Research into high-rise buildings over the last ﬁve decades has shown they are not only less suitable as traditional dwellings but also are less conducive to young families with children. Part of the blame lies with the quality of space and lack of social or shared public amenities in apartments or condominiums. The studies also reveal social relations in high-rise housing can be relatively impersonal, with residents less likely to help one another. Often, they remain strangers though they have lived for years in the same building. "We have become so accustomed to living privately that we have grown intolerant of our neighbours ," says one observer at the recent second ARCASIA Committee on Social Responsibility (ACSR) Architecture Symposium 2014 in Kuala Lumpur). Additionally, having your own little garden in an apartment is something many high-rise residents do not have opportunity to enjoy as, often, such spaces are not provided by developers.
However Mazlin Ghazali, principal of Arkitek M Ghazalj, intends to make the dream of a private and shared garden for residents of high-rises a reality via a new "sky neighbourhood" concept, which he is working to commercialise so that cost-efﬁcient courtyards can be incorporated into high-rises. In an ACSR session entitled Social Housing and Liveable Conditions, Mazlin urges developers to consider more semi-private and public spaces in apartments and condominiums with the use of sky courtyards, suitable for social and recreational use.
These courtyards can be planted with medium-sized trees, shrubs and grass. In his basic concept module, Mazlin shows how access is provided to each apartment using six-storey high landscaped courtyards. Typically, each two-storey apartment is stacked atop another so access to the units is at courtyard level.
Four or more pairs of these apartments are arranged around each courtyard, with lifts off one or more of the courtyards. Where necessary, escape stairs are provided. This structure also allows for lower-level car park facilities.
While each courtyard offers a communal, semi-private space, in front of most of these apartments will be a garden serving as buffer between the common space outside and the private domain inside.
Here, children can play under the watchful eyes of their parents and other neighbours. Mazlin believes having a small group of apartment households surrounding a communal courtyard will also enable neighbours to get to know each other, promoting a sense of community.
Citing as example a courtyard cul-de-sac in a low-rise housing project in Bernam Jaya in Selangor, he illustrates how the courtyards have been used as recreational areas as well as being suitable venues for weddings and community events. Mazlin, with local architect Anniz Bajunid and biochemist Mohd Peter Davis from the UK, have published a paper entitled “Circulation space found in a sky neighbourhood layout compared with that found in a selection of other types of apartment layouts". Circulation space includes corridors, stairs, lifts and lobbies. Using a 30 storey building as example, the paper explores issues like whether this sky neighbourhood concept is meant only for the high-end market. lt also raises questions like whether the cost of such courtyards will be passed on to purchasers.
Mazlin also notices the type of apartment layout in conventional buildings differs according to the method of access to each apartment.
For a narrow slab block with a side corridor or balcony, a single corridor on one side of a row of apartments is normal for the intermediate, double-aspect units. Having a single loading corridor is the norm in Singapore, he observes.
Meanwhile, a wide slab block with a central corridor would normally have a double loading corridor in the middle of two rows of apartments for the intermediate, single-aspect units.
Apartments in tower blocks, Mazlin says, are usually accessed from the central lobby. Doing a comparative study on apartment access, he ﬁnds that space for circulation and services on each floor amounts to 16.03% for a slab block with double-loading corridor, in an apartment project for Bina Puri Holdings Bhd proposed by his company in 2012.
The remaining 83.97%, which makes up the built-up area on each ﬂoor, represents saleable apartments (see table).
Compare this with a high-rise project using the sky neighbourhood concept: the table shows circulation and service space constituting only 5.1% on each ﬂoor. “Even if you were to add this percentage to 8.39% allocated for the public portion of courtyard green, it totals only 13.49%, which is still pretty good."
Although the sky neighbourhood concept has another 5.69% set aside as frontyard space, this leaves 80.82% of saleable space for the apartment units.
Mazlin says the added cost of constructing a landscaped sky courtyard for all the apartments is offset by eliminating corridors and the need for fewer lifts.
Space allocated for lobbies, lifts and corridors is often deemed costly and not saleable. This explains why you will ﬁnd many apartments devoid of plant life and basic amenities such as a rubbish bin in front of the lifts.
When planning authorities allow for greater population densities in high-rise housing projects or commercial buildings, Mazlin believes, the balance will tilt ﬁrmly in favour of this new concept of sky neighbourhoods. as any extra cost incurred will be dwarfed.
Meanwhile architect Syed Yawar Abbas Jilani, from Arcop Associates of Pakistan, who speaks of low-cost housing in the Social Housing and Liveable Conditions session, mentions how shared courtyards in his country have helped provide individuals with private space as well as serving as playgrounds for children.