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   Jul 05

The Sydney apartment buildings transforming our suburbs

Studios 54. Photo: Alex Rink Aaron Murray Polychrome. Photo: Brigid Arnott
Nanjing Night Net

 Drive through any suburb in Sydney today, and chances are you’ll find it hard to ignore the overwhelming abundance of underwhelming developments: compromised multi-residential and mixed-use apartment buildings boasting an ordinariness we (and particularly developers, architects and councils) should be ashamed of.

You know the ones: replacing existing house(s) and garden(s) or other buildings speaking of their place and time, bulldozed and substituted with over-scaled apartment buildings speaking of, well, not much. Except, possibly, someone’s desire to shoe-horn as many homeowners into as small a space as possible. Some, recognised as our “slums of the future”, offering cramped, dark accommodation with a reduced level of amenity.

Surely we can do better? Be more creative, innovative, more environmentally, socially and culturally responsible and still address key issues of supply and demand, changing lifestyles, and affordability?

Yes, we can, with a number of developer/architect collaborations rewarded this week for providing inspiring “game changer” alternatives to the dumb, common models out there.

Seven multi-residential developments were honoured at the NSW Architecture Awards on Thursday. Three in particular represent great examples of what can be achieved when, as the multi-residential awards jury chairman Peter Smith says, architect and client focus on amenity and the potential that comes from a site, “not just the number of units that can be crammed onto it”.Polychrome

Smith describes this transformation of an old Newtown apartment block as a “genuine game-changer”, and “a small multi-residential conversion with large implications”.

In its original state, this building represented one of our most unloved building types – the 1960s/1970s textured red-brick unit block. Aesthetics aside, the scale and unused open space has ensured their lack of appeal.

Originally purchased by the client for knock down and rebuild, architect David Boyle identified a series of small changes allowing the building to be delightfully and joyously reborn – in a way that was not only more economically sustainable for the client, but environmentally, socially and culturally sustainable.

“Four two-bedroom units have been fully refurbished, with internal planning changes creating open living areas, connections to side and front gardens, and cross ventilation,” Boyle says. “New doors provide separate entries more akin to semi-detached houses.”Studios 54

As they say, small projects can say big things, and this Surry Hills building on a tiny 126-square-metre site is one of them. This development by The Trinium Group and Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects “is exemplary in demonstrating the relevance of remnant sites” in dense urban areas.

Sandwiched between an apartment building and a narrow strip of service land, this small block is now home to a wonderfully designed mixed-use building featuring four, light-filled, one-bedroom units.

Each apartment is flexibly planned with service pods on the southern facade framing an open-plan space running front to back. This allows for residential, home office and/or commercial occupation in a truly sun-filled, well-ventilated space.Casba

Located in a part of Sydney undergoing rapid, wholesale change, this project has mastered what is a challenging but increasingly common typology – “the mixed-use development”.

Designed for a passionate client by Billard Leece Partnership and SJB Architects, in association with BKH Interiors, it is “built in the context of existing warehouses, cafe, showroom and new apartments” and sets out to evoke the heritage of the site and its post-industrial context. Importantly, it juggles the different land uses (residential, commercial and retail) without compromising any.

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