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Why Living In The CBD Is Melbourne’s Best Kept Secret, According To Architect Jessie Fowler

The Urbanists

Considering Melburnians historically love everything the CBD has to offer (restaurants, theatre, art galleries, nightlife…), who wouldn’t want to live in the centre of town?

The truth is, for many city dwellers, the heart of Melbourne is an undiscovered gem, hidden in plain sight. Take architect Jessie Fowler (director of Fowler and Ward) and Damian Thompson (COO of The Conversation’s international division); who are the latest avid city living advocates of our new series The Urbanists – presented in partnership with City of Melbourne with support from Victorian Government.

The pair moved to the CBD in 2018, and have become passionate about city living ever since! The creative couple relish all that the city has to offer, including the unexpectedly tight-knit community, unusual architectural moments and indisputable convenience that permeates their day-to-day.

8th March, 2022

Jessie and Damian live near the corner of Elizabeth and Flinders Streets. Their apartment is two-storeys high and has two balconies! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Damian Thompson and Jessie Fowler are avid city dwellers. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Their urban oasis has a green garden filled with geraniums. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Their house is filled with vintage finds and artworks by locals, like this one by Fred Fowler. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Pockets of greenery punctuate the beautifully curated space. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Having a morning coffee at Jungle Juice on Centre Place. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Walking down one of Melbourne’s many laneways. The narrow streets of colourful signage are reminiscent of similar promenades in Hong Kong and Tokyo! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Jessie walking to work in North Melbourne, with the epic city skyline in the background. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The Fowler + Ward offices in North Melbourne. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

With her business partner and great friend, Tara Ward. Artwork by Damien Rudd. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The small but promising architecture firm is one of the most exciting new design practices we’ve seen in a while. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The selection of small makers and artisans on display at the Craft Victoria store is unparalleled. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Jessie perusing the handmade wares. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sitting on Birrarung Marr, the pair’s pseudo ‘backyard’! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Unique, beautiful goodies at Craft Victoria. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The view out over the city from the arts precinct. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A knock-off drink at Hell’s Kitchen. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The view towards Melbourne’s skyline across the Yarra River. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sasha Gattermayr
Tuesday 8th March 2022

‘When I turn into Victoria Street and see the whole city skyline laid out in front of me, I always feel lucky to be experiencing life in the centre of it all.’ – Jessie Fowler

Jessie Fowler and Damian Thompson moved back to Melbourne from Boston in 2018 and landed right in the thick of it – moving into their two-storey apartment near the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets as soon as they arrived. And they never looked back!

Originally, the couple looked to the city as a temporary base while they found their feet for a few years back in town, but they are now so enamoured with city living that they’ve decided to stay!

‘There’s a fantastic local community,’ Jessie notes, on the part of CBD living that others might underestimate. ‘People might assume that living in the city feels slightly anonymous, that you’re tucked away in a high-rise building, But our experience has been very different. We’ve made heaps of local friends, particularly amongst our neighbours in the building, and other regulars at our local haunts.’

Almost overnight, Jessie and Damian transformed into passionate city dwellers. And they tell everyone who will listen!

‘It’s a little abstract, but my favourite part about living in the city is the unusual proximity between private and public space,’ muses Jessie. ‘I love the fact that I can be completely ensconced in my own little world and yet downstairs city life is buzzing away. Of course, the practical side of this is being on the couch one minute, and then in the midst of it the next.’

Alongside the little haven that Jessie and Damian have built for themselves among the skyscrapers, the CBD’s architectural diversity is a major drawcard for someone with Jessie’s design credentials. When designing the Bourke Street Apartment (featured in our 2020 Emerging Designer award, which they won!) a few years ago, Jessie had the opportunity to contribute to the CBD’s own design personality. This project made her consider living more permanently in the city.

‘Undoubtedly the highlight of Melbourne’s built form is the human scale of it,’ she says. ‘Experiencing the city as a pedestrian is easy, safe and engaging. The activation and revitalisation of laneways, small commercial spaces and arcades over the last two decades have made the CBD a fantastic place to visit, work and live.’

From laneway coffee spots, to local design stores, and cosy hidden bars, here, Jessie and Damian share all their favourite local spots. They’re basically a walking advertisement for city living – and we’re sold!  (If you are too – find out how you could save big on stamp duty here.)

First Thing

I’m not a morning person. After years of feeling guilty about sleeping in and being late for work, recently I’ve started accepting reality and adjusting my morning routine. I set my alarm for 7:00ish. If I manage to drag myself up I’ll attempt a jog along the river but it’s more likely I’ll hit snooze and enjoy a bit more sleep.

Morning

Once I’m out the door, I grab a takeaway coffee from Dukes and head out of the CBD just as everyone else arrives for the day. It’s a brisk 30 minute walk into our office in North Melbourne and I am always the last one in – normally making it to my desk around 9:30am.

On weekends Damian and I stay local and can frequently be found having a bagel and coffee at Jungle Juice in Centre Place. This hole-in-the-wall cafe has been around for over 20 years and Annabel and Marcus seem to know every single customer!

Lunchtime

My usual work-day lunch is a salad or leftovers – boring! We shop every weekend at the Victoria Market, so I stock the office fridge with fresh produce and something yummy from the deli to make things a little less monotonous. This summer I’ve been growing tomatoes on our deck, and right now we’ve got more than we can eat, so there’s lots of tomatoes for lunch.

For days when I’m sick of salad, Beatrix is located dangerously close to our office. Their always-changing savoury option is guaranteed to be incredible and of course, the cakes and sweet treats are spectacular.

On weekends or if we’re both working from home, the sandwiches from Saluministi on Flinders Lane are delicious and big enough to share.

Afternoon

Every afternoon at work is a little different, but being back in the office and working collaboratively with my team is a real joy after the last two years.

On weekends we often find ourselves pottering around the city. We enjoy popping into the NGV, going to the movies at Kino or if it’s a nice day, heading down to the river with a book and a beer. It’s surreal living so close to the Yarra!

A real challenge of living in the city is managing my weakness for shopping. Somehow a quick trip to Coles can turn into a new purchase from Kuwaii, Retro Star or Vintage Sole – all of which are located in the beautiful Nicholas Building just down the street from our place. The same goes for Basement Discs in Block Place where Damian and I can happily while away an hour or so.

For special presents, we head to Craft Victoria. Between their selection of ceramics, jewellery and glassware we always find the perfect wedding or birthday gift. And Damian knows that a present from there is always a safe bet.

Evening

I’m at my most productive at the end of the day when the emails have stopped and the office is quiet. Unfortunately this means that I’m often in the office until Damian (who’s the cook in our house) hassles me to get home for dinner.

The twilight walk home from North Melbourne is spectacular, particularly on warm summer nights. When I turn into Victoria Street and see the whole city skyline laid out in front of me, I always feel lucky to be experiencing life in the centre of it all.

If it’s a Friday night or we’re catching up with friends we might have a barbecue on our deck or head out for dinner. While there are so many fantastic high-end restaurants in town, we often end up wandering up to the northern end of the city where it’s possible to experience a different regional Asian cuisine every night of the week. Our current favourites include Biang Biang and Master Lanzhou, which both serve versions of hand-pulled noodles from Western China. And Soi 38 and Dodee Paidang, where you might have to wait patiently for a table, but the authentic chilli-laden Thai street food is worth it.

Last Thing

We’re both busy at work, so we attempt to be responsible on weeknights. And as complete ABC devotees, it’s pretty likely we’ll be on the couch catching up with Leigh Sales.

Once the sun has gone down on a hot Melbourne day, a bit of quiet time up on the balcony watering my garden is the perfect way to wind down before bed. During lockdown I became quite committed to creating my own little patch of green in the city. I’m a complete novice but I’ve built a very cost-effective little garden by growing most of it from cuttings – hence why it’s about 90% geraniums!

And if we’re not being couch potatoes, it’s guaranteed you’ll find us at our local, Hell’s Kitchen, chatting to Russ and Anton behind the bar. Hell’s is an institution; it’s one of the few remaining spots from a time when bars opened in laneways because rent was cheap, not because it was cool. And it’s everything a good Melbourne bar should be – dark, unpretentious and furnished with classic Aussie retro gems. Regulars include everyone from artists to office workers, and a table beside the windows is the perfect place to sit back and watch city-life pass by in Centre Place below.

You get so much more when you live in the city. Find out how you could pay $0 stamp duty on your next home purchase in the City of Melbourne here. Supported by the Victorian Government.

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First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net