Apartments winning over the knockers

Source: The West Australian

Better designs show urban naysayers how good higher-density living can be

Apartments have been striking fear into NIMBYs for decades but a host of new designs are drawing plentiful praise — and dollars — from buyers.

Unlike the boxy apartment complexes of previous eras, many of today’s stand-out designs, including some entries in this year’s WA Architecture Awards, are designed to suit the local neighbourhood.

Quality multi-residential dwellings have a focus on natural light and ventilation, quality craftsmanship and diversity of apartment choice.

Among the designs entered into this year’s architecture awards is Clifton & Central, a development at the edge of Mt Lawley and Inglewood that copped a massive community backlash when first mooted by developer Tim Willing in 2019.

Designs by MJA Studio and Capa Studio, the aim was to create a mixed-use development — with 15 units and seven commercial tenancies — that would reactivate a neglected local centre site into a vibrant community.

The development has an artisanal touch, in part due to its expressive brickwork, with different patterns and designs giving a nod to the many red-brick homes in the area.

The commercial spaces were deliberately designed as relatively small spaces in a bid to encourage local, family businesses — like cafes and barbers — rather than soulless high street shops.

The property sits slightly back from a renovated corner store, which has been converted into an Art Deco-style cafe and small bar, complete with a repainted Peters Ice Cream advert on the exterior wall.

Delicate leadlight, wooden floors and acoustic felt panels on the internal walls create a warm and inviting space which — like the rest of the development — has finally been embraced by locals.

Architect Jimmy Thomson, from MJA Studio, said local interaction was the key to a good mixed-use, multi-residential development.

“Good multi-residential projects tell the story of the local community, made from materials which relate to the site’s historical and landscape context,” he said.

“They should be polite to neighbours, kind to their residents and be welcoming to the locals.”

The growing desirability of multi-residential spaces is highlighted by the conversion of three separate apartments in the old Weeties factory in North Perth into one family home.

The heritage listed former factory was first converted into apartments in 1990.

The recent conversion of three of these 93-year old apartments into one family home — by SpaceAgency — is among the entries in this year’s WA Architecture Awards.

The new design restores glass windows and doors that were part of the original factory, helping to transform the previously dark labyrinth of rooms into a spacious, light-filled area.

SpaceAgency’s Dimmity Walker said the focus on natural light signified one of the key departures from apartment designs of previous generations, when dark, windowless rooms were not uncommon.

The Weeties factory conversion takes the connection to the elements even further with a garden and small pool within the factory walls, created by replacing the roof in a single-storey section of the factory with a corrugated, perforated aluminium roof.

The doors and windows can be closed to the garden for temperature control or they can remain open to the garden, while also maintaining complete security. “The home has a strong connection to the garden,” Ms Walker said.

“The garden is open to the sky, sun, wind and rain but from a heritage perspective, the building maintains its roof and its form.”

The three-unit conversion has 400sqm of living space, including the garden, on a 200sqm block, which makes it the same size as a standard house.

While the cost is undoubtedly the same as a western suburbs home, the old factory is located amid plenty of local amenities, and includes some dramatic features — like the steel spiral staircase and a circular bathroom skylight — that can be missing from a standard home.

Testimony to the appeal of apartment living is OneSubiaco, which has drawn some of the biggest price tags in WA apartments.

Designed by Hames Sharley, the three-tower development was designed to breathe new life into the Subiaco markets site. A series of interconnected lanes adds to the sense of community.

The development broke new ground for the level of amenities on offer, suddenly opening up a resort-style lifestyle that was new to Perth.

The ingenuity in the Hames Sharley design is that it creates a structure that accommodate a raft of buyers, from low-cost one bedroom setups to a palatial penthouse worth more than $20 million — including upgrades.