Clare McAllister and Karen Alcock of MA Architects design buildings that support and encourage an active street life.
When we first received the brief for George Corner we thought this was a great opportunity to design a small apartment building in a part of Fitzroy that is undergoing change, but still retains much of that ‘gritty’ urban character. We understand that any new development will inevitably contribute to a shift in existing character – that is inevitable – but our goal is to design buildings that respond to and reflect elements of the existing character, as opposed to a generic ‘one size fits all’ approach.
In many ways the design of the building at street level is more critical than the design of any other part of the project. This is what Jan Gehl calls ‘close encounter architecture’. Buildings that support and encourage an active street life not only help create safer environs, they also provide connectivity and a better ‘fit’ into a local neighbourhood.
There are too many examples of buildings are fabulous designs from the first floor up, but at the footpath level they are ‘non porous’, have unwelcoming facades, and poorly considered services.
To this end we designed ‘small grain’ shopfronts that open to the street. In addition to retail uses at street level there are 3 apartments with small front ‘verandahs’ – providing a similar relationship to the street as small Fitzroy cottages where ‘living on the street’ is an accepted ‘norm’, although these street front apartments do have integrated planter boxes and screens for security and ‘filtered’ privacy.
The detailing of the building at street level has also been considered to be experienced at pedestrian level – finishes and textures have a ‘tactile’ quality – board finish concrete, tile, timber – and doors, screens and other elements are carefully ‘crafted’.
As with many projects, issues arose at the Planning Permit stage that influenced the final design – negotiations with Council planning staff and adjoining neighbours resulted in a ‘tweaking’ of the building envelope, particularly a the upper levels. However this is all part of the usual process – particularly when we work with Neometro as they invest time and energy to negotiate amicable outcomes, even once a project has ended up in VCAT.
For the exterior of the building an inspiration was Carlo Scarpa – in particular one of Scarpa’s final projects (completed after his death) – the Banca Popolare in Verona. The composition of this building has a robust, expressed base topped by a continuous steel ‘loggia’. This horizontal steel ‘band’ ties together projecting elements, and provides a strong parapet line to the streetwall while still allowing views to the recessive upper levels beyond. We used a similar device at George St to help reduce the built scale, without resorting to ‘wedding cake’ setbacks.
The interior architecture of the apartments follows MA Architects philosophy of designing apartments that work well as long term ‘small’ homes. The interior design of apartments goes beyond a requirement for ‘stylish’ cabinetry and ‘fashionable’ finishes and fixtures. We believe the core criteria for good apartment interior design is well considered internal planning and providing all the functionality and liveability of a house, albeit within a smaller space.
While keeping Neometro’s customer brief in mind, we designed apartments that we would live in ourselves. So in a way we are the people we were designing for!
Alpine series by Derek Swalwell
Although not completed yet, we can see the building form taking shape and are confident that it will be a ‘good neighbour’ – the scale of the building is not overwhelming, the composition of the facades reflects a smaller grain, and (as touched on above) we believe that the critical ‘close encounter’ interface at footpath level will provide an attractive, interesting and inviting insertion into the existing street life.
Clare and Karen were previously directors of Neometro Architects (before co-founding MA Architects) so there is a shared history … MAA understands the Neometro ‘DNA’, and this ‘mutual understanding’ plays a vital role in the collaborative creative process.
We also recognize that as a developer Neometro stands ‘head and shoulders’ above most in the field because they have a genuine passion for good design and follow this through to the completion of a project.