6 Star Green Star residential rating. A 1500sqm solar farm atop the roof, natural thermal and solar insulation courtesy of the vertical gardens, and a site-to-green ratio of 292% (equivalent to taking 150 cars off the road, annually) are among a myriad of thoughtful design considerations made by this designer/developer duo.
Urban Forest is in-step with The Brisbane City Council’s ‘Buildings That Breathe’ guidelines — to encourage responsible and sustainable subtropical design in the Queensland capital. It’s an ethos that’s perfectly aligned with the Koichi Takada and ARIA partnership. And whilst they admit the costs to design and build this way are higher, they’re confident that won’t always be the case. Besides, they so strongly believe the rewards far outweigh the costs.
“As soon as more residential developers follow suit, the design and building process will become more efficient and economical,” White believes. He also predicts demand for sustainable inner-city housing could increase by as much as 50% within five years.
Meanwhile, Urban Forest provides a timely exemplar to illustrate just what can be achieved when designers and developers’ vision and values align.
Architects and designers need to “protect architecture as a sanctuary for human beings” Koichi Takada told ADR in a recent chat. Read the full profile here.