A conversation with kennedy nolan
The offices of Kennedy Nolan are located in the heart of Fitzroy, just off the main drag of Brunswick Street. The practice was established in 1999 by Patrick Kennedy and Rachel Nolan and has since focused on creating a body of work that is defined on their website as a ‘handmade, handcrafted, sculptural form of modernism’. Since their beginnings they have slowly diversified to design in the areas of residential, multi-residential, commercial and education.
If you weren’t aware, Kennedy Nolan are one of the seven architects of Nightingale Village; a new architect driven precinct in Brunswick based on the Nightingale model of housing. Our meeting was to give us a better understanding of the model and an insight as to how Kennedy Nolan approached their building.
On Monday morning we arrived at the Kennedy Nolan offices, this was our first meeting of the week. Being slightly nervous, our minds were put at ease after being introduced to practice Director Rachel Nolan and Director of Architecture Michael Macleod. Rachel and Michael were warm and friendly, helping the conversation to flow easily without too much prompting from their inexperienced interviewers.
To begin with we actually talked a bit about Perth, and the vast differences with Melbourne. Our car-centric city does not really lend itself well to the assumed ‘no-car, no-parking’ ideals of Nightingale, which in the past has come under scrutiny. Nightingale Fremantle is offering parking with electric charging points to its residents, surrendering to the fact that in Perth, it is very difficult to get by without a car. Rachel disagreed with the notion that Nightingale is, as some people put it; ‘anti-car’. She explained that it’s not that cars aren’t wanted, it’s that when other transport options are there (in this case nigh on the doorstep), then it’s about ‘thinking sideways’. Being able to consider these things on a site-by-site basis; not that here is your apartment and here is your parking spot, whether you have a car or not. Jeremy McLeod, the brains behind Nightingale, says that eliminating parking from the development saves around $750,000 (6:35 in Jeremy’s talk), so why would you pay for that if you don’t need to?
Our arrival in Melbourne was mistimed; we were too late to attend the Nightingale Village information night the week before. Where all seven Village architects at presented their projects to potential residents. It turned out a bit like popularity contest, with each architect explaining their approach and design aesthetic to compete for the favour of the residents. In the Nightingale model, the identity of the architect is pushed to the forefront; the appeal of the project is based on the body of work that has been built up by the firms over several years. It has given potential buyers an opportunity to have a dwelling designed by an architect at a price they may not have been able to afford in a detached home.
In the approach to their part of the Village, Rachel says that their main goal is to reach a level of efficiency in their design, which will allow them to deliver a rational building. This is because, as a Nightingale project, one of the main aims is to produce dwellings that are more affordable; both at the initial purchase stage and during the ongoing inhabitation. Part of achieving that efficiency in design is being able to balance the input of residents without designing twenty-five different apartments. Each architect in the Village is approaching this involvement of purchasers differently. For Kennedy Nolan the question is how to set up the space for the resident’s own customization? Unlike a traditional development, the engagement and involvement of the purchasers with the architect lets them be heard and gives them a sense of ownership and identity over what is produced. The real skill said Rachel; ‘is still having enough funds left to make the building nice.’
As you may know, the Nightingale Model is based on a triple-bottom line focus of environmental, financial and social sustainability. Although these three tenets of the model are all equally important, the architecture doesn’t take the back seat here. The ‘story’ of Nightingale is what attracts these purchasers to want to be a part of it. The ideals, the quality of architecture, the desire to live in a community, to live near the city; it all appeals to a certain type of person, and the architects say that it is very exciting to be working on a project like this where people really want to be a part of the process. And because people do, Brunswick is improving, going from having some of the worst apartment developments around to having two of the best; Nightingale 1 and The Commons. With these setting the standard Rachel and Michael think that this is making the traditional developers stand up and take notice. Seeing the value of the community that can be formed within a building and what they can be gained by it. The Nightingale exemplars are slowly changing the way they think.
The other advantage that arises within the Nightingale model is when the architects themselves buy into the projects; Breathe Architecture directors Jeremy McLeod and Bonnie Herring each live in The Commons and Nightingale 1 respectively. This gives Nightingale the ability to run tours through their apartments to potential residents and with Rachel’s sentiment that ‘architects live well in things’, shows them the possibilities of living in this kind of place. Michael explains too that having architects living in Nightingale 1 and the Commons brings great benefit in informing the design of subsequent projects.
The design of Kennedy Nolan’s Nightingale Village building is backed by twenty years of domestic design language that is unique to their practice. They focus on small details, such as carefully planned sight lines between rooms (especially bathrooms), and their domestic arrangement sees a lot of work go into creating efficiency in their plan; a plain simplicity that makes it look as though it was effortless. In terms of bringing their previous design language to their Nightingale building, they focused their efforts on the tectonics, materiality and massing of the building. The aim was to simplify the building and to ensure that the project didn’t become a ‘runaway train’, resulting in an overly complicated building, whilst still making the project memorable. Editing like this at the initial stages of design is something that Rachel says comes with experience. Through ‘distilling the building to its absolute essence’ the value management throughout the course of the project is kept at a minimum and the architecture is able to kept at the forefront.
Thoughtfully considered landscaping is something that has been a key success of the previous Nightingale projects. All the Nightingale Village architects are collaborating with Openwork, a landscape architecture firm. Being able to collaborate with Openwork yields advantages; having someone consider how the building can support different types of plants and the impacts that these plants can make to building performance, aesthetics and also the mental well-being of the residents. Kennedy Nolan continue this throughout their building by considering landscaping throughout all stages of design instead of adopting the common approach in current developments that have their landscaping stuck on as an afterthought.
When designing for living, Rachel and Michael note that it is important for architects to think of how the building would be to inhabit themselves. Although the creation of community is a main aim of a Nightingale project, the assurance of privacy for a resident within their own dwelling is a very important aspect. Due to the close quarters of living with other people in an apartment building, being able to use good design principles sometimes impacts on how the privacy of a dwelling is managed; how are you able to open a window but still maintain privacy? How do you close your blinds but still keep the window open for fresh air? It is these questions that Kennedy Nolan keeps at the forefront of their design process, a continuous cycle of thinking about the inhabitation of their building.
An important aspect of apartment living is the need for good outdoor space. Nightingale 1 and the subsequent Nightingale Village projects all have this in abundance, with generous communal rooftop gardens a mainstay of the model. According to Rachel, communal gardens are not only about community; but also the ability to find small amounts of privacy in this setting is an important design consideration.
The main point of difference of Kennedy Nolan’s Nightingale project is the external circulation. According to Michael, this important to the way that people interact when living together; if you come across someone in a small dark corridor there is not much incentive to stop and have a chat. But encounter a neighbour in an open and landscaped lightwell outside your front door, then the opportunity to engage is increased. The architecture changes the way that the community interacts with each other.
The Village is not a gated community only for residents and as an urban intervention, it is a destination that will attract the greater community to the area. The high quality architecture should be able to attract interesting businesses and people for the activation of the ground floor interface (such as home.one at Nightingale 1). Through this, Rachel thinks that it will be able to generate enough hype to show people that ‘YOU, can live like this!’. Making apartment living more attractive to people who otherwise would never have considered it. Although Nightingale is not exactly ‘affordable housing’, it offers a far better living outcome for a more affordable price than elsewhere.
Nightingale is not a one-stop solution to all of the housing problems that we face in Australia. There still needs to be a diverse range of housing options offered to the immense variety of current and future population.
Our conversation with Rachel and Michael was amazingly informative and really shed light on just how much thought goes into the triple bottom-line environmental, financial and social sustainability focus of the model. It was a great pleasure to see how their ideals were applied to this project in creating the best possible home within this unique development.
We would like to extend our thanks to Rachel Nolan and Michael Macleod for taking the time to chat with us.
By David Houston & Margarita Simpson