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Population density: The future of Australian architecture

A guide to population density trends in Australia and what it means for urban development.

Population density: The future of Australian architecture

Juliet Taylor


March 25th, 2022

What is Population Density?

One comprehensive population density definition is: a proportionate measurement of a population (usually of humans, but potentially any living organism) with respect to a unit area. It refers to the concentration of the studied group within this area and is measured by the number of people / square kilometer (or square mile), though of course smaller area measurements may be used for smaller focus areas. The population density formula is: Dp (population density) = N (total population) / A (land area covered by population).

Australian Population Density

Increasing by 1.3% from 2020, Australia’s current population density is 3.33 people / square km, the biggest it has ever been. Population density can be drastically different to the population total – for example, Sydney is the most populated city in Australia yet it only ranks 4th highest for population density. The least populated city in Australia, Dubbo, has a higher population density than Hobart despite housing only 38,392 people in comparison to Hobart’s 206,097.

According to the World Population Review, the city with the highest population density in Australia is Darwin, at 733.7 people per square kilometer. The city with the lowest population density in Australia is Hobart, which has an average of 125 people per square kilometer. Measuring by states, the ACT has the highest population density (179 people / square km) and the Northern Territory has the lowest (0.2 people / square km). The most densely populated area in Australia was inner-city Melbourne (20,700 people / square kilometer), followed by Woolloomooloo in inner Sydney (16,600 people / square kilometer).

Australian Population Density: Global Trends

Overall, Australia has the 7th lowest population density in the world, coming in at 226th and immediately followed by Iceland (3 people / square kilometer). This is largely due to Australia’s vast size, as the sixth-largest country in the world. Another factor is the prevalence of rural and farm life spreading the population sparsely around the country, and the fact that much of inland Australia is uninhabited. However, even the density of Australia’s capital cities is low by global standards; not one Australian city even makes the world’s top 60 for population density.

Highest Population Density by Country

Find a list of population density by country below, featuring the countries with the 10 highest population densities ordered from lowest to highest. The most densely populated country is Monaco.


10. Mauritius          626 people / square kilometer

9. Lebanon            667 people / square kilometer

8. Barbados           668 people / square kilometer

7. Vatican City       924 people / square kilometer

6. Bangladesh       1,265 people / square kilometer

5. Malta                1,642 people / square kilometer

4. Maldives            1,802 people / square kilometer

3. Bahrain             2,182 people / square kilometer

2. Singapore          8,019 people / square kilometer

1. Monaco              19,361 people / square kilometer

Lowest Population Density by Country

Find a list of the countries with the lowest population density below, ordered from highest (most dense) to lowest (least dense). The least densely populated country is Greenland.

10. Guyana            4 people / square kilometer

9. French Guiana    4 people / square kilometer

8. Suriname           4 people / square kilometer

7. Australia            3 people / square kilometer

6. Iceland              3 people / square kilometer

5. Namibia             3 people / square kilometer

4. Western Sahara  2 people / square kilometer

3. Mongolia            2 people / square kilometer

2. Falkland Islands  0.28 people / square kilometer

3. Greenland         0.03 people / square kilometer

Highest Population Density by City

Four of the most densely populated cities in the world are found in the Philippines. Find a list of population density by city below, featuring the world’s 10 most densely populated cities, ordered from lowest to highest. 

10. Levallois-Perret, France             26,713 people / square kilometer

9. Bnei Brak, Israel                            27,338 people / square kilometer

8. Port-au-Prince, Haiti                    27,395 people / square kilometer

7. Caloocan, Philippines                   27,989 people / square kilometer

6. Dhaka, Bangladesh                      29,069 people / square kilometer

5. Mumbai, India                               32,303 people / square kilometer

4. Baghdad, Iraq                               32,874 people / square kilometer

3. Mandaluyong, Philippines           34,925 people / square kilometer

2. Pateros, Philippines                     36,447 people / square kilometer

1. Manila, Philippines                        46,178 people / square kilometer

Population Density: Australian Capital Cities

Find the population density of each Australian capital city below, ordered from lowest to highest.

8. Hobart               125 people / square kilometer

7. Perth                 295.5 people / square kilometer

6. Brisbane           346 people / square kilometer

5. Adelaide           422.3 people / square kilometer

4. Sydney              442.3 people / square kilometer

3. Canberra          495.6 people / square kilometer

2. Melbourne         516.7 people / square kilometer

1. Darwin              703 people / square kilometer

An Interesting Visualization

Have a look at this diagram from Per Square Mile, an urban planning blog.

It shows how the entire population of the world would easily fit within America if the global population all lived as densely as these cities.

How Does Population Density Affect Architecture?

Population density has been the driving force for the majority of Architectural advancements. Particularly, the invention of the skyscraper was a solution devised by architects to deal with growing population density in a space-efficient way. Public transport is often a major architectural concern when population density begins to grow, as road infrastructure will likely be unable to support huge crowds of people each with individual transport.

The metro system of Hong Kong, China, is recognized as one of the best public transport systems in the world. Hong Kong is able to cater for its high density population (6,300 people / square kilometer) with affordable and functional public transport that turns a profit in the low billions. Cities like New York, on the other hand, struggle just to afford transport maintenance and do not take advantage of population density in the same way that the MTR Corporation does in Hong Kong (by bargaining for the profits of malls to which they transport customers, developing property on and around the public transport area, having retail centers within the subway stations themselves, etc.). Hong Kong’s success is directly related to the population density; because there are no suburbs from which people can drive personal vehicles to commute, the transport system becomes the main method of transportation.

It is important for architecture to strike a balance between potentially space wasting structures – for example, American suburban set ups with only one house/family on large blocks of land – and overcrowding, which can be seen in cities like Mumbai where land prices have skyrocketed and residents are forced into long commutes from cheaper housing far from work. It is worth remembering the impacts of architecture on human psychology, especially in situations of high density where the potential for stress and conflict greatly increases. Have a look at this article to read more about the social and psychological implications of high-density housing.

Hong Kong harbour and skyline, seen from Victoria Peak on a rainy night of June 2019.

Australia’s Future: High Density Architecture

Australia has already seen a huge increase in architecture catering to a population increasing in density. Have a look here for a list of Australia’s current skyscrapers and their features; most of these buildings are multifunctional and cater to a variety of office, residential apartment and retail demands. The West Side Place, the Orion Towers and 56 Pitt St, Sydney are all skyscrapers currently in development which will cater to Australia’s increasing population density in major cities. Multistory buildings are certain to become staples of Australia’s construction future, though in which direction is not set in stone. Some influential figures such as Elon Musk are currently advocating for a switch to inverted skyscrapers, or ‘Earthscrapers’ as population density growth is set to increase beyond the capabilities of skyscrapers.

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