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.



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