29th July, 2020.
49 Wilson Street by Neometro was constructed in 2004 as a reflection of South Yarra at the most recent turn of the century. A decade and a half later, the design-focused, community conscious development occupies a fascinated place in Melbourne’s urban evolution – a snapshot of lifestyle nostalgia that retains a poignant relevance for today’s living standards.
Long before Melbourne’s city centre took back its cool, and sharing time with the steady momentum of gentrification in the inner north, Melbourne’s inner south was the place to be. In the early noughties the stretch of mixed-use land that hugs the Yarra River just beyond the CBD, exuded a multifaceted commercial convenience and established affluence in its plethora of residential real estate. Covering the conservative luxury of South Yarra at one end, and the eclectic vibrancy of Windsor at the other, the City of Stonnington has consistently enjoyed a reputation for myriad living models from heritage mansions to government housing and everything in between.
When Neometro completed 49 Wilson Street, South Yarra in 2004, the surrounding area formed one of Melbourne’s social epicentres yet it’s multi-residential offerings consisted mostly of sub-divided older mansions that had been turned into blocks of flats after the Second World War, and the creeping emergence of high-density towers that lacked distinguishing features and were rendered lifeless due to an amplified disconnect with the surrounding streetscape and community. 49 Wilson Street reestablishes this link through low-density apartment living that was entirely novel at the time yet has since become a precedent for the area.
Adopting the semi-brutalist aesthetic familiar to Neometro developments, 49 Wilson Street has evolved to fit its surroundings through an engaged link to South Yarra’s edgy urbanity achieved through design consideration and an intelligently intentional integration into its site. Inside, the 11 apartments and office spaces celebrate light and balance the industrial materiality of form concrete and painted brick with the more refined leanings of marble and Philippe Starck lighting. There is a return to the symbiotic relationship between indoor and outdoor space previously limited to traditional private garden spaces. Here, large terraces and walls of windows work to achieve allusions of space while floorplans work cleverly to achieve this. Oversized dimensions have been forged through the clever integration of essentials which take as much space as is necessary and no more. This works to emphasise the profound influence on wellbeing when spatial arrangements eschew quantifying rooms in favour of breathability. The schematics at 49 Wilson Street are more aligned to the quality of apartments in Japan where homes are conceived more in terms of zoning than numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms.
Today, 49 Wilson Street has settled into its modest parcel of land. The exterior harnesses the qualities of its urban locale with the concrete facade wearing in, as opposed to wearing out, and the green retractable awnings on terraces reflecting the canopy of the trees that line the street. The poetics at play have become significantly more common to the design pragmatics of small and medium-density living in Melbourne, while the lifestyle model of apartment living has become increasingly relevant. South Yarra doesn’t magically produce more land so it makes sense that buildings will continue to go up and, with the suburb’s median unit prices currently sitting around five times more today than they were in 2000, it becomes fundamental that the design, community and sustainability qualities remain a priority.
Words | Tiffany Jade
Images | Earl Carter & Peter Clarke