Halfway up a tall building, the air is more turbulent than what we’re used to at ground level. On the balcony, it rushes at you in gusts, and if you leave the balcony door open, it fills the room like an unwelcome house guest. And in a warm climate, the currents beat any air conditioner.
The first glimpse I got of elevated living was when some family members lived in Harry Seidler’s Horizon building in Sydney. I couldn’t believe how high up they were, looking down at Kings Cross’ famous skyline, and they were only on the seventeenth of more than forty floors.
In the Horizon, you have to tie down anything that isn’t extremely heavy, and when strong winds approach, they announce it over the public address system. I couldn’t imagine living that far off the ground, risking vertigo whenever you stepped out onto the balcony. Some days I felt like I could be blown away. It was thrilling, and the views were spectacular. And it got me hooked on the idea of high-rise apartment living.
Buildings on the massive scale of Horizon are still an aberration in much of Australia, with the exception of a handful of residential towers in our largest CBDs, and the thickets of condos scattered along the Gold Coast waterfront. But in other parts of the world, they’re standard. Manhattan is the granddaddy of the modern skyscraper, but in space-starved places like Hong Kong, Singapore and some corners of the Middle East, living in tall towers has become commonplace.
I’ve visited apartment complexes with Olympic-length pools, spas and saunas, private cinemas, billiard rooms, outdoor playgrounds, barbecue areas and of course well-equipped gyms.
I love how generous the facilities budget can be when you have dozens or even hundreds of apartments in the one block. I’ve visited apartment complexes with Olympic-length pools, spas and saunas, private cinemas, billiard rooms, outdoor playgrounds, barbecue areas and of course well-equipped gyms. And best of all, none of it needs to be maintained by residents.
Some incorporate shops or even the hawker centres that are widespread in southeast Asia. In Australia, it’s become increasingly common to build atop malls, allowing residents to get to the supermarket without even stepping outdoors. Some complexes even boast child care and medical centres under the same roof.
For me, the attraction of high rise has proven lasting. These days, I live on a teen-numbered floor myself, in a dense thicket of residential towers. Over the years, I’ve become addicted to the lifestyle, and now can’t imagine life without cheap, delicious food, coffee, banks and facilities like post offices and pharmacies whenever I step out of the lobby.
The Saturday morning childhood ritual of driving to the supermarket seems highly inefficient now. And as someone who seems incapable of common forward preparation tasks like planning a week’s menu, the advent of ‘just in time’ supermarket shopping couldn’t be more welcome.
Living in the sky isn’t all upside. There’s no backyard for cricket or for the convenience of your toddlers or dog. Noise is a given despite recent strides in double glazing, the streets are often crowded, and if you get home late, you’ll sometimes have to run the gauntlet of people who’ve had too many. Sirens occasionally interrupt your sleep in the early hours of the morning, too.
I’ve become addicted to the lifestyle, and now can’t imagine life without cheap, delicious food, coffee, banks and facilities like post offices and pharmacies whenever I step out of the lobby.
But I’ve come to appreciate the constant presence of other people, and the ever-present street lights and security cameras. Travelling to the suburbs where I grew up, where the streets are deserted and dark, now makes me feel uncomfortable.
If you’ve never tried living in a tower, it’s worth serious consideration, especially before you have kids or after they move out. You’ll have to make do with less space, but you’ll be surrounded by so many things to do and places to go that you’ll find yourself at home at increasingly rare intervals. Your kitchenware may well start gathering dust – or is that just me?
And while it may not be the ideal venue to raise young children (although many do), but there are teenagers in our building who absolutely love it.
If developers have their way (and really, when don’t they?), a lot more of us will be living like this in the years ahead. Faded commercial developments are being converted into shiny apartments, and unused parcels of land are being scouted on a daily basis. In NSW, the government wants to build apartments over the rail corridor near central station, and if it succeeds, it’s inevitable that other cities will do the same thing.
Once upon a time, the Australian dream was a quarter-acre block to call one’s own. Now, many of us are dreaming of a home in the sky, with every conceivable facility at our doorstep. I have to confess that I’ve come to I love it so much that I’ve started looking down on those who don’t in a metaphorical way as well as a literal one.
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