From the Archive: Luxe by Neometro, 15 Inkerman Street, St. Kilda, 1998. This article by Joe Rollo originally featured in Wallpaper* Magazine in September 2000.
AT the sleazy end of the gentrified Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, away from the crowded hip strips of Fitzroy and Acland Streets, stands Luxe, a terrific medium-density, mixed-use development of apartments, work spaces and street-level restaurant, bar and wine cellar created by architects Neometro.
Built within and around the shell of a former industrial building at the busy intersection of Grey, Inkerman and Barkly Streets, Luxe shares its patch with second-hand furniture stores and sex shops to one side and a former council rubbish tip that is about to be turned into a 220-unit apartment compound. Up the road, on Grey Street, hookers stake their claims on just about every corner. Right across the street is the office of the Prostitutes Collective.
It’s not exactly the kind of environment you’d think to bring your granny to, but it is the kind of challenge the team at Neometro- designers Jeff Provan and Barry Ludlow and architect Clare McAllister- thrives on. They take an old warehouse, alter its zoning and give it an active street front, working within the shell by adding finely tuned extensions upwards and sideways in a delicately composed palette of industrial materials- rusted sheet-steel, glass, concrete, old timbers, aluminium and timber louvres, coloured render. This is what Neometro does best. Jeff Provan came across the warehouse when visiting one of the furniture shops ‘chasing a Corb couch, and the place just screamed out to be redeveloped.”
Inside a Luxe apartment in 2017
The firm entered into a joint venture with the building’s owner and set about redeveloping the site in two stages (one of five storeys, the other seven) containing 26 live/work spaces, 10 commercial studios (including its own), the outstanding successful Luxe restaurant, bar and wine cellar and a car park. The result is an exemplar of mixed-use development in a city that’s discovering that living and working above the shop can actually be a satisfying experience.
“From day one it was always going to be mixed-use,” Provan says. “We just took the modules we had developed elsewhere in St Kilda, but on a larger scale. It’s a very European approach. There’s nothing new in what we have done, and if it was going to work anywhere, it was going to work here.” The 24-hour nature of the building and the buzz that it creates on the street around the restaurant, bar and wine cellar have, in fact, been generators for even more activity in the immediate vicinity and a greater sense of security for residents in this formerly down-at-heel area.
Photo: Derek Swalwell
Neometro wanted to attract like-minded people to the development and the building is a labyrinth of compact and diverse spaces- many occupied by designers and technology-based businesses- as well as residential apartments. Most of the apartments, which range from 68 to 200 square metres, were sold off the plan as spare shells with structure and surfaces left exposed. Basic kitchen and bathroom pods were provided, but the rest was left to individual owners and their tastes. At the core of the building is an open courtyard that doubles as a large light well and communal area, providing spatial release to the varied units clustered around it.
Neometro has been taking on developments like Luxe since 1985 when it did its first warehouse conversion in Carlton, a city-edge Melbourne suburb. From there it changed the face of Hill Street, a narrow industrial street in Richmond, with the conversion of three warehouses into a range of studio spaces that became the module for most of the company’s work.
One of the latest Neometro projects, in a lane directly behind Luxe, is a residential development on what can only be described as a Tokyo-scale site- a 14 metre by nine metre area over an existing five-space car park. The inspiration for the Mirka Lane project, as it is known, is Peter Wilson’s terrific 1993 Suzuki House in Tokyo, which consists of four concrete rooms piled one on top of the other on a corner site barely five metres by seven metres. The structure was then cantilevered over a cut-away corner so that the family had somewhere to park its Mini.
Over the St Kilda car park, Neometro has managed to squeeze two double-height floors containing four studio/ residences and a rooftop garden with pool. Both floors capture vast amounts of natural light through glazed facades each measuring five metres by six metres. The project is a prototype for future residential developments on small reclaimed sites, and could likely take Neometro global.
Luxe in 1999