The Commons, Brunswick

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

I think I found it. Urban living utopia, that is. Jodi Newcombe, founder and Director of Carbon Arts, was kind enough to show me through her apartment at The Commons in Brunswick.

Designed by Breathe Architecture, The Commons has quickly become the poster child of sustainable multi-res development. With social and environmental sustainability at the forefront of every design decision, this eight-star rated building stands miles apart from your typical speculative developer project. The result is an eco-village filled with impressive facilities, liveable spaces and a palpable sense of community. The fact that Breathe’s director, Jeremy McCleod proudly calls this place his home is testament to his utter belief and commitment to the project.

Walking through the entry, Jodi explains that the bricks were recycled from the building that once occupied the site. The flecks of old graffiti are scattered across the wall; a romantic gesture hinting at the building’s history as well as a means of minimizing landfill. A blackboard notice board on the wall reads “Please be careful not to spill bin juice on the floor, makes me sad [insert sad face]” accompanied by smiling cartoon animations. The tone is wildly different to the neighbourly conduct I've seen in my time.

We continue through to an enormous bicycle storage facility. Due to strong public transport connectivity and proximity to local shops, the project team convinced council that bicycle parking could be provided in lieu of carparking. The residents also have access to a car share program parked in front of the block. I’m sure this was no easy feat and fortunately, the successful battle sets a precedent for future projects.

We then took the lift up to the roof terrace which includes the roof top garden (supported by an in-house compost system), photovoltaic panels, large communal outdoor living area and even a bee hive. Oh yes, and the rooftop is blessed with absolutely killer 360degree views over Melbourne. At this point I’m wondering how this place is even real.

We finally arrive at Jodi’s apartment. A 72sqm two bedroom space (with one bedroom converted into a study). On top of this, Jodi has 20sqm of outdoor space spread across two balconies and a central courtyard. The impression of spaciousness is immediate, with generous doses of natural light and ventilation filtering through.

Reduction of materials and processes drove much of the interior design. The concrete ceiling is exposed, giving the added benefit of taller ceilings. The bathroom has raw concrete floors and copper tapware, eliminating the chroming process. Recycled timber was sourced from a range of sites for the flooring, meaning the species in each apartment varies. Joinery is made from unfinished formply with simple cutouts in place of joinery knobs.

Admittedly, I had seen photos of The Commons unfurnished and was concerned it might be a little hard and cold. However, Jodi’s apartment well and truly dispelled that as myth. In fact, the raw materiality injects the space with soul and unique sense of character. It’s a beautiful, homely space to be in and if it were mine, I would happily live there long term.

Although commercial success wasn’t the sole driving force for this project, The Commons has proven that this kind of development has legs. I was excited to hear that Breathe are planning a second development of a similar vein, and there are murmurings of others planning similar developments, using The Commons as a model. It’s so exciting to see this initiative create a shift at a broader scale and raising the bar for apartment living.

In all honesty, The Commons was one of the most inspirational buildings I’ve ever visited. I would encourage every architect, interior designer, developer and curious soul to find their way in. The good news? Jodi’s place is listed on Airbnb. Huzzah! Now please form an orderly queue.


high court, canberra

Thursday, 29 May 2014

One thing that Canberra has above other Australian cities are grandiose civic buildings. Edwards Madigan Torzillo Briggs' design for the High Court must be one of this country's finest examples of Brutalist Architecture.

Built in the 1970s, the building is a grand hall with three courts suspended internally and a series of ramps and stairs linking between. The structure is predominantly concrete, with glass draped across one face of the forty metre tall building.

The concrete in the main hall has been formed with sculptural details that are finely detailed but strong and robust in character. The waffled ceilings, chamfered reveals around openings and gently curving edges sent me and my camera into quite the frenzy.

island preview

Monday, 26 May 2014

Development for the Melbourne season of Island starts again! I'll be busy working away in the theatre, this time transforming the space at Dancehouse.

Here is a tiny teaser of the space from the Canberra season. The first season was a success - read some very kind words in this review. So I'm looking forward to sharing this work in my home city. If you want to check it out, booking details can be found here.

PS. Did you notice that the ol' blog has new clothes?

fog sculpture

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Japanese artist, Fujiko Nakaya's Fog Sculpture is a fine spray of mist that drifts over the march pond at the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden. For two hours daily, the fog shortens your view, screening your vision of anything beyond a few metres. 

It reminded me of a Japanese Haiku. It's a confined gesture (both in space and time) that submerges you into another world. For that fleeting moment, the world it creates feels infinite.

skyspace, james turrell

Friday, 9 May 2014

If you follow me on Instagram you might know that I've been in Canberra working on a set design for a dance piece. It's happening all again in Melbourne in five weeks, so I'll share a bit more about this later.

While in the neighbourhood, I visited James Turrell's Skyspace at the National Gallery. A circular pavilion within a square pavillion, the whole structure is partly submerged under water. Descending down a ramp through the moat, the textured ochre walls, sandwiched between the open sky and bright blue pool, draw immediate attention to the quality of light, colour and form within the room.

Upon entering the central round pavilion, attention immediately shifted to the sky through the oculus in the domed ceiling. I visited at dusk which coincides with the light show. The domed ceiling shifted from one colour to another; white, grey, orange, pink then purple. With each shift the sky transformed in colour and depth, at times looking infinite and other times looking like a flat coloured disk. When the dome turned a pale lavender, turning the sky a sea green, I gently slipped away.

It may not have knocked my socks off in the same way as his work at Naoshima (after that there's no coming back) but it was yet another example of Turrell's mastery in light, colour and perception. Well worth the visit!

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