Apartments that started to appear in major cities since the 1990s have now become the dream of the 21st century, as the dream of owning a detached house in the suburbs is fading.
But simply creating ‘boxes’ in the sky isn’t going to be the answer for those looking for a higher level of amenity. Architects such as Breathe made their mark with developments such The Commons, located in Brunswick. Complete with more bespoke-style apartments and rooftop vegetable gardens, similar-style developments such as The Nightingale, also in Brunswick, have lifted the benchmark in apartments. Others, such as MAB Corporation, working in Docklands with leading Melbourne architects, such as Wood Marsh, McBride Charles Ryan, Six Degrees and DKO Architecture, are creating a legacy in apartment living, rather than simply a ‘quick turnover’.
McBride Charles Ryan (MCR) has been at the forefront of apartment living, receiving numerous awards for their developments including The Wynnstay Apartments in Prahran, QV2 adjacent to the State Library of Victoria, The Quays at Docklands and more recently Banksia, also at Melbourne’s Docklands. While some architects and designers ‘play it safe’ when designing high rise apartments, MCR has always ‘pushed the envelope’, delivering results that are far from being ‘cookie-made’. “We always try and get the best result for the public in a developer model,” says Deb Ryan, Principal of MCR. “But we’re are also mindful of the risks developers take. They have to show a profit at the end of the process,” she adds.
The QV2 apartments, designed in 2004 and which received numerous awards, opened up people’s minds as to what apartments could be. These colourful abodes, with their operable interior walls allowing spaces to be reconfigured, appeal to a variety of residents. And rather simply being ‘beige-on-beige’, MCR was inspired by the artist John Coburn and created colourful ‘seasonal palettes’ (from winter through to spring). The award-winning The Quays, developed with MAB Corporation, also presented a colourful front, with its purple glazed facades. Apart from how apartments appear aesthetically, MCR has always been at the forefront of providing amenities, often unexpected in apartment living. The Quays, for example, features a tennis court at the podium level, a dining room that can be booked by residents to accommodate large dinner parties, a cinema, a library and even a boardroom.
From one-bedroom apartments to palatial penthouses
Banksia at Docklands developed by MAB Corporation, features abroad range of apartment types, from one-bedroom apartments to palatial penthouses. On the rooftop is a ‘wonderland’ environment, with ponds, hot tubs, barbeque facilities and some of the best views Melbourne has to offer. “Who wants to live like a battery hen? People want space and to have their spirits uplifted,” says Ryan, who sees the need to advise clients, such as developers, that they should allow approximately 10 per cent more to achieve the required outcome. “It should never be a ‘race to the bottom’. Well-designed apartments retain their value,” she adds.
At Banksia, loosely inspired by the Banksia pod, features a strong input of natural materials, such as timber and stone. This balances some of the man-made materials such as the fibre-reinforced polymer used for the curvaceous balustrades on each terrace. “We want the feel to be real, with people being able to touch rich materials. There’s a strong relationship to nature,” she says.
As with the Q11 apartments, MCR offered prospective buyers four different interior schemes for Banksia, not just ‘light’ or ‘dark’ as is often the case. There’s an organic scheme, one that has a strong natural feel, a gold and a silver scheme, together with one described as ‘expressive’. Large and useable balconies also make the apartments feel considerably more spacious. When these schemes were first proposed, there was some resistance from the marketing team. “People think that a ‘beige’ apartment is easier to sell, a palette that people know and feel comfortable with. But we found just the opposite in all our time as a practice,” adds Ryan. “People are looking for choice and a point of difference,” she adds.
Architect David Allt-Graham, General Manager Residential, for MAB Corporation, sees a number of distinct client groups for those looking for an apartment at Docklands. According to Allt-Graham, there are the young working professionals, who might be renting, along with owner-occupiers, often empty nesters. “The empty nesters tend to move from one building to another, a project that’s just been completed. They’re after even greater amenity,” says Allt-Graham. Some apartment typologies, such as the loft-style apartments, have proved very successful. “These apartments particularly appeal to the design savvy group who maybe working from home,” he adds.
Allt-Graham also acknowledges the change developments such as The Commons and the Nightingale apartments have made in Brunswick. “I think going forward, people will be looking for smaller developments, and keen to share buildings with like minded people.”
Originally published by Stephen Crafti in DesignBUILD on 28 August 2018