The Nightingale’s new nest: a sustainable housing development model takes flight

With housing affordability and availability starting to make it onto the agenda of federal politicians, a development on Sydney Rd shows potential to solve the urban housing problem.

The Nightingale Housing development, awaiting approval from Moreland City Council, would see the demolition of an existing building, and the construction of a seven-storey, eco-friendly, owner-occupied one, with room for 20 apartments as well as four commercial spaces.

The Nightingale Housing Model, pioneered in 2013 with The Commons, is a multi-award winning development in Brunswick. It showcases a sustainable design and shared social spaces such as a rooftop garden, along with an affordable price tag.

View of the top of Nightingale 3. Photo: Austin Maynard Architects

Designer-led and based on deliberation with potential owners, the Nightingale model prevents developers from raising the costs and cutting corners on design and quality in order to maximise profit. Rather than the starting minimum of 20 per cent, the developer margin for Nightingale projects is capped at 15 per cent.

With solar panelling, a rooftop garden, and no air-conditioning, Nightingale is intent on creating an environmentally friendly urban model.

Nightingale claims to uphold its environmentally sustainable credentials by using fossil-free building operations “through the use of embedded energy networks,” said Nightingale spokesperson Kirsten Saunders.

The Nightingale project also seeks to have a minimum 7.5 NatHERS thermal rating and include water harvesting and productive gardens, according to Saunders.

Writing in The Conversation, Naomi Stead, Associate Professor in Architecture at The University of Queensland, points out that projects like Nightingale take a “triple bottom line” approach that emphasises social, environmental and financial benefits for owners.

The trend towards mid-size, medium-density housing is apparent in the area, with 13 other developments planned or in progress along the #19 tram route that follows Sydney Rd.

This medium-density housing is touted as the solution to the urban housing problem, balancing the livability of spacious apartments with affordability.

With prices ranging from above $400,000 to almost $700,000, Nightingale may be stretching the definition of affordability, but for young professional first-home buyers this could be an appealing option.

The promise of sustainability, social good and an inner-city location may help to get them over the line.

The site advertising the development represents potential owners as under-45, first-home buyers with an interest in the shared spaces and a desire for “a highly sustainable development”.

The survey of Nightingale’s purchaser list had 160 respondents, reflecting a high demand for this alternative style of development.

The site currently houses Kinki Gerlinki – a fashion retail store – whose owner, Anthony Patton, told The Age he has been approached many times by developers, but this offer, which includes retail space and an apartment without a mortgage, was too good to turn down.

The soon-to-be Nightingale site. Photo: Scott Robinson
The soon-to-be Nightingale site. Photo: Scott Robinson

This latest Nightingale project joins two others in various stages of development. The first encountered barriers in the planning stage after objections were raised regarding its waiver of parking allocations, with fears that the lack of parking provision would create congestion in the surrounding streets.

Residents of the Nightingale development, however, had no intention of owning cars and had chosen the apartments on the basis of proximity to public transport and cycling routes. The matter was resolved and local councillors voiced support for the development.

Plans for subsequent Nightingale developments have also been met with objections. According to the council, “car parking, architectural aesthetic and heritage, height and impacts on construction, solar panels and property values” were the key issues raised.

Austin Maynard Architects’ brief for Nightingale 3.0 aims to address these concerns, calling it “a type of love letter to Brunswick’s eclectic heritage”.

The Nightingale project team “is awaiting feedback from Moreland City Council on their review of the submissions prior to formulating a response or altering the project proposal,” said Kirsten Saunders from Nightingale.

Regarding height and construction, other more traditional developments both completed and planned in the area are equally tall and similarly disruptive.

As the survey of potential buyers shows, hundreds of would-be buyers are signing up to become future Nightingale residents, and this model is likely to expand.

Although it is still being tested, this new model for development promises to curtail profiteering by developers, create environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial spaces, and offers a new vision for housing in urban Melbourne.

By Scott Robinson