These stand-out apartments are in the race for the Houses Awards

Kooyong Apartment. Photo: Martina Gemmola

Kooyong Apartment. Photo: Martina Gemmola

New apartment development has skyrocketed in Melbourne since 2009 and their quality has become a hot topic.

Apartments now make up nearly one-third of all new dwellings approved across the state and it is predicted that more than 35,000 apartments will be built across Melbourne between 2015 and 2017.

Apartment living is a new reality for everyone from empty-nesters to families, couples and singles. So what makes a good apartment?

Each year the Houses Awards recognise excellence in home design across nine categories and this year there are nine projects shortlisted in the apartment and unit-design category.

We checked out some of the stand-out contenders.



Wowowa architects reshaped this 1980s apartment for a couple moving out of their glamorous family home in Canterbury.

Director Monique Woodward says many downsizers want to stay in their area, and this relatively spacious 100-square-metre, ground-level apartment made the move viable.

The renovation involved flipping the kitchen’s orientation and demolishing the wall separating the kitchen from the living and dining area.

The couple can now host the family’s large Christmas gatherings.

“A great apartment is playful and customised … it is meant to be a home in the sky, a vertical neighbourhood with cross-ventilation, quality natural light and joy,” Monique says.



A love of books is central to the owners of this Flinders Lane apartment, remodelled by Kerstin Thompson Architects.

The heart of the home is a library, while the bedrooms, kitchen and living areas are arranged around the perimeter.

Using perforated steel within the existing shell has created “a dark heart with a light perimeter”, says director Kerstin Thompson.

The bookshelves and joinery units appear as furniture, and air and light flow through their perforated surfaces.

Photo: Derek Swalwell

Photo: Derek Swalwell

The qualities of a good apartment?

“Natural light, access to fresh air and cross-ventilation, a visual aspect and outlook, even if the view is of a constructed environment, as well as a sense of openness, regardless of the apartment’s size, and a sense of spaciousness,” Kerstin says.

“In a heritage context – as in Flinders Lane – a quality apartment makes the most of the existing building envelope and its features, such as its large steel frame windows and generous proportions.”



The Brookville Road apartments in Toorak, by MA Architects with Neometro, were designed around the idea of “building as a good neighbor”, says MA director Karen Alcock.

“The vertical columns of the lower levels create a strong visual rhythm in the facade and help make the building feel lower in the streetscape,” she says.

And the corner balconies “opening” out to the street further reduce the sense of scale.

Inside are well-proportioned two- and three-bedroom dwellings that combine generous spaces with framed views and natural light.

Photo: Derek Swalwell

Photo: Derek Swalwell

So what makes a quality apartment? “We believe it is critical that when you walk into an apartment there is a sense of spaciousness.

This is not about the size of the apartment but the entry sequence and the relationship to the internal and external views,” Karen says.

“Successful apartment design is not about luxury finishes; it is about luxury of space, of scale, of amenity.”



Q. Do you approach apartment design differently to house design?

A. “The difference often lies in connecting the design to its surrounds and creating a flow. In the countryside or by the beach, the connection is to landscape. In urban environments, designs instead reference other built forms such as the identity of a suburb or cityscape, and … the history of the building envelope, its heritage and the existing palette of materials, such as large steel frame windows and handsome proportions.”

Kerstin Thompson, architect

A. “There is a much greater emphasis on the integration of the interior and exterior architecture in apartments. Generally apartments are smaller than houses but occupants seek a similar level of amenity and a sense of openness. Apartment interiors need to be designed as ‘living machines’ where every element is carefully curated and often designed to have two or three uses.”

Karen Alcock, architect




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