Melbourne Ability

Coding the Garden Metropolis. Re-structuring Melbourne’s Suburban Environments


Re-structuring Melbourne’s Suburban Environments


Leire Asensio Villoria & David SC Mah
Assisted by Candela de Bortoli


Melbourne’s early speculative urbanization was intricately tied to the promotion of, what was then, a fashionable ideal of a tranquil and healthy suburban lifestyle.  The promotion of a “Melbourne retreat” was one of the engines that established the suburb as the long-standing template for the city.

While the suburbs still dominate the public and cultural imagination and still constitute the vast majority of the city’s sprawling footprint, a compact and infilled urbanism has gained a foothold in some of the city’s suburbs.  Differences between the inner-city and “middle” suburbs have been established for a long time and can be seen to have been shaped by the differing motivations of its early communities.  These variations in density have persisted to date where the centrifugal sprawl is propelled by a compulsion for the single-family detached home while the inner-city suburbs are tightly compacted.  These two forces of outward expansion and inner densification have only accelerated in recent years.

Gardens have been largely jettisoned from the inner city neighborhoods and any resonance with Villa Suburbana or Garden cities has also withered.  On the other hand, the far-flung suburbs on the metropolitan periphery negate the gains of backyard gardens with slow congested commutes together with stretched amenities and infrastructure.  At both extremities, the suburban promise has either been squeezed out or levies a high cost on the lifestyles of its communities.

In a counter-movement away from the urge of a socially distanced suburban lifestyle, livability has come to be associated with the animation of crowded and caffeinated laneways as well as the congested inner-city. The recent turn towards the compact city has been supported by a sea-change in lifestyle priorities coupled with the search for a more manageable urbanization.  Two different sensibilities of the metropolitan lifestyle drive the city’s polarized suburbanization.

Today, the intricate mosaic of landownership frustrates a bolder engagement with these concerns.  However, the densification and compaction of the inner city suburbs and the revitalization of the city’s CBD can be seen to have been exercises in a coordinated yet incremental transformation.  Drawing encouragement and inspiration from individual examples of small yet highly concentrated private ecologies scattered throughout the city, we propose to affect an incremental yet systemic recovery of the garden in our suburbs.  We propose to reinsert the garden as a structural element through the use of guidelines and regulations that delivers density but in another form.  The “high-street” and the “garden-suburb” are shaped by a trade-off between height and ground coverage.  The dreaded high-rise is given a new form at different scales to enable different garden cultivating microclimates to thrive.

A new constellation of social spaces may also enable an urbanism that reinstates an ecological substrate to our suburbs while also providing a flexible social infrastructures capable of hosting different social and socially-distanced densities.  A widely distributed network of garden spaces reconditions the city’s grounds to better modulate our microclimates as well as better support the ecological and hydrological cycles.  The garden metropolis supports compact and idyllic metropolitan sensibilities.

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