The Commons

Kermit had it wrong: it is easy being green

I am convinced that given the choice, many Australians would love to live in a vibrant, active neighbourhood, close to the attractions of a thriving downtown, whilst still growing some of their own food, and living in a way that doesn’t exact a huge penalty on the environment.

Finding options for how to do this, though, can be a challenge.

Those with a design bent are worried that ‘sustainable design’ will be a bit hokey, and that they’ll have to give up their furniture and sit on hay bales instead.

Those wanting to give up their car and rely on cycling or public transport are worried that locations close to public transport have already been developed.

Property developers are worried that ‘the market’ is only interested in large houses or glamorous apartments with vast arrays of rooms and numerous bathrooms.

A visit to The Commons should quickly dispel any of these worries.

The Commons, in Melbourne’s Brunswick, is one the best demonstrations available in Australia of a contemporary apartment development that offers supreme liveability, with moments of delight and considered detail throughout, but also the highest green credentials.

We visited during Open House Melbourne, and if the queues out the front door and down the block were any indication, there is genuine community interest in seeing what sustainable living could really look like.

The Commons was designed by Breathe Architects, and principal Jeremy McLeod was leading Open House tours. Our tour was led by Peter Steele, a resident and sustainability consultant who was also heavily involved in the project design.

Sustainability is not just embedded in the building of The Commons, its very location goes to the heart of the ethos of sustainable development. It is located right beside a train line and well-used cycle path, and only five minutes walk to the nearest tram stop. As a result, no car parks are provided on site. Instead ample bike parking is on offer and a shared GoGet car is parked outside. 

 #bearded #cycling #hipster en route to the bike path

#bearded #cycling #hipster en route to the bike path

The wall against the train line faces west, so its concrete panels – one of the uses of the material – are faced with an external cladding layer, allowing heat to be ventilated away before it reaches the apartments behind.

At the ground level the brick walls have been covered in street art. After the first instances of tagging appeared, McLeod researched the local graffiti scene and discovered the artist – Sinch - who’s patch had included the walls once on the site. He was invited to develop a work for the new walls, and after his untimely death other artists reconfigured the paintings as an homage to him.

The grafittied bricks previously on the property were kept, and now form part of an absolutely beautiful wall inside the ground floor foyer.

There’s also an inviting café, which was having all its Christmases come at once, feeding and watering the caffeine-depleted Open House throngs!

There are four floors of apartments, a range of one- and two-bedders.

All have one bathroom. That’s right – no ensuites, powder rooms, his ‘n’ hers vanities or any of the other things many now deem essential. As my mum is wont to say: “just think of the cleaning!”

The other thing missing is a laundry. Instead, all residents share a communal laundry on the top floor, an innovation that has fostered a great sense of community and neighbourliness. As Peter observed, “Even introverts have to wash their undies…"

What the apartments do have is:

  • Recycled timber flooring
  • Prefinished formply cupboards and cabinetry
  • Beautiful copper sinks and exposed copper pipework
  • Tapware sourced at the stage before it is chrome plated
  • Exposed wall and ceiling finishes
  • Natural light and ventilation to the bathrooms

On a glorious, sunny winter morning the light streaming in to this living room and across the timber floor was as golden as a freshly buttered crumpet. 

The apartments also have a balcony, either on the north or south of the building, with an integrated sunken planter.

From there it was up to the top floor and the crowning glory of The Commons, the roof garden.

The north side of the roof is given over to productive gardens. Every apartment has a dedicated, raised timber garden plot, and a veritable cornucopia of edible herbs, vegies and flowers is on display. All residents contribute to the composting and an Open House fundraiser was aimed at the purchase of a new worm farm.

Surplus produce is advertised on a blackboard outside the laundry.

Peter observed that the initial season produced vast quantities of similar herbs, so now there is an informal attempt to diversify the species mix.

The south side of the roof is home to clotheslines and ornamental planting.

I love the way these planters are sunk into the timber deck so the plants are level with your feet, as they would be on the ground.

This also creates a neat seat-height step along the edge of the deck – perfect for enjoying the views over Brunswick and back to the city.

Hard as it was to tear ourselves away, it was the end of the tour.

Back on the street we were able to admire the chains snaking up the front of the building, there to support climbing plants.

It was also lovely to look up at balconies and see open timber decks, rather than rendered slabs with cheap oyster light fittings.

 (It's winter) + (But there's a crowd below) = (Oh no, my shirt fell off)

(It's winter) + (But there's a crowd below) = (Oh no, my shirt fell off)

An almost festival atmosphere was developing outside, and there was a real sense that everyone waiting knew that something special was going on at The Commons.

The Commons is at 9 Florence Street, Brunswick.