Craig Yelland is a motivated designer and architect who is determined to design a sustainable urban and apartment living culture. As one of the directors of Plus Architecture, Craig has been a reliable and influential voice amongst the apartment development industry. Renowned for being an advocate for design, Craig sat down with ApartmentDevelopments' editor Jordan Taylor-Bartels, to talk industry, design and why apartment living is the next big thing.
When you are designing a multi-residential apartment, is it difficult to align yourself creatively with a developer?
Not for us- the key thing with us, is when you look at Plus Architecture’s design folio, in comparison to our competitors, you’ll see a massive difference - in that all the Plus buildings are different. And the reason for that is, is that we spend a lot of time with our developers, and our clients, and we get inside their heads and figure out what their personalities are like, and what they want, as well as what their feel is for the building, and we let that drive the design. Rather than….”I do sculptural glass boxes and that is what you shall have”. It is a clean slate for each development, and they all look very different. They are a reflection of the client, a reflection of the site.
What are your values as an architect?
We do have core beliefs, we value apartment living and the value of apartment living, and sustainability is one of them. Apartment living itself is more environmentally friendly than living in a house - it leaves a a lower carbon footprint just by the way you live.
You almost can’t design an apartment that is not conscious of the environment. Starting with insulation, you’re insulated in a cube, you have insulation from almost all faces - whereas a house is not. You, generally, have less travel distance to key and core places of interest, and you’re not relying on your car as much. Most apartment occupiers use bikes and public transport more, you don't consume as much unnecessary junk as there isn't as much place to put it, your waste output is not as much, you’re not using petrol to mow the garden - every way you look at it, and how you consume energy in your day is less.
What do you make of the claims over Melbourne becoming over-densified?
It’s hilarious when you look at it on a global sense. Next year I am heading to Sao Paulo in Brazil, a city that has 16 million people, and instead of houses, its just towers and towers - thats over density. When we talk true density, Melbourne is a joke when it comes to density - there effectively is no density - we are a global market now and we’re very small population in a beautiful city.
In general, Australians have a fear of change, where we want everyone to live on a quarter acre block on a house, which for a long time was the great Australian dream - but we are moving away from that. Now people, especially first home buyers, are looking to buy an apartment, as houses can be just too expensive, you have to borrow money of your parents, or you have to relocate to the outer suburbs where you might not want to live the prime of your life -you want to go out for dinner on weekdays, go out on the town, or have a big greasy breakfast after a Saturday night out.
What is it about apartment living that is so appealing?
It’s just the way young professionals want to live - in my office, no one is saving up for a house. Their first investment is usually an apartment. In terms of construction, the methodology involved is much greater than a house - as they are usually built by a higher tier of builder with reinforced concrete - its not sticks and plasterboards like a house. So the quality of construction is there anyway - the building code says it has to be with acoustics and fire zones. And yes, I am a one-eyed apartment supporter and believer, it has become my life and lifestyle. I live in an apartment with my wife and children, and have since 1999 when I moved to London and lived in an apartment. Melbourne apartments, especially if you choose an apartment that suits your needs and wants, offers you more time to do what you want. Seeing as they are low maintenance, whilst my friends are fixing their fences on the weekend, I’m out on the bay windsurfing.
One more important thing about apartments is the security. There is no fear of a break in. If you’re on the forth storey you dont have to worry - my wife and friends were out one evening and one of her friends spoke of a burglar breaking into their home whilst they were there, and they had to hide under the covers until they left. Most women are afraid that when their husbands go out, that they become vulnerable and scared at home, and hear a creak outside and think someone is trying to break in - on the forth storey, unless they have spiderman hooks they aren’t going to get broken into. As well as other things such as acoustics and the view - these are often unmatched.
How important are amenities to an apartments appeal?
Amenities are really necessary when you have a larger development that requires communal areas such as gyms and pools. In smaller developments, say under one hundred apartments, and when they are in a good location, you don't really need the amenities - as the location is the key amenity. When you have 300 apartments, it would cost nothing to throw in a pool and a gym, and that is awesome - but when you have something on a smaller scale, like Little Projects’ The Elfin, you need a rooftop lounge area that possesses a great view, South Yarra already has the most local amenities you could think of. Also it is important to remember that installing pools and gyms in smaller developments, the ongoing costs will more expensive for the tenants, including an increase in body corporate fees.
There has been a teasing that design regulations will be implemented in Victoria, what are your thoughts on apartment design and living, even if it is at 40sqm?
I don’t actually think it is Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, who is behind this push, its the OVGA, the Office of the Victorian Government Architect. That was under two governments ago, who decided to maintain and operate that way. It is effectively a group of people in Sydney who want to implement their rules into Victoria. The Minister for Planning actually came out and said that 40sqm apartments are okay to be built as long as they are both considered and designed well. I dont think he will go back on that, so I dont think there will be controls over size, but there is a whole other discussion about SEPP65, which is the planning rules in Sydney which prescribe minimum standards for everything, not just size, but how deep an apartment can be, northern orientation, cross ventilation -each one of those factors adds cost to the apartments, reduces the amount of apartments allowed on the site, and increases the land component. What you end up with is three-bedroom apartments costing $300,000 more, and two-bedrooms costing about $200,000 more - and then we are left with Sydney prices. If you look up the cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Bondi, it will cost around $850-900,000, whereas you look up a one-bedroom apartment in South Yarra, an equivalent premium suburb, and you are probably looking at $490,000 - which is a huge difference, and a lot of the difference is due to SEPP65.
Craig Yelland and Plus Architecture are responsible for some of Melbourne's most beautiful apartment developments, often seen partnering with renowned property developer, Little Projects.