This study will generate evidence on the key health enhancing design requirements that should be entrenched in the new Design WA Apartment Design Guidelines.

  • Project dates: 2018 (ongoing)

Mental health problems are widespread in Australia, and projected to escalate. There is also emerging evidence that poor building design can affect mental health, with insufficient space, restrictive layouts, and poor acoustic and visual privacy negatively impacting residents’ quality of life, anxiety and stress.

However, there is little evidence-based planning guidance on apartment designs that facilitate positive health behaviours and optimise mental health.

Australia’s apartment construction boom has ignited concerns about the quality and amenity of new apartments. Apartment design guidance in WA has been limited, however, in 2018 a comprehensive new policy that replicates NSW’s State Environment Planning Policy 65 (SEPP65) will be released. SEPP65 is considered to have improved apartment design, however there has been no evaluation of whether its implementation benefits residents’ health.

This study will generate the policy-specific empirical evidence needed to inform the ongoing development of the Design WA Apartment Design Guidelines. Project objectives include assessing whether the holistic implementation of the policy could enhance residents’ health; quantifying how far current development is from the new policy standards, and identifying the health-enhancing requirements that should be included, refined or strengthened in apartment guidelines.

This project will sample apartment buildings (built 2006-2016) in Perth and Sydney from neighbourhoods with different levels of socio-economic disadvantage and access to services and facilities. Development applications will be used to create policy-specific quantifiable measures of apartment and building design (based on SEPP65 and Design WA), and Geographic Information Systems used to generate neighbourhood liveability measures. Residents will complete a survey on apartment design, health behaviours, and mental health and wellbeing outcomes.

By generating new knowledge and partnering with government to monitor the implementation of ‘healthy’ apartment design standards, this project has the potential to contribute to the creation of healthy, equitable, apartment development in WA for this and future generations.

The overall aim of this project is to provide empirical evidence to guide future policy decisions on the design and location of higher density housing in WA and to contribute to the creation of healthy, sustainable and equitable higher density communities.

While the study is focused on tracking the impact of a new policy intervention on apartment quality and residents’ health in WA, our work is novel within Australia and of national interest (e.g., four states recently proposed new design guidelines that would replace weaker existing policies). Thus, we have developed government links in other states for wider dissemination of our findings (e.g., Office of the Government Architect NSW and Victoria).

Findings will also make a novel contribution to the academic literature, and will be disseminated via traditional academic outputs (i.e., peer reviewed manuscripts, conference presentations).

Key People

Lead researcher

Associate Professor Sarah Foster

Associate Professor Sarah Foster

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow

Chief Investigators

Associate Investigator

Related Content

Research Programs

Research Programs

Healthy Liveable Cities Lab

Learning about how to change the built environments where people live, work, learn and play to protect human and planetary health will better prepare us for contemporary and future challenges.

News & Blog


New study probes links between apartment design and mental health

02 July 2018

Researchers are investigating how to improve apartment design policy to enhance the mental health of residents.