by Neometro

Communal Living

Design - by Open Journal

With affordable and available housing no longer a given for many Australians, more of us will need to recalibrate expectations to consider smaller, central apartments in lieu of sprawling apartments and houses. So it’s fortunate that some of our most innovative architects are concerning themselves with design that will not require homeowners to trade square meterage for quality.

The Commons and Nightingale projects exemplify a new wave in multiple residential projects, characterised by a genuine interest in resident quality of life and the environment. And the utilisation of common areas is one of the ways these design-led impacts are being achieved.

“With the ever-shrinking size of apartments and their balconies,” says Six Degrees Director James Legge. “Communal spaces are increasingly important assets.”

Residents’ Communal Gardens at Harper Lane by Neometro.

Shared spaces are not a new thing, having featured in multi-res buildings between the 1920s and 1960s.

“In the recent past, TV rooms or similar facilities have just been thrown with little thought into leftover space a developer couldn’t use for anything else,” says Legge. “What we are doing in our residential projects, including Nightingale 2 in Fairfield, is to provide strategically located, communal spaces with variable uses that can help facilitate community between residents.”

As Legge explains, you can’t force community or connection, but you can design in ways that give them the best chance to spark and thrive.

Notable twentieth century precedents in Australia to explore this design element include the Tao Gofers-designed Sirius project (1978-9), Sydney, which is currently back in the spotlight for its controversial heritage status; Sir Roy Grounds’ Moonbria apartments (1940-1) whose 21 residences are located around wide, open balcony-corridors, and a shared central courtyard; and a number of multi-residential developments by Harry Seidler, the first major, and award winning, one being Ithaca Gardens whose roof-top balcony doubled as a communal drying area and laundry facilities were shared.

Ithaca Gardens by Harry Seidler.

Farther afield and, without doubt, the most iconic is Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation, Marseilles (1947-52). Its 17 storey low-income apartments, had residents sharing roof greenery and pool, crèche and running track, and inspired so much to follow. (Corbusier’s New Architecture manifesto included roof gardens as one of its five essential criteria).

Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation. Photo: René Burri

The revival of common spaces in the current climate is, equally, a response to diminishing housing affordability and availability, as to cynical turn of century development valuing profit over quality and sustainability, and “all the walls and fences that went up in the eighties that helped stifle community and getting to know your neighbours,” adds Legge.

Owners and tenants of The Commons’ 24 apartments, and the in-train Nightingale projects it has spawned, share communal washing machines and covered rooftop clotheslines in lieu of private laundry facilities. Inhabitants also have plenty of opportunity to interact and cooperate when working side by side in productive garden beds, or socialising on the rooftop or in the cafés on the ground floor.

“The roof garden is an obvious common space [to include] with huge opportunities for recreation, productive gardens, BBQs, etcetera, but they need to be designed with shade and shelter and thought, rather than simply be a left over space that bakes in summer and is freezing in winter,” says Legge.

Breathe’s Jeremy MacLeod has said that The Commons’ roof garden was designed with both introvert and extrovert in mind, so residents and their guests can just as easily choose to partake in larger gathering as enjoy a book in a different ‘pocket’ of the rooftop space.

(Common laundry facilities have also been rationalised by space, power, material and plumbing infrastructure efficiencies that, in turn, freed up apartment space for other uses and reduced price tags on these stylish inner city dwellings.)

There are numerous other examples of this contemporary revival, some following in Sirius’ footsteps, in the sense that Gofer’s modular and brutalist-inspired design, which contained for instance common spaces for all tenants and others for pensioners only, was tailored to the needs of particular socially vulnerable groups such as the aged and low-income families.

The Rooftop Garden at the Jewell Station Apartments by Neometro.

Like Nightingale, the Brisbane Housing Company (BHC) is a not-for-profit construction enterprise aware of the power common areas have to enhance its tenant quality of life. BHC has a $300M portfolio and charter to provide quality affordable housing for specific disadvantaged groups, including those with disabilities, mental health issues, and those vulnerable to homelessness.

One award-winning BHC’s development, Caggara House, was designed by Arkhefield to include fifty-seven apartments for the same number of elderly residents on land, which was unattractive to the average developer. While Caggara House incorporates tenant carparking, unlike The Commons and Nightingale projects, the complex does have in common with the latter affordability, cross-ventilation and a “…range of communal facilities that allow residents to maintain links with existing neighbours and meet new ones,” including a landscaped ascent to an open-air podium, which connects the apartments with the street.

Six Degrees, Clare Cousins, Kennedy Nolan, Austin Maynard are among the firms to have purchased a licence to interpret Nightingale’s socially, ecologically, financially sustainable prototype.

And Six Degrees is currently exploring future “shared work sheds, libraries/co-working spaces, large dining rooms for family gatherings not possible in the apartment, communally-owned bedsits for visiting family or friends”, says Legge, as well as for providing income to Owners’ Corps.

Clearly we can look forward to ongoing ethical innovation in the world of multi-residences. So watch this – shared – space!

Words: Susanne Kennedy


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