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Nightingale from a builder’s perspective

Michael Robertson, Project Group
Michael Robertson, Project Group

HOUSING: Cross laminated timber will be an exciting progression in the Nightingale Model’s triple-bottom-line approach to developing inner-city housing, according to the builder of Nightingale 1.0, which celebrate a traditional topping out ceremony on Friday.

Managing director of Project Group Michael Robertson, said he was working with architect Andrew Maynard on Nightingale 3.0, which will be built using cross laminated timber.

“I think it will be a further exciting movement with Nightingale,” Robertson said. “A sustainable material that has gained momentum globally.”

“It was obviously a good opportunity for us as a business to work on a sustainable project with different drivers and values to other developers that we work with or other clients that we work with.

“We build a lot of apartments in Melbourne and it’s interesting and it’s probably positive to see the change towards product that is aimed towards an owner occupier, which doesn’t come at a higher price tag.”

Robertson said he is seeing a lot of development in the south east of the city which is targeted towards owner occupiers –  however, with very highly architectural, high-end finishes for people with bigger budgets rather than affordable, quality, owner-occupier housing at a reasonable budget.

“So I think it’s positive because we see, as a young business, the need for affordable housing and a shift to apartment accommodation for many people in the city and it’s good to see apartment stock which is tailored towards people within that demographic,” Robertson said.

Robertson founded Project Group in 2010 and it has grown quite rapidly over the past several years. It now employs more than 100 staff and will turnover approximately $110 million this financial year.

As a leading builder in the mid-tier market, the company specialises in design and construct delivery of medium sized and premium-quality boutique apartments and residential projects. It also undertakes commercial and mixed-use new builds, office and restaurant fitouts and corporate refurbishments.

“We have a passion for delivering innovative projects and Nightingale is an innovative model that creates socially equitable, liveable, and affordable housing for everyday Australians,” Robertson said.

Off the back of their experience with Nightingale 1.0, the company has been giving cost planning advice for Nightingale 2.0 and 3.0.

“Many of the architects we’re working with – Kennedy Nolan, Coy + Yiontis – are all involved in Nightingale as well,” Robertson said. “There are about eight models out now so we’d like to be seen as one of the preferred builders and continue building these as they get rolled out.”

Around Australia there are currently 18 Nightingale projects being developed, with almost 2000 people on a waiting list to buy into the projects.

The Nightingale 1.0 project has been three years in the making and is due for completion later this year. It involves construction of a five-storey building containing 20 apartments, ground floor retail and rooftop communal gardens. Apartments start from $415,000 for a one-bedroom.

It has a concrete structure but differs from a regular apartment complex in the façade and finishes.

“It’s quite a raw product in that the structure is exposed as an interior finished product in a lot of instances with concrete ceiling and walls,” Robertson said. “So definitely a more onerous construction in the delivery of the structure as a finished product.”

There’s been a big focus on metalwork and steel throughout the project. The the gardens on the south of the building will be  a key feature of the architectural façade and also providing usable space for occupants. There is less focus on concealing services and elements of the building, which reduced material costs.

The project has thrown up a few challenges.

“Ultimately there is a bottom line which needs to be achieved,” Robertson said. “We worked pretty collaboratively with the design team led by Breathe to get the project to a point where it was viable from a financial point of view.”

Logistically, it’s challenging. The construction site is located in a small dead-end street in a built-up part of Brunswick near Sydney Road so the delivery component of the build has been testing. On the technical side, the ground conditions weren’t favourable, with rock and subterranean conditions resulting in a design change immediately after the demolition of the existing building. “The team reacted to that pretty well and came up with a solution which worked well and protected the client from too much risk exposure to cost escalation as a result.”

Robertson said quality of product and architecture is high on the agenda of many of his clients but it’s taken to a next level with the values that Nightingale instil in their projects.

“It’s a good for us as a business as well – jobs like Nightingale are exciting for our staff to work on.

“We’re also aligned with some of the best architects and developers in Melbourne across multiple markets – not only the apartment market but also commercial, hospitality, residential as well – which is good brand alliance for us but also good quality of projects for our team to be able to work on across all divisions of the business.”

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