34 Union Street - a really nice place to call home, close to everything, even the airport, but it could be a lot better

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Our Courtyard

A gentle path to a Courtyard

The issue of a courtyard renovation was raised at a Christmas function in the courtyard several years ago. I don’t recall the exact words, but the conversation was about permanent furniture in the form of tables and benches and how more use could be made of the space.

There may have been earlier discussions and I have had several casual conversations over the past few years on occasion with parents with children, concerning the need for a meeting and play area.

I can’t recall when I first tried to get the topic included in Owners Committee discussions but it was certainly more than a few years back. It was definitely proposed as an agenda item for our November 2018 and subsequent committee meetings, but never discussed.

Why have a courtyard?

All owners should be interested in increasing or maintaining the value of their property regardless of whether it’s a financial investment or simply their home until they move on.

I have discussed this building with several real estate salespeople while they were at these premises and also - through a friend - with a principal of a major real estate company.

The opinions of the salespeople are unanimous - when they show prospects an apartment in this building there is nothing more to show, and the context of the apartment - our building - is fairly tatty. In my opinion the recent repairs and renovations have done little to change this.

The HQ Marketing Manager of Jellis Craig agreed with the sales view, confirming that the more positives a sales person could present the higher the price/prospect of a sale.

Typically a salesperson will:

  • Take the prospective client to the for-sale property by the nicest route.
  • Visit any nice common areas. The roof top garden in the case of the new block of apartments at Jewel station.
  • Find a quiet location for discussions if the resident is present.

None of these are surprising and in the case of 34 Union St none can be met.

Additional to owners’ financial expectations is the liveability of 34 Union Street for all residents. A meeting place such as a thoughtfully arranged courtyard can be a significant contributor.

The Victorian Government, in a document on Better Apartments Design (Appendix A), describes what authorities should include when considering approval for the construction of an apartment building. In their words: “provide adequate and useable communal open space for the benefit of residents”.

A 2022 comment

When I first produced this page I had Saxon Place in mind as an example. This is the area immediately to the west of the Brunswick Library and facing Dawson Street. I looked again today - March 5, 2022 and it felt even more appropriate. Find time to visit, it's only a few minutes walk.


Maria (MIA) has claimed that what I am describing as a courtyard is a walkway for access to the townhouses. Drawing 08-003 A02 of the architect’s plans for this building is described as the “courtyard plan”. In that drawing there are references to “the landscape plan" and "for "landscape details”, clearly showing that the space is more than a “walkway” and is in fact intended to be a courtyard and landscape area.

The courtyard at 34 Union Street satisfies the Government’s recommendations of size, and with care, visual intrusion into other residents’ space. Unfortunately the original builder never implemented the architect’s vision that included lawns, rain gardens and other perquisites of a usable, welcoming courtyard.

Continuing the program of restoration that followed our VCAT success, I put it to our Owners Committee that it should consider a courtyard renovation that will add value to all properties and a meeting place for residents.

The intention is not to achieve the original plan, but rather, in consultation with owners and residents, to create a pleasant meeting place.

To this end a subcommittee could be appointed to produce ideas with costs for the redevelopment and subsequently to oversee the actual implementation.

There may be objections about spending on non-essentials, but these are easily answered if increase in property value is considered.


The cost can be whatever we decide, from the frugal version to the all singing etc. For completed works in one go, it may be more than we could justify.

An enquiry to a professional garden designer indicated a cost of at least $10,000. I believe that an interested in-house subcommittee can, from our own intellectual resources produce a satisfactory plan.

Two 1800mm x 720mm outdoors tables with four bench seats, delivered and stained are less than $5,000. 2,400mm x 900mm planters, delivered, stained and filled with soil about $500 each.

As sometimes said – We’re not building sheep stations.

An obvious question is where is the money? One answer, no longer valid is that there may be some left over from our repairs. The new Maintenance Fund requirements will probably absorb any spare funds. The other answer is to borrow it.

The examples below of furniture and planter cost for the courtyard plus the costs estimated for the "Hanging Gardens" project and some volunteer help are about $30,000. Read Paying for the extras for a look at the options.


Appendix A – Better Apartments

Page 30 of the Victorian Government's Better-Apartments-Design-Standards document in part reads:

Communal open space


To provide adequate and useable communal open space for the benefit of residents.

To integrate the layout of development with communal open space provided in the development.

Standard Developments with 40 or more dwellings should provide a minimum area of communal open space of 2.5 square metres per dwelling or 250 square metres, which ever is lesser. Communal open space should:

• Be located to:

Provide passive surveillance opportunities, where appropriate.

Provide outlook for as many dwellings as practicable.

Avoid overlooking into habitable rooms and private open space of new dwellings.

Minimise noise impacts to new and existing dwellings.

• Be designed to protect any natural features on the site.

• Maximise landscaping opportunities.

• Be accessible and useable


Appendix B – Costs


These prices are for components supplied by TK Tables https://tktables.com.au/

4 x 2100x900 3 level planters @ $445 $1,780
2 x 2400x600 2 level planters @ $370 $740
Soil 20cubM @ $63 $1,260
Equipment hire for soil moving $500
2 x Tables 72cmx1800cm @ $950 $1,900
4 x Bench seats 1800cm @ $600 $2,400
Plumbing for taps etc. $2,000
Plants (guess) $2,000
Assembly,painting, delivery etc. $2,000
Total $14,580

Professional services


Other (earthmoving, advice, etc.)

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