The Commons: green design for density

We preview plans for The Commons in issue 19 of Sanctuary.

In Melbourne’s inner northern suburb of Brunswick, The Commons is a sustainable living project currently under development. Pioneered by Jeremy McLeod of Breathe Architecture, the five-storey, car park free apartment building’s design has achieved an 8 star energy rating and incorporates 24 one- and two-bedroom apartments, with artist studios on the ground floor and a café.

The design includes a raft of sustainable design features, including a 5.9 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, solar water heating and natural ventilation. In terms of building materials, Jeremy has specified recycled timber floors; high embodied energy aluminium has been replaced with mild steel, and chrome replaced with brass and copper (the chroming process can be quite toxic).

But The Commons’ approach to sustainable design is about more than materials and energy efficiency by design. It’s about a sustainable and communal lifestyle, built for people who are looking for just that. “With this building we’ve tried to step away from that idea that everything is privately owned,” Jeremy explains. Instead of 24 private washing machines, eight are situated in a communal laundry overlooking the rooftop garden; instead of having 24 solar hot water units, one large unit services the building; and instead of having 24 heating systems, one system is shared between all the apartments.

Space was a key design element of The Commons. “We think that part of Melburnians’ hesitation to enter into the apartment market is that the offerings in the medium density market are generally really small apartments. To downsize from your three-bedroom house in Coburg to a tiny 20 square metre apartment is not an option. Whereas if you can move into a 75 square metre two-bedroom apartment with two real-sized bedrooms, ample storage, a big deck and good outlook then it actually makes it worthwhile,” he says. “Then you’ve got a big shared rooftop garden. It’s more a European model of bigger apartments that are affordable and comfortable.”

The design maximises the site’s proximity to the city which is accessible via a nearby train station or on a bike via an established bike path that runs just outside the building. There are no car parks provided, but dwellers can access a carshare car. A yearly train ticket is also part of the package. “Instead of your body corporate fees going on gym fees and pool fees, they actually go on things that we think are important to make the building work,” says Jeremy, listing the carshare membership, annual public transport ticket and payment for a gardener to ensure the rooftop garden continues to thrive.

Jeremy admits that The Commons concept is one designed specifically for the area, where a high percentage of residents have proven at the ballet box that they are committed to environmental sustainability. The building is yet to be completed, but this place-specific design is one approach to more sustainable design for denser cities.

The Commons is now built and is the winner of several sustainable architecture awards.

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Cover of Issue 19
You can read more about The Commons: green design for density in Issue 19 of Sanctuary magazine.

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