The value of housing density

The population of NSW – Sydney in particular – is growing at the rate of knots, and affordable and desirable housing is at a premium. Tell us something we don’t know, right? Enter the Draft Medium Density Design Guide which was developed by the NSW Government as the result of a 2015 discussion paper. The upshot of the discussion paper was that the time had well and truly come for a design guide for medium density housing similar to the existing Apartment Design Guide of 2002 (SEPP65), and further, that the more medium density developments that could be actioned as complying development, the better.


Currently, new housing across NSW is dominated by either apartment buildings or traditional free standing homes. That’s all very well – there’s a lot to be said for both of those kinds of housing. But, given the growing population, the increasing need for affordable housing, and the desire for a particular kind of cityscape and community lifestyle, what’s urgently needed is a variety of well designed, low rise, medium density housing developments – think terrace, duplex, and townhouse style buildings. This kind of housing is referred to as “the missing middle” and is what the NSW government, with the MDDG, is actively encouraging local councils, developers, planners and architects to start addressing in a strategic and concentrated way i.e. more and fast.


Development types - Image courtesy of NSW Draft Medium Density Design Guide

Development types – Image courtesy of NSW Draft Medium Density Design Guide


In short, the purpose of the MDDG is to:

  • Encourage low rise, medium density housing developments

  • Provide a greater variety of affordable housing choices

  • Provide benchmarks for quality design

  • The specific types of housing it encompasses are:

  • Terrace style housing on small lots (attached dwellings)

  • Dual occupancies and semi-detached dwellings (duplexes)

  • Multi-dwelling housing (strata titled terrace housing)

  • Multi-dwelling housing (strata titled villas and townhouses)

  • Community titled master-planned medium density developments of up to 2 storeys

  • Manor homes (2 storey buildings comprising 3-4 dwellings).


Done well, medium density housing has the potential to accommodate an ever growing population in a way that is economical and financially beneficial, efficient in terms of development and desirable in terms of creating the kind of city that we will enjoy living in and engaging with. A city that has the “buzz” of intensity.
I’ll break those down a little bit more.



    1. Affordability and Investment

      One of the advantages of medium density housing is that, simply put, it offers a greater diversity of more affordable housing options in areas that will be made increasingly desirable by virtue of their density. Hang on, say that again? Well, the fact is that, by and large, people want to live in quite densely populated parts of the city. These are areas that have, for instance, access to schools, public transport, cafes, restaurants, and shops all within striking distance of streets lined with closely built terraces, semis, and duplexes. It’s what we call the fine grain nature of these suburbs that in part makes them so popular and, therefore, so expensive.

      The plan, or at least the hope, is that by making it easier to build medium density housing options like terraces and duplexes in the middle ring suburbs, that fine grain quality will have more opportunity to flourish. Ideally then, what you get is affordable housing that will steadily increase in value.

      We had a look at the other way in which medium density options present as good investments in the previous post where we found that subdividing a site for development as a manor house or duplex, can, put simply, be an effective way of maximising bang for your buck.

      Either way, if you’re a potential home buyer or investor of limited to fair means, who’s been eye rolling and muttering expletives about stratospheric Sydney property prices (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?), then this is potentially good news.

    2. Efficiency

      If they comply with the required development standards and design criteria, then a number of medium density developments can be assessed as complying development and therefore bypass the rigmarole of the DA process. In other words, yay! Given the urgency surrounding Sydney’s housing availability and growing population, this is especially good news.

    3. Quality of Living

      By which I mean living on a street and in a neighbourhood that engages you and gives you enjoyment. Medium density housing, as opposed to high rise apartment blocks or large, free standing houses on wide roads, has the potential to create community. Instead of being alienating or distancing, medium density housing is on an approachable, accommodating scale. It has the potential to be a major factor in the development of new centres where pedestrian traffic and public transport outstrip car use, where pockets of park greenery and narrow streets invite you to make contact with your neighbours, and where businesses are tucked in next to shops which are alongside bars which huddle up to supermarkets.

      For all of these reasons, the Medium Density Housing Guide is a powerful and compelling document to me as both an architect and a resident of this city.


      Sold on the idea? Give us a buzz and we can talk terraces, duplexes and townhouses!


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