Mid-Rise Urban Living - by Chris Johnson

Author of the newly published book, MID-RISE URBAN LIVING, Chris Johnson discusses his motivations for writing this book and the importance of the mid-rise design type for contemporary society's needs... 


Having spent a career on the urban development of cities, both from a government perspective and from the view point of private sector developers, I have found that debates either focused on low-rise suburban futures or became calls for greater density with high-rise towers - and both positions were criticised by advocates for the opposite approach. But between the two extremes of towers or spreading houses sits a model that has historic precedents and is ideal for the growing trend towards urban living. Often called the 'missing middle' the mid-rise apartments of Barcelona, Paris or London’s Belgravia create a viable density that supports walkable neighbourhoods while being a height that comfortably encloses public squares or gardens. 
In Sydney, Australia, I became an advocate for this form of housing by suggesting faster planning processes to encourage the private sector to develop mid-rise neighbourhoods. And a number of quality developments have followed. My research however found that a trend for the 6 to 8 storey urban apartment buildings was occurring in Europe, America, the UK and in Asia. There was however a difference from the uniformity of the historic mid-rise buildings emerging in the new versions. They were becoming more individual and less a product of controlling rules that led to sameness. I also found that mid-rise buildings were becoming more ecologically focused with green roofs and through the incorporation of landscape throughout the building.
Here are some images from the book that explain the themes I have tried to promote.
Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Mila in Barcelona is a good example of a mid-rise building that fits Cerda’s grid for the city while representing a more individual and expressive architectural expression.
Singapore architects WOHA have dramatically incorporated gardens and water bodies as part of their mid-rise housing for older people. The architects have developed a number of projects that are dripping in green landscape as they strive to put back the same amount of landscape as was on the site before development.
Dutch architects MVRDV are well known for their experimental approach as shown in the Silodam apartments that sit in the docklands of Amsterdam.
Australian architects ARM designed this expressive building in Perth on the site of an aerated water company so their building reflects the bubbles of the past.
London architects dRMM designed this affordable housing in Wansey Street, Elephant and Castle with warm colours that reflect the red brickwork of Walworth Town Hall, and give a different character than some nearby monolithic slab blocks.

As well as architects around the world being more experimental in their designs for mid-rise housing, I found that there are a number of planning initiatives that are championing this building type. In the UK the Prince’s Foundation has put out publications calling for a more human scaled environment and this seems to have been picked up in government circles. The Danish architect Jan Gehl is a big supporter of this scale and his office has recently released a book titled Soft City: Building Density for Everyday Life. Melbourne architect Rob Adams has proposed mid-rise housing alongside the city’s extensive network of tram routes, and in Sydney I produced a code to make planning easier to support this housing type. Hopefully this book will be another form of advocacy to encourage Mid-Rise Urban Living.

-- Chris Johnson
Sydney, Australia
Chris Johnson's book Mid-Rise Urban Living is OUT NOW! And available from our website HERE.
List of Illustrations:
> Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Mila in Barcelona. Photograph courtesy  Dreamstime.
> WOHA’s mid-rise apartment building for Singapore is located next to the rail station with lots of greenery. Photograph courtesy WOHA, K. Kopter.
> MVRDV Silodam apartments, Amsterdam. Photograph courtesy MVRDV.
> ARM M24 apartment building in Perth. Photograph courtesy ARM.
> dRMM new affordable housing at Wansey Street, Elephant and Castle, London. Photograph courtesy dRMM.