Two diverse structures – an apartment block in Melbourne and a home in the Blue Mountains – that both provided room and comfort throughout the pandemic and reinforced the value of exceptional design, claimed the nation’s best awards for residential design.

A North Melbourne project designed by Kennedy Nolan Architects that includes six four-storey townhouses and two two-storey apartments claimed the main award for multi-residential homes, while Peter Stutchbury Architects’ home in Blackheath for an astronomy-appreciating client in a wheelchair claimed the new house category.

Good medium-density development: The Lothian in North Melbourne has two apartments and six townhouses, all with their own street addresses and entrances. Derek Swalwell

Both projects featured solid, comfortable places that corresponded with residents’ needs and devised a refuge for them throughout the pandemic, displaying the effect that the concepts or lines designers draw upon a page have on people’s existences, jury chairwoman Alice Hampson stated.

That line can develop into someone’s entire world, Hampson said.

The pertinence of strong design seems more valuable than previously, especially in housing, she said, because everyone was home during lockdown.

The brick structure on Lothian Street that likened brick structures of the suburb’s industrial history had recessed balconies and sizable interior spaces and granted each of the eight residences its own entries, rendering it the opposite of the stereotypical “glass box with glass walls everywhere”, Hampson said.

Sky’s the limit: The Blackheath house by Peter Stutchbury Architects is designed to be accessible for its wheelchair-user owner. Michael Nicholson

It represented a “brave” decision by the developer Excelon Projects, she said.

It’s unlike anything on the market, Hampson said.

Purchasers of the sizable three- and two-bedroom townhomes and apartments in the structure with an end value of $13 million were young families, Excelon director Kelvin Taing stated.

As a growing inner city suburb, he thought that there was a market amongst individuals who desire top quality, more custom designed residences for themselves, Taing told the Financial Review.

One of the two-bedroom apartments is on sale with a $880,000 price tag – more than $10,000 per square metre sans a car park.

The jury elevated the Peter Stutchbury house, which attained a lower-level gong as opposed to the state’s top prize in the NSW awards in June, for the highest national award for new home architecture.

The design sports a vaulted roof with elliptical hole to facilitate night sky observation and an accessible, one-level floorplan for the customer, a wheelchair user, was different but demonstrated that design could fulfill people’s requirements, however individualised, Hampson said.

Gazing space: the vaulted arch of the main room includes an elliptical hole to permit observation of the night sky. Michael Nicholson

It’s all considered specifically for someone in a wheelchair who sought to connect with the universe, she stated.

A design by Grimshaw in conjunction with Monash University, which provided both small and large light-brimmed spaces and became the southern hemisphere’s most sizable Passive House-certified project, won Monash Woodside Building for Technology and Design, the nation’s most exalted honours for public and sustainable design.

At the core of this structure’s imperative is a demonstration of how architecture can help clients to achieve net zero, in this instance by the year 2030, the jury citation stated.

Monash Woodside Building for Technology and Design, designed by Grimshaw in collaboration with Monash University. Rory Gardiner

The top honour for educational architecture was won by the Neeson Murcutt + Neille-created Rosewood Centre gym and teaching building at Sydney’s Barker College.

The sizable structure that encompasses five court spaces, gym and exercise spaces, rooms for dance, general purpose teaching spaces, displayed how sporting facilities could be more fun to be a part of, especially for kids, Hampson said.

They’re generally a sizable shed and are not pleasant or humanised, she said.

Big and small spaces – and highly efficient: The Woodside building is the largest Passive House-certified building in the southern hemisphere. Peter Bennetts

The ceiling space is divided in geometric terms. It is well lit and highly humanistic.

The space was superior to school gyms for people looking to take in games, Hampson said.

Large, but small: The building design humanised the big-box gym and created a scale that suited the children using it. Rory Gardiner

The nation’s top honour for heritage architecture went to the Williams Boag Architects-designed Bendigo Former Mining Exchange, for a $3 million renovation that restored a Victorian building and elevated it up to modern standards.

The building offers 1415sq m of new commercial space reserved for bars and restaurants, was finished in late 2019, right before the pandemic and was vacant of tenants when it won Victoria’s state award for heritage architecture this June.

Awaiting a pick-up: The Beehive Buildings (Bendigo Former Mining Exchange), restored by Williams Boag Architects, is still vacant, two years after completion. Fred Kroh

Two weeks since the easing of Victoria’s lockdown restrictions, it stayed vacant, Colliers leasing agent Andrew Lewis stated on Thursday.

The commercial market is strong, but hospitality represents the donut hole, Lewis stated.

He said no interest exists in the hospitality sector in Ballarat, Geelong or Bendigo, and that–while we’re not back to normality yet, after Christmas we may be.



Image source: Derek Swalwell, Michael Nicholson, Rory Gardiner, Peter Bennetts and Fred Kroh