The Commons, Brunswick

Nestled in the heart of Melbourne, a vertical community known as ‘The Commons’ is redefining the idea of apartment living.

Several years ago, the developers behind The Commons had noticed how urban Melbourne was evolving from a village feel to streets of overpriced, sterile apartment blocks. Residents were crammed into tiny quarters designed with only the developers’ profit margins in mind. Despite living on top of other people, interaction was at a minimum.  

To counter this stark way of living, The Commons was created. The goal was to build housing which is environmentally sustainable, financially affordable and socially inclusive.

What makes The Commons special

Designed by Breathe Architecture, The Commons was constructed using as few resources as possible.

Inside the apartments, a ‘less is more’ approach has resulted in exposed concrete and unfinished tapware. Ceilings are without plasterboard and bathrooms without tiles, giving a modern industrial look.

The outside of the building is designed to reduce heat in summer and to minimise the sounds of the city below. Foliage snakes up the exterior, creating an oasis within the desert of inner-city Melbourne.

Thanks to solar panels, double glazed windows and efficient lighting, apartments within The Commons have a quarter of the energy footprint of a house of similar size. Located opposite a train station, the block offers bicycle storage and Go-Get car share, but no parking spaces.

The rebirth of community

Along with encouraging sustainability, the architects behind The Commons were looking to create an apartment building which reintroduced true community living.

To encourage resident interaction, the rooftop terrace includes a vegetable plot and a communal laundry. These features give people the opportunity to interact and get to know each other.

Apartment balconies have low walls to reduce the sense of isolation. Downstairs, courtyards act as the perfect meeting places. Up on the roof there are another few hundred happy tenants - bees happily ensconced in The Commons’ communally managed hives.

Those who bought into the building did so with an understanding of the communal focus. Many now say they never plan to leave.

The future of apartment living?

The Commons has gained widespread attention, winning several architecture awards.

Despite being designed with affordability in mind, apartments in the complex are now selling at a premium, with a recent sale adding $200,000 to the original price.

This flagship project led to the creation of Nightingale Housing, a not-for-profit social enterprise which supports, promotes and advocates for high-quality, sustainable housing.

Nightingale is now working on similar projects with a focus on fostering community interaction and reducing environmental impact. Nightingale 1, 2 and 3 are centrally located and have a focus on reducing costs while delivering  new apartments in the suburbs of Fairfield and Brunswick.

Unique in today’s property market, Nightingale has a property cap for the developer and owners who decide to re-sell. This keeps prices slightly cheaper than current market value. Residents in Nightingales who plan on reselling their apartment must first offer the apartment to buyers on the Nightingale waitlist, before putting it on the open market.

The work being done by this forward-thinking developer has inspired a similar sustainable living project in Tasmania. The Commons in Hobart is inviting expressions of interest from “people wanting to live more meaningfully with each other and the natural world”.

With Australia’s population growth increasing, so too is the need for multi-storey residences. The Commons is the beginning of a revolution set to combine old-fashioned community values with the requirements of modern life.

Photo Credit - Andrew Wuttke, Courtesy of Breathe Architects

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