Density can be done well. More medium and high-density developments are getting the tick of approval from those who have lived in them.

Architects and developers have learned from some of the disasters of the 1990s, which usually involved the words "Nelson St" or "leaky".

In Auckland many highly desirable developments are popping up, such as Verto and Altera Apartments, in Stonefields; and Jennings St and Jersey Ave, a social housing project in Mt Albert.

Verto, Altera and Jennings Jersey all have featured in the Auckland Architecture Awards.

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Aaron Sills, architect of the acclaimed Pollen St apartments in Ponsonby points out that good design affects both people passing the building and those living inside it.

Much more goes into good design than is obvious from the outside.

That includes a long list of design aspects such as visual privacy, security, building circulation, energy efficiency, waste management, layout and ceiling heights, acoustic privacy, daylight access, natural ventilation, storage and more.

Sills and his partner live in a 1960s "Star" apartment built by the council in Freemans Bay.

"From that I know that density often has the advantages of a more central location, which means I can avoid the commuting requirements of a suburban situation. Personally I think this is a huge advantage for how I live from day to day."

Density is less forgiving of bad design in terms of being able to have an easy living environment, that allows you to coexist harmoniously with your neighbour, he says.

"In a suburban situation you have separation between you and your neighbours, which stops most conflict from developing. When residential areas become more dense, you rely on your shared party wall and other design devices as well as considerate behaviour to provide the separation and privacy that we all require."

When residential areas become more dense, you rely on your shared party wall and other design devices as well as considerate behaviour to provide separation and privacy.

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The Pollen St apartments are in a mixed-use zone, where residents and businesses sometimes get into conflict over noise.

"This has been combatted by requiring the developer to build with higher-quality window and door joinery.

The fresh air ventilation is separate from the aluminium joinery, which provides ventilation even when they are closed."

The Verto and Altera apartments were designed for affordable living. Nonetheless they have desirable features such as informal social spaces, which encourage community and create a sense of ownership — a vital element in the success of apartment living.

Also included in the design were vertical core spaces allowing the entry of natural light.

The Jennings Jersey development took a cul-de-sac of eight nondescript 1940s state houses and transformed it into a mini village with 18 homes including two, three and four-bedroom units.

The old homes were well past their useful life, says Housing New Zealand's Asset Development Group general manager, Patrick Dougherty, and were replaced with warm, dry and healthy homes.

"It's a much wiser use of the land and will benefit many more people in need of housing," says Dougherty.

Journalist Catherine Foster interviewed architects, developers and residents for her book Apartment Living In New Zealand.

She says one of the themes of the book articulated by Ockham developer Mark Todd was how important it was to ensure the development didn't "trash the neighbourhood" by imposing overwhelming bulk on the street frontage. In his opinion the ill thought-out 1990s blocks on Nelson St had done just that.

The new wave of developers realised the importance of designing medium and high-density housing in keeping with the neighbourhood, says Foster.

They are welcoming and have shops, cafes, businesses and community spaces. Laneway developments do this well, she adds.

Foster says though the Nelson St ridge had failed to create a community, the more recently developed Grey Lynn ridge was an example of density done well where the buildings weren't butted straight on to the road and, instead of having a boring facade, the design was broken up.

She says developers working on that ridge were aware they had a responsibility to the neighbourhood as well as providing accommodation.

It's only once the homes have been lived in for a while that the real success can be measured.

This is certainly the case with homes in the Ormiston Views development, says real estate agent Jerry Chen of Remax in Flatbush.

Chen says his agency didn't market these when they were new, but now, after three years, the development is proving popular on the resale market.

The sections are 152sq m-175sq m, which is small, but because they go up three levels the living is comfortable.

Chen says architects and developers have learned standalone homes are more popular with buyers than terraces, and even with such small section sizes the homes can be a decent size.

In the case of Ormiston Ridge that means 165sq m -176sq m, including a garage.