The amount of energy used by tall buildings, the energy in their building materials and the mental health and social impacts of living and working in high-rises are being questioned by current research.

Doncaster High- Rise  Click to enlarge

Doncaster High- Rise
Click to enlarge

A 2010 Allen Consulting report to the Victorian Building Commission found ‘no conclusive evidence that vertical living was more sustainable than conventional homes. In theory, larger projects have the economies of scale to implement more efficient heating, cooling, hot water, etc.

In theory but not in practice

A study by the Schools of Architecture at Deakin University and the University of Tasmania found that high-rise buildings had 60% more energy embedded per unit GFA in their materials than low to medium-rise buildings.

Doncaster 15 Storey Click to enlarge

Doncaster 15 Storey
Click to enlarge

The 2010 study on high density living found that living in close physical proximity to neighbours and sharing facilities have a profound effect on residents well being. The impact of high density on mental health studying the impact of the built environment on mental health is a complex and relatively new field. However, even discounting the socio demographic characteristics of residents, living in higher density housing appears to have a range of potential direct and indirect influences on mental health. Importantly, some of these impacts appear to be influenced by the location, design, and construction of high density housing. Studies have found that relations with neighbours were good when buildings were well designed and could have could have positive influences on the physical and mental health of residents. Conversely, poor social relations and poorly designed and constructed buildings can have devastating effects. The evidence suggests that residents of high-rise housing have more mental health problems than people living in low-rise or single-detached houses. It suggests that the impact of higher density housing on residents mental health may relate to: who else lives in the housing, and their socioeconomic status the floor on which they live, which may affect the quality of the living environment; and levels of social interactions and social support. Crowding, noise, indoor air quality and light appear also to directly influence mental health. Noise appears to affect mental health by causing annoyance, which in turn causes stress. The impact of noise on the mental health of residents of higher density housing is likely to be partly related to the location of the building (e.g. whether or not it is on a busy road), and partly to its construction and insulation, which can affect the amount of noise transfer between the outdoor environment and also between neighbours.

The report pointed out that those who rent apartments have the added issue of being powerless to change their environment. In Victoria, despite attempts to amend the Owners Corporations Act 2006, tenants don’t have a right to sit on the Owners Corporation where decisions about changes to common areas are made. In conclusion, there is a very long way to go in improving the efficiency of high-rise buildings.

If energy efficiency, sustainability and resident well being is important, then Melbourne needs more low to medium-rise buildings and less high-rise.

Letter below from Tony Recsei

Hi SOS Members and Friends,

Letter From Tony Rescei Sydney Morning Herald Click to enlarge

Tony Recsei letter
to S M Herald
Click to enlarge

An article in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald discusses the percentage of people who departed from their local government area in 2013-2014.  In response I sent the attached letter that was printed today. You can see I point out that it is people living in the denser areas who have a greater tendency to move out, those living in low density areas tend to stay there. I mention that other research shows that people who live in low density areas are more likely to want to live in the same type of area than those living in high density areas.

It is also significant that:

a number of reports (such as Professor Cummins’ Australian Unity Well-being Index) show that the lower the density, the happier people are.

Worryingly, there is convincing evidence showing adverse mental health consequences from increasing density.  A monumental Swedish study of over four million Swedes showed that the rate for schizophrenia is 70% greater in denser areas and there is also a 16% greater risk of depression. Another analysis, in the prestigious journal Nature, discusses urban neural social stress. It states that the incidence of schizophrenia is twice as high in cities. Brain area activity differences associated with urbanisation have been found. There is evidence of a dose-response relationship that probably reflects causation.

Studies in England and Holland show that there are adverse mental (and other) health consequences from an absence of green space.

One can go on and on.

It seems many developers care little about people’s health and happiness.  Neither, it seems, do most planners, politicians or the majority of planning academics.  They must have other agendas.


Tony Recsei



  1. Emily says:

    Pride of ownership is an essential ingredient for well being which you won’t get from owning a concrete cage in a monotony of sameness in rows of very small apartments with only one window. My fear is that couples with children will have no option but to purchase one of these high rise “apartments” because they cannot afford a proper house. If a slum is akin to an area where children are brought up in tiny cubicles, where you can’t swing a cat, where there is no place outside for children to play except on a 6sqm balcony above heavy traffic, where the police are attending on a nightly basis–then we are building them right here and now.

  2. Mockridge says:

    Another theory about high rise, high density activity centres was that residents would be healthier because they would be walking and cycling to all the facilities because they are close at hand. This was expected to be reflected in lesser incidences of cardio vascular disease over time. It won’t work on Doncaster Hill because the lead up streets to the Westfield centre are an impediment to easy walking and cycling and 98% of all shopping is by the car boot. The cycle security cage at the Doncaster Park and Ride, for bus travelers who would ride there, is empty on most days because of the difficult terrain and there being no safe or dedicated paths for cyclists to get there.

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