Architect Led Housing

This article was originally published in the Spring / Summer issue of the Australian Institute of Architects WA Chapters bi-annual publication ‘The Architect | Flexibility’ .

Frank Lloyd Wright once said that a home of moderate cost was the most difficult problem facing architects in his time. We believe that the same can be said of the present. The news is awash with the lack of diverse housing options that are distinct from the traditional detached house. and the high-rise apartments offered by developers. The engagement of architects in mid-rise infill development is necessary to ensure the quality of homes as our City grows.

After graduating in 2017, David Houston was awarded the Architects Board Prize. He proposed to investigate the housing models of Nightingale and Baugruppen to understand how they work and how to implement them in Perth. So within a week we were on our way to Melbourne to investigate Nightingale, the model developed by Breathe Architecture. The flagship project; Nightingale 1 is based on a replicable, triple-bottom-line model of environmental, financial and social sustainability.

These principles are carried through to Nightingale Village, a unique project where seven like-minded architects are able to collaborate at a precinct-wide scale. Thanks to Nightingale Housing we were able to secure meetings with all seven. Our conversations revolved around remarkably similar interpretations of the brief whilst maintaining their individual design identity. Shared spaces in each design were uniquely expressed in the forms of rooftop gardens, functional circulation spaces and communal facilities. Shared spaces are continued throughout the precinct, where the ongoing collaboration between the architects has resulted in a public mews between buildings, shared light wells, and connections between rooftop gardens.

As an architect-led development, Nightingale is not constrained by the speculative constraints of the housing market and instead responds to the needs of its residents. Through frequent information and feedback sessions residents are invited to participate in the design process. This deliberative design process forms strong bonds of community amongst residents and creates a shared sense of ownership of the building.

Nightingale 1 opens its doors for weekly public tours; Breathe Architecture sees this as the ultimate education opportunity for potential purchasers, fellow architects, regulatory planning bodies and traditional developers to learn about the Nightingale Model. We toured Nightingale 1 with a large group of curious individuals wanting to get a glimpse into the potential of living in medium density housing. The strong sense of community was evident almost instantly when our attention was drawn to the community notice board that described a ‘winter warmer’ rooftop dinner alongside a flyer for ‘Organic Garlic Available Now!’ Our tour guide asked the group to avoid excessive noise so as not to awaken a sleeping baby, a common consideration from all residents at that time of day, just small examples of how the community works within the building.

A rawness of design was apparent in many details throughout both the building’s common areas and inside the apartments. Exposed services, brass tapware, recycled timber floorboards and refurbished radiators are just some features that not only save on initial up-front costs, but also reduce ongoing maintenance costs. These savings ensured that sufficient funds can be dedicated towards other valuable aspects of design.

Sustainability is a vital aspect of the Nightingale Model; with double glazed windows the building doesn’t include any mechanical air conditioning systems. Stepping into the apartment we were surprised by the cosy temperature inside, a welcome change from the chilly 8°C Melbourne winter. The sun was streaming in through north-facing windows which are sensibly shaded by deciduous vines in the summer months. Although each apartment has a generous private balcony, the real ‘backyard’ is the communal rooftop garden that provides residents with a shared laundry, veggie gardens, beehives, and sweeping views of Melbourne.

For us, having never known any family or friends that have used an architect or lived in an architect designed home, the lack of architectural engagement is a major issue within the profession. Nightingale 1 highlights the value of architect-driven housing where people, not profits are the focus. Through this example it is evident that the involvement of architects is essential to the future of housing in Australia.

You can follow the project’s progress at buildgruppe.com.au. David and Margarita will next travel to Europe to study other housing examples.

By David Houston & Margarita Simpson

If you liked this article you can get the whole magazine in excellent book shops, like New Edition Fremantle, Boffins in Perth, or from the Institute of Architects WA.