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Nightingale Housing Wants You to Own a Great Apartment

A Longer Read

Remember what Steve Jobs said about ‘The Crazy Ones’?

In 10 years of running The Design Files, I’ve met so very many amazing, talented, super inspiring creative people. But Melbourne architect Jeremy McLeod really is one of those crazies Steve was talking about.

In 2007 Jeremy came up with a bold question. Could housing in Melbourne be more than just a commodity? Could apartment buildings be affordable, environmentally sustainable and genuinely liveable?

After a challenging, though ultimately successful prototype project (The Commons), In 2016 Jeremy and his collaborators developed Nightingale Housing – a not-for-profit organisation that empowers Australian architects to develop their own apartment buildings, using this triple-bottom-line approach.

Today, we chat with Jeremy about the Nightingale Model, and its ambitious new project – a new seven-building precinct called Nightingale Village.

And, we also talk with Bonnie Herring and James Senior, two of Nightingale 1’s newest homeowners!

13th February, 2018

The communal rooftop garden at Nightingale 1, a multi-apartment complex by Breathe Architecture. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Fairley Batch, Associate Architect at Breathe Architecture  and Jeremy McLeod, Managing Director of Nightingale Housing and Founding Director of Breathe Architecture. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

The exterior of Nightingale 1, just off Sydney Road in Brunswick Melbourne.Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Nightingale 1’s Florence Street facade. Photo – Peter Clarke.

The rooftop garden.  Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Lush lawn and stunning vista out over Melbourne’s ‘burbs and city. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Central stairway. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Looking through to the rooftop garden. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Photography – Eve Wilson and Peter Clarke.

Lucy Feagins
Tuesday 13th February 2018

Do you own a home? Do you want to? Are you concerned you might never, ever get there? If so, you’re not alone.

Australia’s population is set to grow by 14 million over the next 30 years. It’s not possible to house all these people without a significant shift towards apartment living. But… have you been inside a new apartment building lately? There are, of course, some beautiful examples out there, but at the more affordable end of the spectrum, there are also a lot of badly designed, poorly built apartment buildings that frankly, you really, really wouldn’t want to live in.

But, with property prices soaring, and housing demand at an all-time high, what’s the alternative? The answer could very well be Nightingale Housing.

Nightingale Housing is based on a new housing model, created by visionary Melbourne architect Jeremy McLeod of Breathe Architecture. To be honest, it’s a pretty Utopian idea: that multi-residential housing can and should be cheaper, and better, that putting people first and cutting out a few middlemen along the way, really can create homes that are socially, financially and environmentally sustainable.

The Nightingale Model empowers architects to develop their own thoughtfully designed medium-density apartment buildings. Profit margins are capped, and savings are passed directly onto homebuyers. For their part, homebuyers have to play by the rules too. They must be owner-occupiers, and they must agree to certain limitations about on-selling their apartment in the future, to ensure affordability is passed on.

You might wonder how a development with such unusual requirements of its occupants fares in Melbourne’s over-saturated apartment market? The answer is pretty clear; Nightingale housing has over 3,000 people on a waitlist.

Last month, I visited Nightingale 1 designed by Breathe Architecture, the first apartment building developed under this new model. This brand new, five-level, 20-apartment building in Brunswick has no carparks (hear me out!), no air conditioning, shared laundry facilities and a lush rooftop garden. The apartments are surprisingly roomy, ceilings are lofty, interiors stripped of expensive details, yet beautiful in their pared-back simplicity.  The sense of community here is very, very real – you get the sense that everyone really is passionately invested in the ideals behind Nightingale.

Nightingale 1 is just the beginning. There are currently 12 Nightingale projects in development around Australia, including one particularly exciting project, Nightingale Village. This massive site is set to be pretty special(!), it will incorporate seven different apartment buildings by seven leading local architecture firms (Architecture Architecture, Austin Maynard Architects, Breathe Architecture, Clare Cousins Architects, Hayball, Kennedy Nolan and WOWOWA Architecture).

Read on for an inspiring and informative chat with Jeremy McLeod, Managing Director of Nightingale Housing and Founding Director of Breathe Architecture. (And further down, we’ve also included Jeremy’s super inspiring 2015 TED talk, too – a few years old now but well worth a watch!).

Jeremy McLeod, Managing Director of Nightingale Housing and Founding Director of Breathe Architecture.

What is Breathe Architecture?

We’re a small, dedicated band of architects who all care deeply about sustainability. We think deeply about our role as people who help to build cities and what we can do to help grow our cities in a sustainable way. How can we build community? That’s what drives us.

How was Nightingale Housing born?

We lamented that our cities were being populated with poor-quality developments delivering poor-quality apartments. We wanted to show that it was possible to build a better housing solution so we embarked on our prototype building, The Commons in Brunswick. Its goal was to be aspirational, to deliver well-designed apartments that were environmentally sustainable, affordable and that helped to build community. We thought that if we could demonstrate that it was financially viable to build apartments like this that maybe it would act as a catalyst for positive change.

We were young and naive. When we finished The Commons, an incredible group of people moved in. The building was great, we were incredibly proud of it, but the residents who moved in were exceptional. They are what really make The Commons special. In a bid to educate and instigate market change we shared the IP behind the building, we took tour groups through the building and the residents (The ‘Commoners’ !) even opened up their homes for Open House Melbourne. There was massive interest from developers. But we saw no change to the status quo.

It became obvious to us as architects that if this idea, this change, was going to be spread, that we would need to do it ourselves. We wrote to six of Melbourne’s most talented architects and asked them to help us. And they did. With the help of Austin Maynard Architects, Six Degrees Architects, Clare Cousins Architects, Kennedy Nolan, Wolveridge Architects, Architecture Architecture, MRTN Architects and the support of the Robin Boyd Foundation, Nightingale Housing was born to support the Nightingale model. This is a financial model that enables great architects across the country to develop homes that are financially, socially and environmentally sustainable, using the IP we developed at The Commons.

Basically, we started Nightingale Housing in order to build good and healthy places for people to live.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Nightingale Housing’s mission is to deliver homes that are socially, financially and environmentally sustainable. Homes that build community, not only in individual buildings, but also in the surrounding streets and suburbs. We build homes that people want to live in, whether single, retired, or a young family with children. We’ve got 12 buildings in active development, and we hope that as we spread our wings from city to city, we’ll show that it’s possible to deliver quality apartments that are good for you, good for cities and good for the environment. We see this as the future of housing in our cities.

What do you enjoy most about working on Nightingale?

I enjoy getting up every morning and knowing that I’m doing something of meaning and something of purpose; that when I go to work, I’m building something with incredible people from the housing industry, the design industry, the sustainability industry and the financial sector. We’re all working together on this common problem of how to deliver better housing outcomes in our cities, how we resolve sustainability and urban heat island issues. At the end of each day, I can rest knowing I’ve done my part. And it’s the same for everyone who works at Nightingale.

Why do we need more Nightingales?

We don’t necessarily need more Nightingales. But we do need better housing. We need housing that’s sustainable, well designed and, importantly, housing that encourages community. Our aim for Nightingale Housing is to encourage market change, to encourage better housing outcomes across the country. Once we’ve laid these foundations we hope this sort of quality, sustainable, carbon-free housing will become the status quo, and that ideally Nightingale Housing won’t be needed anymore.

What is the Nightingale Village?

Nightingale Village is a new precinct in Brunswick, two streets south of The Commons and Nightingale 1, where seven of Australia’s leading architects are coming together to construct seven buildings, where seven new communities will live. This will take over an entire street. We’re talking about a pedestrianised, tree-lined precinct, built using the Nightingale principles, where people can engage with each other and the surrounding suburb, building an interconnected community. These architects (Architecture Architecture, Austin Maynard Architects, Breathe Architecture, Clare Cousins Architects, Hayball, Kennedy Nolan Architects and WOWOWA) are all collaborating on the precinct masterplan, as well as their individual buildings.

What does home mean to you?

My home is where I retreat. It’s my place of rest, of contemplation, a place to be recharged.

A home is where we spend time with our loved ones, or friends, our families. It’s where community starts. Home is where we pause, where we think about what our role is in society, and where we get ready to go out into the world.

‘It’s possible to deliver quality apartments that are good for you, good for cities and good for the environment. We see this as the future of housing in our cities.’ – Jeremy McLeod, Nightingale Housing.

Inside James and Bonnie’s Nightingale 1, two-bedroom apartment. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Kitchen detail, and a touch of awesome bar cart!! Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Living room. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

The bathroom. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Alternate view of bathroom. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Looking out from the spacious open-plan kitchen and living room to the courtyard. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

James and Bonnie’s courtyard. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Nightingale 1 residents, James Senior, Brand Manager at Schiavello, and Bonnie Herring, Director of Breathe Architecture. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Photography – Eve Wilson and Peter Clarke.

Nightingale 1 Homeowner Profile :

James Senior (Brand Manager at Schiavello) and Bonnie Herring (Architect, Director of Breathe Architecture)

Apartment purchased June 2016
Moved in December 2017

How did you come across Nightingale 1? And why was it somewhere you really wanted to live?

James : In 2015 I was looking to buy a 1 bedroom apartment. I remember seeing the first purchaser presentation, and seeing the Commons for the first time the building struck me as feeling more like a house; hard wood floors, high ceilings, layout similar to a single fronted terrace – qualities in a multi-residential building I didn’t think existed.

Bonnie : Since completing The Commons, Breathe Architecture became focused on designing and building triple-bottom-line housing – housing that could be environmentally, socially and financially sustainable. Homes that were designed deliberatively for owner-occupiers rather than an investment product. I hadn’t considered buying my own home until the ‘Nightingale’ development model started to take shape. As the design and opportunity emerged, I could see myself living here – putting our sustainability strategies to the test ‘real-time’ and building a strong community even before we had struck ground.

What has been your experience been as owner/occupiers of Nightingale 1 so far?

James : Bonnie and I initially each purchased individual apartments! During the process of planning and construction we became a couple (!) and fortuitously a two-bedroom apartment became available. It’s a beautiful building to live in. I love the landscaped spaces on the rooftop, even the laundry and the refuse room have been well considered.

Bonnie : Certainly the experience for us has been special. We met and bonded with our neighbours through the ups and downs of the Permit process, later design discussions and delightful group site visits during construction. We’ve been living here six weeks now and couldn’t be more thrilled.

Nightingale’s next important development is Nightingale Village, a seven-building precinct in Brunswick, designed by seven leading Melbourne architectural firms (Architecture Architecture, Austin Maynard Architects, Breathe Architecture, Clare Cousins Architects, Hayball, Kennedy Nolan and WOWOWA Architecture).

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