The Urban Center - living in a vertical community

Productive vertical villages.

At around 2015 the residential towers of Melbourne, characteristic of the early 21st century, began a range of conversions. The older buildings had simply become culturally and economically undesirable and unviable. Many of these conversions were inspired by the success of early innovators such as CH2, illustrating that a building that collects resources and is environmentally efficient could also be economically viable and desirable.

Site Two is one of these buildings. It is located on the water front in a bay-side suburb and underwent an extensive refit around 2015. The refit transformed the building socially and technically. What was previously a relative unproductive social monoculture can now be best described as a productive vertical village.

Site Two makes proficient collection and intelligent use of environmental resources, assisting occupants in meeting their environmental targets. The building has very low air conditioning demands and is efficient and productive with environmental resources. Its skin is an active environmental filter, providing insulation, insolation and a natural and intelligently designed ventilation system. The skin captures rainwater (much more rain falls on the sides of tall buildings than on the top), solar energy (integrated photovoltaic windows) and wind energy (through micro turbines distributed along the fa├žade). The building also makes use of its exposure to the winds across the bay, generating electricity from a wind turbine on its roof.

The operation of the building depends on specialist service engineers such as Keith (see: Site One) who maintain the building’s technical and environmental systems. In the buildings redevelopment, redundant spaces previously occupied by large mechanical systems and car parks, were converted into resource storage and systems management areas. This area now houses the rainwater and stormwater collection tanks along with the accompanying onsite water treatment and recycling systems (black water mining, filtration and CHP distillation unit) and the energy systems centre.

Intelligent electricity and water consumption meters advise residents of their current (and projected) use, and provide guidance for consumers to modify their use for load limiting. Keith services many of the occupants of this building with water management systems to ensure that the apartment systems and appliances are running as efficiently as possible.

However as mentioned the environmental and technical transformation was accompanied by social transformations changing the building from being an outdated tower to a vertical village. Prior to its refit, this tower was principally a mixture of studio and two bedroom apartments. The redevelopment aimed at increasing the diversity of apartment types. Some apartments were amalgamated and penthouses refitted to accommodate mixed residential and business suites, and housing for extended families and share households. By providing bigger and more flexible apartments for larger households, residential diversity was increased significantly. The new vertical community reflected a more conventional social structure previously seen in ‘horizontal’ ground level communities.

Larger apartments were also found to be more environmentally efficient, with a greater number of people sharing the same facilities. In the case of water this translated to less wet-space and water-using appliances per person. Other social and environmental transformations can be observed in how the lifts of this tower operate. The lifts of this building now stop at every third floor, with residents walking down or up between floors (those with less physical ability live near to lifts). This small transformation has not only speed up the lifts and reduced their energy use, but has also generated a more socially intensive life in the foyer public spaces (and moderately improved resident fitness).

The social transformation also included space for creatively subsided and low cost apartments. The growth of intensive service industries that were needed to support these revitalised districts and buildings led to a demand for affordable housing, in a larger range of styles. The once common trend of service commuters travelling to luxury districts from less economically wealthier suburbs was no longer viable.

The building has been designed to incorporate ’serviced living’. This not only changes the way people satisfy needs but also affects the structure of the building and the layout of apartments. For instance each apartment has a secure cooled service delivery area which allows them to ‘take deliveries’ at any time. Serviced living also allows for a mix of commercial and residential activity within the building.

Examples of services that are available to occupants of the building include:

  • Laundromat for centralised, efficient laundering and professional garment care (with the best quality, most efficient systems).
  • Groceries delivery service for the provisioning of fresh food, semi-prepared meals, and other consumables. Many meals are consumed and prepared communally, for instance market restaurants and restaurant delivery services have become popular.
  • Public bathing and spa facilities provide a more efficient centralised water treatment and recycling systems. The return to public bathing allows people to have a more luxurious bathing experience than they are able to do in their homes.
  • Whitegoods and household equipment providers service the apartments, leasing intelligent domestic appliances. Companies maintain and replace these through servicing contracts.
  • Furniture and art services that allow for flexibility and choice in how residents decorate their homes.
  • Public offices and conferencing rooms allowing for decentralised working, suiting the more flexible work patterns that are now commonplace.
  • Fitness and health systems are personally managed, intelligent systems communicate fitness, diet and basic health

The great cost of transformations for buildings such as these was met in a range of ways and with a range of successes. In some cases changes were more minor and successful, in others inhabitants managed to bear exceptional costs of outdated building systems. The great successes were mostly from existing body corporate that innovated in both their technical solutions and the financial models to fund the redesigns. These groups saw surprisingly rapid payback for their efforts.

A resident’s life: Violet – a glimpse of a highly serviced life

Violet is 64 yrs old. Whilst as a consumer she is aware of her need to be environmentally responsible she is not interested in technically managing her environmental impacts. She is of the belief that professionals are more skilled in doing this and is keen to use their services and seek their advice.

Violet is what marketers call a premium service consumer. She has always sought quality products. In 2032 this is delivered through luxury services. She enjoys her, 5 star lifestyle but also likes to live in a diverse community. This was the attraction for this building, which has a thriving mix of residential and commercial living. Everything she needs or desires in her life is accessible and she rarely finds herself travelling too far from her community.

Violet cares about the environment. Because this is not her area of expertise, she has her environmental impacts managed for her. Services managed for her include personal energy management, optimised water consumption, and comfort provisioning. She doesn’t understand the technicality of the systems but she is happy to receive feedback and guidance from specialists through information systems (smart meters and a service intranet) and personalised customer servicing.

As a part of the environmental management Violet has returned to the art of public bathing. Her apartment does have a small-downscaled bathroom, however she supplements this by using the public bathing and high and low-tech spa facilities of the building. Communal bathing is both a social and environmental activity, a way to more appropriately celebrate the fundamental life-qualities of water and acknowledge its scarcity.

With assistance from smart technology Violet takes pride in managing her fitness and health. Monitors give her feedback on nutrition, and dynamic health checks, she uses this advice instrumentally deciding on her eating options and her exercise routine. She has linked this information into her medical data system, which is available to her doctors and other health professionals. She particularly enjoys swimming at the nearby salt water pool, followed by a meal and drinks with friends in one of the top floor restaurants.

Violet is able to be flexible with her working. She is a financial service consultant specialising in ethical stocks and investments, transferring old and under performing investments into the growing stocks of the carbon, knowledge and service economies. She works from home but likes to also use the public offices within the building, particularly the meeting spaces and virtual conferencing centre. This allows her to be able to be adaptable with her working hours reflecting a greater trend in society; sometimes she works long and hard at hours that suit international clients but other times she can prioritise the other aspects of her life.

Violet also uses the service of a local fashion stylist. The stylist assists Violet with her selection, sourcing and impacts of clothes. She is a stylish woman and likes to regularly change her wardrobe. To achieve maximum choice and flexibility Violet leases or part purchases seasonal wardrobes. This enables her to replace and return inappropriate or no longer desired items. Clothes like other goods are fitted with RF tags that hold care and lifecycle information. The lifecycle of materials within garments is extended through more professional care, through more use and when no longer needed, they can be redesigned / remanufactured. The stylist manages the return and end-of-life management of the goods, working with local designers, leasing retailers and fabric traders.

A service economy business: The Laundromat

With the broad government and community aim to reduce the number of large household appliances and rationalise energy and water consumption, the once traditional ‘home laundry’ is progressively being replaced by advanced and ‘intelligent’ laundry services. A laundry service is housed within this building. This service is not exclusively for residents of the building but able to be used by residents / workers in the nearby area (through a membership system). Likewise other Laundromats also service this building and residents are able to choose their laundry provider.

Laundry request
Visualisation: Charles Lin

Employees will collect residents washing ‘on demand’ after notification from residents; they are able to access the service lock of the apartments for pick up and delivery. However some residents prefer personal interaction and drop off and pick up their clothes at the Laundromat.

The Laundromat uses their professional knowledge and technical expertise to clean the clothes and perform any additional tasks that the customers have asked for (such as the alteration or mending service). The Laundromat also acts as an agent for other clothing services such as wardrobe leasing, and end of use fabric recovery.

Once finished the clothes are returned to the customer personally or placed into their service lock with a notification sent to the customer. Billing then takes place automatically.

Laundromats efficiencies come from scaling. They are able to use more efficient and higher quality equipment, usually leased and maintained by the manufacturers. A local CHP unit provides the heat and sells the electivity to the grid. Water involves a closed loop system, feeding back into the building’s environmental systems. Water is recycled and waste heat is recovered. These resource systems are managed and maintained by the buildings environmental specialist. For instance Keith not only advises Violet on her water systems and usage but also does the same for the Laundromat.

The Laundromat also needs to manage its peak loading and does this by performing the vast amount of its business outside of peak load times. They receive incentives for water and energy efficiency and this has had interesting consequences. The Laundromat in Violet’s building offers a staggered pricing system with discounted prices to those who leave their laundry overnight and premium prices for those than need it done the same day.