The housing crisis seems to be the result of a massive failure in the housing market, a failure the state and federal governments are unwilling to address.
Nightingale Housing is a Melbourne-based organisation that is setting an example of how the housing market might be changed, with architects and home buyers taking control, cutting out or diminishing the influence of banks and real estate agents, and pushing planners to make changes. Nightingale Housing is not just about building sustainable and affordable housing, it is changing the very financial model that property development operates under by capping profits, removing expensive middle men and limiting retail sale prices. Their apartments have a waiting list of 3000 people. Could the Nightingale model be adopted in Tasmania?
In 2007 Melbourne architect Jeremy McCloud set about building an apartment building that was “affordable, environmentally sustainable and genuinely liveable” (https://thedesignfiles.net).
It was also important to have an “apartment building with a genuine sense of community” (https://architectureau.com). Jeremy was concerned about the rapid growth of Melbourne’s population and that, to avoid urban sprawl, apartment blocks had to be part of the solution. He was also keenly aware that “there are also a lot of badly designed, poorly built apartment buildings that frankly, you really, really wouldn’t want to live in” (https://thedesignfiles.net/).
Jeremy’s first project, The Commons, faced a lot of challenges including restrictive planning rules and the global financial crisis but ultimately it was built and opened in 2013. Nightingalehousing.org/the-commons explains that:
“The Commons has served as a prototype for many of the ideas inherent to the Nightingale model, from material reductionism to the social impacts of shared facilities. The Commons’ unique approach has gained widespread attention, sweeping national awards and creating the foundation for the Nightingale model and Nightingale Housing.”
A review by Architectureau.com explains the key elements of The Commons.
The building certainly boasts an impressive list of sustainability credentials, not the least of which is its average 7.5 star energy rating, which means that each two-bedroom unit has an energy footprint around one-quarter of that of a typical two-bedroom suburban house. To accomplish these, The Commons employs many of the strategies you would expect – solar panels on the roof, hydronic heating, double-glazed windows with thermal breaks, ultra-efficient lighting and electrics, and of course good passive design. In many respects, however, it’s the building’s communal orientation that makes its environmental credentials possible, which reflects an understanding that achieving genuine sustainability is as much about changes in lifestyle as it is about technology, or even “architecture” as it is conventionally understood.
Firstly, there’s the car sharing. The Commons sits practically on top of a train station and a major bike path, so the design team successfully argued to the local council (Moreland City Council) that a dedicated short-term car rental would be all that residents would need. Planning regulations required most residential buildings in Melbourne at that stage to have a minimum of two parking space per dwelling, which for The Commons would have meant accommodating at least forty-eight private cars – a huge space and cost impost, not to mention an additional burden on the area’s already clogged arterial roads.
It’s a much more prosaic “design feature”, though, which is the project’s real stroke of brilliance – no private laundries in the apartment units proper. Instead, the building has its communal washing machines on the rooftop, along with covered clotheslines. One the one hand much more efficient (and cheaper) to provide plumbing and power to one co-located laundry than twenty-four private ones; on the other, it also saves on precious storage space for each apartment. Just as importantly, having these shared facilities gives residents a regular, casual opportunity to meet one another and form acquaintances and friendships.
In an interview with thedesignfiles.net Jeremy McCloud explains the limitations of the Commons development and how this led to the Nightingale housing model and Nightingale Housing to promote the model across Australia.
The Commons was a success in design terms. It pretty much scooped the pool at the Victorian and national architecture awards in 2014, and is universally admired as a case study in sustainable housing. It has the middle-class fairytale allure of beehives on the roof and a yoga studio on the ground floor – I’d love to live there myself.
But, as McLeod candidly says, it was a failure in financial terms: the global financial crisis meant that the consortium of architects couldn’t borrow the money for construction, so they had to find an “ethical developer” at the last moment, and thus relinquished the control that they had set out to achieve in the first place.
It was at this point that McLeod and his collaborators made their revolutionary move, beyond The Commons (a building, albeit a very good one) to what they call the Nightingale Model (a financial paradigm). This shift is the real genius here: moving beyond an architectural model to a financial one, redesigning the funding process before designing any building.
The Nightingale Model works on the same principle of paring back construction costs (the lack of car parking has been controversial, but if you don’t have a car, and you do have a train, a tram, and a bike path outside your door, then it seems like a no brainer). It then goes further – by connecting directly with potential owner-occupiers it cuts out the marketing budget, relinquishing the need for an expensive display suite, or real estate agents. These savings are passed on to buyers.
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.
Nightingale 1 was the first apartment building built by Jeremy McCloud’s business using the Nightingale model. In February 2018 the designfiles.com reviewed this development and outlined the next Nightingale projects:
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...”
Article by Peter McGlone - TCT Director
Image at Top: The Commons in Brunswick. Photo by Peter Clarke.