The Nightingale model, which has taken Australia’s housing imagination by storm, is about to do it again. This time over an entire street, opening the door to highly sustainable architect led development at the precinct scale.
This latest project, Nightingale Village, has seen a collective of architects buy up an entire street – Duckett Street, Brunswick, in Melbourne’s inner north, not far from The Commons and Nightingale 1.
The project will comprise seven apartment buildings, each designed by separate architects working in close collaboration and through a masterplan for the village.
The buyers/developers are Breathe Architects, whose director Jeremy McLeod is a founder of the Nightingale concept; Architecture Architecture; Austin Maynard Architects; Clare Cousins Architects; Hayball; Kennedy Nolan Architects; and WOWOWA Architecture.
It’s early days but it’s anticipated Nightingale Village will be even more sustainable than its predecessors in environmental and social terms, and at lower costs, while at the same time delivering product that best meets the choices made by end buyers.
Likely outcomes include shared renewable energy, collective rainwater harvesting, food production, tree canopies and vegetation to ease the heat island effect, and shared connected spaces.
Even more interesting is the way the Nightingale model and the village in particular will aim to connect with and cater to broader community needs.
Duckett Street looks set to offer affordable housing at a level likely to be a wakeup call for conventional developers – anticipated to be in the double digits in terms of percentage.
“It will be seven architects doing seven different buildings,” a Nightingale Housing spokesperson said.
“A community of architects trying to find the best results for a precinct, how the buildings work together – the shared spaces, the commercial tenancies.”
The architects will also peer review each other’s work.
“They’ll be looking at everything, all the things we’ve modelled – rainwater harvesting, energy provided over the whole precinct-wide scale and how to maximise energy efficiency and create a ‘green network’ across the buildings.
“We hope it will transform not just the street but what you can achieve with neighbours … they’re all in it together.”
Now anything is possible
Breathe Architects’ Jeremy McLeod told The Fifth Estate on Wednesday afternoon there were huge opportunities to scale up learnings from former Nightingale projects.
“Now anything is possible,” he said.
“What we know from The Commons is that one building on its own can be an incredible lightning rod for sustainability and the community, and a catalyst for change.”
Having more buildings together could lead to sustainable outcomes whose benefits spread to the entire community.
He pointed to the way The Commons and its neighbour Nightingale 1 in Florence Street had formed a community, and how Moreland City Council has now agreed to close part of the dead-end street and turn it into a park.
“So this summer Moreland will put in a temporary parklet to see how it works.
“What will we see in Florence Street is incredible community building benefits, not just for Nightingale but for the whole community.
“One building at a time is great but wouldn’t it be great if we could do more, if we could think about Nightingale as a precinct, as a village – that the community could spill out of the street and everyone can benefit.
“So how do we give back to the urban realm? How do we sit back from the bike path [which is a bit cramped]? How do we put more vegetation and more canopy to help with the urban heat island effect? How do we deal with urban agriculture and food security? And how do we scale that up?”
With single buildings it’s hard to find economies of scale to produce food, he said, “but when you put seven buildings together maybe you find a way.”
A survey of prospective buyers and the community might find new community needs, Mr McLeod said.
“Maybe they need a creche and kindergarten? How do we look at what happens in the city and how do we answer broader societal questions that other developers don’t want to answer?”
Affordable community housing at “a number to be proud of”
“The big one for us is community housing and why aren’t we looking at 20 per cent in all of our projects as they do in London and New York?”
And yes, Nightingale is looking to take action on this too, Mr McLeod said, talking closely with Women’s Property Initiative and Housing Choices Australia.
“How can they be part of our community?”
So has Nightingale committed here?
“I would love to say ‘yes’,” McLeod said. “We are so close to a heads of agreement. We’re working through it and it’s looking really good.
“It’s a double digit number that we would be proud of, and that anyone would be proud of.”
The alignment of values with reality will extend to the commercial premises that will pepper the development at ground level – at the rate of one or two for each building.
“So we’re working with Ethical Property Australia.”
These are people who Mr McLeod said were “incredible” for their work to help connect social enterprises, start ups, and organisations with a strong sense of sustainability, social justice and community benefits, and to help them cross pollinate.
The next phase for Nightingale Village is to interview the 1500 people on the Nightingale wait list of 3800 who have identified they would like to live in Brunswick.
“We’ll ask if they would like a building in this suburb, in this street, at this price point and how many bedrooms they would like. At this point we don’t know what the mix will be – we’ll ask them.
“And then we’ll build what they want! It’s fantastic.”
Funding? No problem
The funding will be supported by Social Enterprise Finance Australia, which worked in collaboration with the National Australia Bank to fund Nightingale 2, and also with Brightlight, a subsidiary of a Christian superannuation fund.
The market is changing, agent says
Selling agent for the site Richard Rose from Jellis Craig said existing plans to redevelop the site with 179 apartments had been discarded.
“Jeremy was not interested in those plans,” Mr Rose said.
He commented that many real estate agents had little understanding of the Nightingale product, with few exceptions, and that it took him a while “get his head” around the concept, which he first encountered when he was asked to appraise a similar property.
“I couldn’t understand the product. It had no car parking, no airconditioning. I just couldn’t understand the product because I had to compare it to others.
“I just said, ‘Why would you build that?’”
Since that experience, he said, “I’ve eaten my words.
“There is definitely a market for it. There are buyers who have that genuine belief, like Jeremy. He rolls up on a pushbike, not in a Porsche, and I say to him, ‘I’ll get you a ceramic cup rather than a takeaway because you’re committed to the cause. I respect that; you’re not fluffing.
“But I’m annoyed I don’t get the resales; I’ve told him that,” Mr Rose joked (Nightingale is predicated on direct sales to a waiting list, helping to cut costs for buyers).
The model has now been tried and tested and he is “blown away” by the 1500 buyers on the waiting list.
His view of the buyers is that they are generally tertiary educated, that they think about the environment and their impact, and they want to put their money where their mouths are.
The total site is 4500 square metres, at 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10 and 12 Duckett Street, plus 24-26 Hope and 11 West Street, which both back onto the Duckett Street properties.
Each of the warehouse buildings is of brick construction and between about 500 sq m and 600 sq m in size.
The vendor is a local “emporium” merchant retailing bomboniere and has used the buildings for storage over many years.