There are 29 cities around the world with ‘severely unaffordable’ housing, and five of these cities are in Australia.

I’ve already written extensively about Brisbane’s housing boom, but after attending SLQ’s UQ Architecture lecture by Jeremy McLeod from Breathe Architecture, I realised there was a whole movement I failed to mention: Nightingale.

Started as somewhat of a self-driven social experiment in Brunswick, Melbourne, The Commons by Breathe Architecture drew on worldwide precedents and research. It was the success and recognition of this project that directly led to the Nightingale movement. Nightingale may be the solution we need in Brisbane, and other cities worldwide, to reduce our housing crisis, improve the walkability of our cities, and establish a sustainable future.

As Brisbane’s housing boom slows, the damage is already done, so are we too late to change the housing trend?

After receiving 13 awards in 2014, the jury declared The Commons “the best of the best because it showcases how sustainability is an essential part of a positive future.” The panel commended the way The Commons:

  • Improved a difficult and damaged site with an appropriately sized and designed development
  • Used a simple and minimal approach to create great architecture
  • Expressed the natural characteristics of the carefully selected materials
  • Created affordable and delightful housing that provides both communal and separate spaces for the occupants to enjoy, with opportunities to live lighter and better

They concluded, “Importantly, the creation and realisation of this project by the architects and their team, shows we can all dream what the future should be and then make it happen.” One of the keys to the success of this model is affordability – at some cost. The model caps investor profit, allows residents to have their say on the layout and savings of their apartments, and minimises the fit-out for low immediate and ongoing costs.

In 2016, Demographia found that all of Australia’s five cities are ‘severely unaffordable’. As Demographia explained, “Every year, ‘best cities’ and ‘most livable cities’ lists are produced by various organizations. Aimed at the high end of the housing market, these surveys virtually never evaluate housing affordability. Yet, the media often mischaracterizes the findings as relevant to the majority of households. In fact, a city cannot be livable, nor can it be a best city to middle-income households that cannot afford to live there. Households need adequate housing.”

As housing prices increase around the city, the ability to buy property is getting more and more out of reach for Millennials with an increasingly popular inner-city lifestyle. The Nightingale model maintains apartment affordability by ensuring residents sell their apartments for the same price they paid. Controversially, Breathe Architects chose not to supply car parking to all residents individually, providing instead parking for 72 bikes and car share.

Brisbane city was designed around cars, not people. I’ve written extensively about how to improve the walkability of Brisbane previously, so I’ll try not to labour the point too much. Because of the housing crisis, many people that want to buy a house are forced into buying further away from the city, often a single house on a lot in a planned suburb. The lifestyle that comes with these houses is centred around cars, especially if these people work in the city. At this point, I don’t think improving public transport in these areas will solve anything, simply because they’re too far away from the city centre to make public transport more convenient.

By providing parking and accessibility for cars in the city centre, pedestrian friendly hubs become disjunct and pedestrian access less convenient.

In a study that I’ve cited many a time, in 2014 City Lab found that Millennials, like myself, value living close to work with good public transport over owning a car. The Nightingale framework appears to me to support this lifestyle, while offering the option to own a property, which would otherwise be unachievable.

Like co-housing (although Jeremy insists it isn’t co-housing), The Commons and Nightingale projects have economically shared facilities that promote incidental socialisation. As one resident explained to Architecture  AU, “The communal spaces encourage you to interact with your neighbours […] we garden together, we make building improvements together, we go out together, we make dinner for one another … I have lived in multi-residential buildings before and not known a soul … but here we have created genuine friendships.” Not only do the facilities encourage the community within Nightingale projects, residents are engaged during construction with monthly site visits and various parties prior to moving in.

As I’ve already explained, the walkability of cities and suburbs, and pedestrian hubs would benefit from a city with less cars and more pedestrian streets. While increasing the social aspect of the city and suburbs, this lifestyle increases sustainability. As Nightingale explains on their website, “Australia’s population will grow from 22 to 36 million by 2050, which means that 6.5 million new housing units will be required in the next 35 years. We need new housing that integrates access to transport, employment and services, including meeting the needs of Australia’s ageing society and families who want to be located close to the CBD.”

As the Nightingale movement expands into other areas of Melbourne and seeps across Australia, it will be interesting to follow the development of this model and various solutions. This new model could have incredible impacts on our cities, promoting walkability and sustainability while building communities. As Architecture AU explains, “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.”

Although, here in Brisbane our housing boom appears to be popping, and a lot of area and money has been given to poorly designed properties that are completely unaffordable and uneconomical – did we realise the solution too late, or is there a way of retrofitting these models on existing buildings?

There are a lot of important elements to these projects that I’ve barely touched on, so for more information please watch Jeremy McLeod’s lecture on the State Library of Queensland’s Vimeo site or visit Nightingale’s website.

Photo Credits:

Infographics from Nightingale Housing website.
The Commons. Photo by Andrew Wuttke.
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