Industry Interrupted: Build-to-Rent. Embracing Market Disruptions.

The future is near and architects need to assist the construction industry and regulators to overcome their resistance to change so that innovative housing models, such as build-to-rent and co-living, can succeed in Australia.

While successful build-to-rent projects have been happening in the USA for more than 30 years, their arrival in Australia has raised eyebrows among the local construction industry and regulatory bodies, which are not known for their propensity to innovate.

According to a recently published construction industry productivity report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the global construction industry barely increased productivity during the past 50 years, compared to the agriculture, manufacturing and retail sectors which recorded up to 1,500 per cent growth in productivity for the same period.

McKinsey valued that lack of opportunity for change within the construction industry at about US$1.6 trillion, which is a massive pent-up opportunity for industry disruption.

Build-to rent, whereby developers and investors build housing with the intent of retaining the asset long-term and renting it out to semi-permanent residents, can be part of that disruption. It is relevant to our industry because it is new in Australia, it is gaining momentum, it will require adjustment and its implications on design are far reaching. Not to mention that it can be a far better solution for tenants and landlords than the traditional rental model that provides very little security for either party.

Solid understanding of the forces that make such models appealing is critical to the success of any designer attempting to facilitate change and broker non-standard design solutions with authorities.

The maturation of the social generation and subsequent normalisation of the sharing economy (via enterprises such as Uber and AirBnB), housing affordability issues, and widespread adoption of automation are the primary drivers making build-to-rent an appropriate solution for now.

When thinking about the social generation, millennials are really the first demographic to have emerged with social media as the norm. Relationships on social media tend to be stylised and based outside reality. Surely there is a link between the experience of those who’ve been raised on relationships-lite and their desire to live in a more integrated way.

What they seek, perhaps more so than any previous generation, is authenticity and connection in the way they live and this has contributed to the rise of a sharing economy in which co-living and build-to-rent belong.  Unlike the baby boomers, community integration and social connectivity appear to be far more important than privacy and security to this generation.

However, of the aforementioned forces, affordability is perhaps the most critical. That said, on its own, it has not been enough to force the change.  It is the combined amplification of these forces that has led to industry heavyweights pushing hard to make build-to-rent a mainstream offering.

Historically, residential property has produced net yields of around three per cent, which has been too low to attract institutional investment. However, with the weight of capital now causing yield compression on traditional investment grade assets to the point where shopping centres and office buildings return between five and seven per cent, the delta between residential and commercial is slimmer than it has ever been.

Add to that the propensity to quickly create large-scale build-to-rent portfolios as well as the universally accepted belief that residential property is lower risk than commercial, and the appeal of build-to-rent as a potential destination for a modest percentage of institutional investment becomes apparent.

If allowed to flourish, the impact of market disruptors such as build-to-rent and co-living on the construction industry will be felt as profoundly as automation’s impact on the motor vehicle industry. The transformation of personalised transport can be seen as a barometer for the rate of change upon us in modern western society. With some 35 separate manufacturers already advanced enough to have public road access for automated vehicle testing in the US state of California alone, it is clear that we are in the middle of a significant period of change, not at the beginning. Some say we may be even experiencing the change of an era, not just an era of change.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies, as numerous barriers stand in the way. Tax structures (particularly land tax, which paints an ugly picture for intuitional investors) and restrictive superannuation industry laws are two examples. Resistance will also come from financial institutions and town planning authorities, who coincidentally are some of the more conservative members of our business community.

Regardless of resistance, consumers are asking for new and innovative housing solutions and consumers generally win in the end. The challenge for our industry is to find a way to make new business models so attractive that they can overcome these impediments. It takes courage to depart from the status quo. To do so, we must carry a belief that there is a better way that will reveal itself if we are smart enough and we look hard enough.

The cornerstone of all this change, including expected disruption to our local construction industry, is timing. The alignment of so many powerful social and economic forces at the same time might be the tipping point that gives birth to build-to-rent. Many household names in the Australian property industry are seriously invested in creating next-generation residential solutions and if we embrace the change now, we could go a long way to solving affordability issues within the next decade.

Private developer-investors building 50 apartments at a time will not be enough to propel the build-to-rent offering into the mainstream. Without scale it will never be a legitimate alternative to the old, dysfunctional rental model. If it does emerge, it could provide consumers with a solution that is better than the existing rental model and not as stressful or costly as taking on a mortgage.

Architects have a vital role to play in ensuring that future generations can live collectively and affordably in Australian cities. By harnessing their understanding of the confluence of driving forces that have led to the rise of build-to-rent and co-living models, architects can work creatively to broker innovative non-standard design solutions with authorities and encourage change.

For some time now, Rothelowman has been presenting progressive yet considered solutions to authorities and it is important that architecture and design practices such as our own continue to lead the way by encouraging the broader industry to participate and enjoy the ride.

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More Carrot Than Stick – How Designers Can Unlock Opportunities By Aligning Stakeholders

By Chris Hayton, Principal. Rothelowman.

As our cities race to keep up with unprecedented population growth, developers, planning authorities and other project stakeholders are finding themselves at loggerheads over their competing – yet equally valid – agendas.

Rothelowman has been facilitating multiple stakeholders within singular projects for many years, a skill that’s increasingly sought-after by savvy players within the private and public sectors.

Years spent negotiating best practice design outcomes with clients means we are highly skilled at uncovering common ground that may not have been evident at first.

Further, our seat in the middle of the negotiating table presents us with a unique opportunity to marry the needs of individual stakeholders and achieve holistic design solutions that turn challenges into genuinely exciting opportunities.

The Market Is Changing

Australia’s cities are best viewed as adolescents: they’re grown up and want to do their own thing but growing pains mean they are susceptible to losing direction from time to time.

Our cities are transforming from being some of the lowest density urban environments in the world, to places that are becoming more compact in order to be sustainable places of choice for the future.

The typically Australian quarter acre block with a Hills Hoist is making way for new models of living and that has led to struggles with infrastructure and amenity and the subsequent friction that has been felt by city shapers along the way.

With so much at stake, it is unsurprising that suspicion among stakeholders has arisen and it is often embroiled in stereotypes of what the private development sector is like and how the planning regime operates.

There are too many examples of where this ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality has led to opportunities being relinquished, resulting in suboptimal outcomes. Rothelowman has made it our mission to ease tensions by reassuring and demonstrating that even agendas that appear to be at odds will have common ground.

An Organic Process

Any conscientious architect will tell you that projects never end. And that’s a good thing.

The best designers in the business are passionate about the work they do and are constantly revisiting past projects and looking for feedback. Rothelowman talks to authorities and clients about buildings that were completed years ago, visiting residents who’ve become stakeholders in residential projects and office workers who now have a stake in one of our past office buildings.

Learning from experience is the first step in an organic process of stakeholder management that seeks to listen, understand and respond; a process that identifies when something critical is being said and is nimble enough to modify expectations where better solutions are possible.

Another critical step is communication. An architect’s key function is to communicate design ideas with reason and to persuade stakeholders that there may be a different way of doing things.

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Burwood Road, Hawthorn.

For example, on our recent Burwood Rd project, Rothelowman engaged with council officers to isolate contentious issues and began working towards a positive common outcome.

Solid understanding of the legislative playing field – particularly what aspects of the project were mandatory as opposed to subjective – was the first step. It was also important to identify council’s key drivers, which in this case included design excellence with positive community outcomes.

Salient design issues were identified and solutions were presented visually to emphasise the positive outcomes for the community. Importantly, the use of evolving technology, such as virtual reality, is providing further opportunities to build confidence in future outcomes.

The end result was a project that demonstrated activation of laneways, carefully crafted aesthetics and a contributory colonnade expression acknowledging the neighbouring church.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, with councillors taking the rare step of congratulating the extended project team on a ‘quality and exceptional design’ that was both ‘enormously beautiful and considered’ and that would ‘set an example to others’.

It goes to show that interactions between local councils and developers can be both enjoyable and rewarding when they’re backed by a team of design professionals who can build trust between development and assessment teams.

Working Collaboratively To Expose Opportunities

By facilitating an environment of collaboration, the best architects expose stakeholders to opportunities to deliver quality cities of the future.

When it came to a recent project in Abbotsford, Eden Haven Sanctuary, our team took a negotiated process to town planning and delivered to our client and the city a permeable ground plane with a new public route from Victoria Street to the Yarra River corridor.

In order to achieve this successful public space, which truly belongs within the site’s broader context, our client gave up 30 per cent of its site as public space in exchange for extra levels on top of the building that would otherwise have been disallowed.

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Acacia Place, Abbotsford.

This was a win for both the developer and local council that might not have come about had it been for the time spent sitting down as a group and understanding the full suite of objectives that needed to be met.

Right throughout the project, our designers worked closely with stakeholders to evolve the design in a rapidly changing market. Realising that the project was selling particularly strongly among owner-occupiers, we spent weekends in the display suite talking to other project stakeholders – the residents – about modifications they could make to the layout of their new apartment.

This may be a microcosm but it cuts to the core of quality stakeholder management: sit, listen, negotiate where necessary and reap the rewards of opportunistic design.

Slender Towers: Understanding of Science and Parametrics

By Jeff Brown, Principal and Jonothan Cowle, Associate Principal. Rothelowman.

Previously unbuildable buildings have become a reality thanks to advances in parametric design.

As any architect will attest, attempting to make a pencil thin tower stand up on a small parcel of land in the middle of a city is no small feat. Nor is the humane architecture that’s needed to create highly liveable places where people aspire to reside.

Yet as land becomes scarcer in our cities, developers continue to search for ways to innovatively accommodate growing communities within easy reach of existing infrastructure. They look to their architects for a range of intelligent and precision-based approaches that will enable them to make these buildings as well designed as they can possibly be.

Historically expensive to create and commercialise, slender towers must achieve tight feasibility width-to-height ratios in excess of 1:12 despite highly complex wind loadings, planning, engineering and site specific matters; often enough to put off those without the deepest pockets.

Two such towers are underway in Queensland, where our team is working on game changing designs in Surfers Paradise and Brisbane.

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Aerodynamic Curved Form Podium Design. Rothelowman.

The first, a picturesque but elementally exposed waterfront site in Wharf Rd, Surfers Paradise involves the design of a 165m, 12m wide premium residential project at a ratio of 1:13.

The second, in Brisbane’s Ann St, is a proposed 147m high, 9m wide apartment project that, at a ratio of 1:16, would become one of the world’s thinnest buildings.

In contrast to Wharf Rd, the Ann St site is nestled behind an existing tower, requiring an approach that is more complementary to the wind movement of the neighbouring buildings. This has resulted in a more aerodynamic curved form that allows existing wind movement and turbulence to be mediated in conjunction with other taller structures.

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Ann Street, Brisbane. Rothelowman.

When it comes to designing these slender towers, there are no general rules or principals, other than to be specific to the site and local environmental and planning restraints. What matters most is the design process itself, open collaboration, understanding of science and parametrics, and a willingness to push the design envelope.

With a brief to create whole-floor subtropical beach houses in the sky for the Wharf Rd project, our team set about making viable a site that might previously have been deemed too tricky to develop.

Assembling a team of market-leading partners and consultants, we relied on science to create significant structural efficiencies that were then digitally tested and analysed in detail. We then humanised the design to create a highly resolved building that is feasible, liveable and beautiful.

From a parametric design perspective, the Wharf Rd process involved capitalising on an articulation zone within the planning scheme that enabled us to move what would have been a traditional inboard structure to the building’s exterior.

In creating this exoskeleton, we were able to alter the tower’s structural dimensions to achieve a commercially viable ratio of 1:13. In other words, we kept the same floor space and tower height but decreased the width-to-height ratio to achieve a more stable building.

The exoskeleton design meant we now had the ability to cross-brace the building externally via a diagrid, rather than being reliant on sheer walls and strong boxes for stability. This enabled us to open up the facade and create a truly three-dimensional building, with windows on all sides and enough asymmetries to mitigate the prevailing winds.

Importantly, we were able to provide highly articulated beach houses with stunning views and wonderful cross ventilation while ensuring the developer received a viable design that exceeded their commercial expectations by delivering an extra two floors.

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Whole-Floor Subtropical Beach Houses in the Sky. Rothelowman.

It is our view that projects such as this are a precursor to what may come in Australian cities, where ownership of land is increasingly fractured, consolidation of land difficult to achieve, and populations rapidly growing.

When a site seems impossibly narrow, any building designed for the space will be so complex that nothing can be left to chance. These projects require the highest level of design input and management, from the facades to the car parks. The success of these slender towers is highly dependent on architects’ ability to assemble teams that are willing to think outside the square and fine-tune each parameter along the way.

 

 

City To Suburbs: Mixed-Use Developments

By Stuart Marsland, Principal, Rothelowman.

Architects are finding innovative ways to offer new building typologies as multiple market factors influence a push to provide all the convenience and connectivity of city living in a widening suburban context.

The resulting mixed-use developments, which include permutations of hotel, commercial and residential offerings are being driven by market conditions including governments’ push towards sustainable, low-transit living; developers’ desire to sell large portions of projects simultaneously; and a thirst by the public for increased liveability as seen through the rise of conveniences such as UberEats and online shopping.

 

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Element by Westin 

While a number of mixed-use developments, such as QT Melbourne (which combines residential apartment living with a high-end hotel) are nothing new, the arrival of large developments of this genre in the suburbs is certainly a progression worth noting. 

Rothelowman has been involved in a number of these new offerings, including the New Charsfield and Element by Westin mixed-use hotels, the Oros complex in Oakleigh (combining hotel, residential and retail) and residences at The Glen and Victoria Gardens shopping centres.

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Rooftop Cinema at Oros, Oakleigh.

These buildings require highly complex designs that meet local agendas for intensified land use while improving user liveability by seamlessly handling multiple functions at a time.As architects and designers, our skill lies in understanding the complexity of integrating different programs – for example, office with hotel or shopping centre with residential – and we are working on a range of briefs that involve integrating those typologies to provide a more cosmopolitan suburban experience.

When it comes to multitasking buildings, our main starting point is how best to integrate or separate uses. For example, working on the heritage-listed New Charsfield near Albert Park Lake, which combines luxury residential dwellings with serviced apartments below, key considerations include how the building would interact with the street – functionally and aesthetically – and how best to create separate identities for residents and guests.

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New Charlsfield

The result is a successful building that presents benefits for the developer, hotel operator and apartment resident alike. The developer was able to sell a third of its project to the hotel operator, who was able to present a compelling accommodation offering whereby guests could ‘experience the city like a local’ (a notion made popular by market disrupter Airbnb). Meanwhile, apartment residents enjoy aspects of hotel living without losing the status and identity associated with luxury accommodation.

 

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Oros, Oakleigh. 

 

Seamless integration was also an important issue when it came to planning The Glen Residences, which combine apartment living with a substantial retail and commercial offering below. A challenge here was ensuring minimal disruption to the retail shops, taking into account everything from the placement of lift wells, to where apartment drainage and other services should go.

Through thorough planning and understanding of intended uses for The Residences, we have achieved a CBD-style lifestyle community that affords residents immediate access to in-house restaurants and retailers, and where developers harness more value from their site and gain a competitive market edge.

While it might seem obvious to take a hotel or shopping centre and add apartments on top, these mixed-used projects take a high level of complex logistical planning, with an eye for what makes a space commercially viable, user-friendly and highly liveable in a climate where convenience and connectivity are expected.

With a history of successful projects across typologies, a desire to meet the challenges of designing mixed-use buildings and a willingness to push the design envelope, Rothelowman is invigorated by the challenge of bringing city living to the suburbs via buildings that offer more services within better reach.

Hotel Design: What Can We Learn From Global Innovations?

By Andrew Wales, Associate Principal, Rothelowman. 

There’s no room for boring anymore in Australia’s hotel industry. Globally the hotel sector is experiencing change and innovation on a scale not seen before. With new signings in Melbourne confirmed for Ritz-Carlton, W Hotel, Shangri-La and Hotel Indigo, and with Australia’s overall supply set to double in the next two years, there are several key design factors and global lessons we can capitalise on.

Pullman on the Park. Interiors by Rothelowman hotel design

Pullman on the Park. Interiors by Rothelowman. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen.

 

Destination Creation

Hotels are no longer providing just a place to sleep. Travellers are being presented with a wide choice, and hoteliers are matching this to be savvier than ever to entice guests to stay. Michael Auchenbaum’s Gansevoort Hotel in London’s Shoreditch features a rooftop pool with a retractable glass roof and all day dining, street frontage restaurant, an exclusive members club, a late night bar and a live performance space (for secret gigs, DJs and acoustic performances).

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As an extension to creating these dynamic hotels, we’re seeing offerings with the aim of drawing in locals as much as hotel guests. This includes rethinking the reception lobby to provide open plan zones facilitating mobile working and meetings, as well as street frontage bars and restaurants not necessarily branded by the hotel. Be it a deli where locals can pick up a loaf of fresh artisan bread or bottle of wine for dinner, collect a bunch of flowers or visit curated homewares stores, nothing is off limits; hoteliers are introducing creative ways of engaging with their local communities and in turn driving revenue through activating once underutilised spaces.

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The Cliveden, Pullman on the Park. Interiors by Rothelowman. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen.

Local Design

For many years, the success of the major global brands has been established by providing guests with a reliable and consistent experience. While this is still important in the market, the evolution in travel and social media has meant that design-savvy travellers often want to experience the location in which they’re staying. This has a direct impact on the way we are now approaching the design of our hotels with storytelling, craft and sourcing of local materials being used to provide designs rooted in their neighbourhood.

Technology 

The rapid pace of innovation will continue to have a major influence on the sector. Business centres are becoming redundant as people tap into expected high-speed Wi-Fi with their own devices. The recently opened Public Hotel in New York includes Apple TV’s, an online food ordering system, multiple USB charging ports and capability for self-check-in and room access via mobile phones. Automated systems such as heating and cooling and water flow are enabling operational efficiencies and sustainability gains. Forward-thinking brands are also investing in secret “research” labs to test new technology and ideas. Who knows, soon our hotel rooms will be so clever they will eliminate jetlag.

Wellness

The wellness phenomenon is also increasingly informing Australian hotel design. Gyms are evolving to offer on-demand yoga and mindfulness sessions.  Running shoes – often an item that just won’t make it into a business travellers hand luggage – are provided by The Westin via their partnership with New Balance. In addition, Rothelowman is currently working with Marriott to launch their first eco-wise “Element by Westin” brand within Australasia which has a strong focus on health and wellbeing.

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Element Hotel by Westin. Architecture and Interiors by Rothelowman. Richmond, Melbourne. Photo: Rothelowman

Mixed-Use

Finally, the mixed-use model is also of key significance, especially within Melbourne. Many of the new hotels planned are occupying only a small footprint within the overall envelope.  Hotel guests will be rubbing shoulders with private apartment owners, serviced apartment guests and commercial users, all adding to create a more dynamic space and offering for end users.

As we enter this exciting stage, the larger chain brands are rapidly adapting to the market with the introduction of soft brands, strategically partnering or acquiring boutique brands – a recent example would be Accor’s strategic alignment with 25hours Hotels and acquisition of Mama Shelter. These provide much more scope and freedom to design for location and inject a unique personality and identity into a property, whilst giving hotel owners access to the big chains valuable global distribution networks. Examples of these new brands include Hilton’s Tapestry – targeting a younger demographic, Marriot has their Luxury Collection, Autograph and Tribute Collection. Hyatt has introduced their Unbound Collection whilst InterContinental Hotel Group are successfully rolling out their Hotel Indigo brand.

We’re on the cusp of significant change at levels not seen before in the Australian hotel sector, and we need to ensure we get the mix right to make our mark on the global industry.

What’s next for workplace design

Wellbeing and nature-based design are rapidly transforming office efficiency in the 21st century. And as globalisation continues to redefine work, commercial buildings must equally adapt to meet the demands of a changing workforce. The blank floorplates and cubicle farms are by-products of yesteryear, giving way to fresh thinking that incorporates architecture, interiors, technology and urban context, each working seamlessly to create the modern office of the future.

Our perspective at Rothelowman is to provide thoughtful insight into client-focused workplace solutions. We know that the meaning of the time we spend at work is changing. We understand that we are spending less time in the office, and that the desire to connect purposefully is stronger than ever before. So we create solutions that enable our clients to position their building ahead of the rest, which often requires complex handling with the end goal of a positive return on investment along with premier facilities to attract tenants – which benefit everyone.

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Currently, a wellbeing-based, human-centred approach to workplace design is changing the commercial modern office. The game changer is the recently launched WELL building standard, from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). The standard ‘takes a holistic approach to health in the built environment addressing behaviour, operations and design’, enabling green building practitioners to measure building attributes such as air, water, light, comfort and mind. In the process create healthier working environments for employees – plus increased productivity.

Practitioners can now measure lighting designed to mirror the body’s natural circadian rhythms, as well as high quality air filtering to create a healthier and safer indoor environment. Smart businesses already understand the restorative benefits of a healthy workplace, and in Australia premium tenants including Mirvac, Macquarie Bank (the first to register with the WELL building standard), DEXUS and Lendlease have subscribed to the program. More recently, the IWBI announced a partnership with the Green Building Council of Australia, and we will continue to watch future developments in this space with interest.

Buildings that apply biophilic design – understanding how nature can influence us – can also boost productivity. A global study by Human Spaces[1] reports nature can boost productivity by as much as 6 per cent, and also reports that employees in an environment with natural components have 15 per cent higher wellbeing, and are 15 per cent more creative. Currently, the highest profile supporter is Google, whose new flagship headquarters in Silicon Valley (yet to be completed) displays a strong affiliation for biophilic design.

ROTHELOWMAN RPM Project RPM South Melbourne by Rothelowman.

According to research by the University of California[2], office design can also ‘promote an overall sense of belonging or place attachment’ by creating a sensory experience. This thinking was applied to our project, located in South Melbourne, through the creation of community collaboration zones that frame key views of the city. Departing from architecture as grand statement design, this building is conceived rather as a collection of smaller buildings, with each unique atria oriented towards a moment that characterises the space, such as a key view. The delight and restorative feel-good factor that results underlines a sense of place and ownership, as well as enables employees to ‘control’ their space, similar to the design sensibility around boutique co-working.

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This design thinking is only made possible with the evolution of digital technology. An example is in Brisbane, having worked with Floth Sustainable Building Consultants (who are at the forefront of green commercial building design) on a 6 star, Green Star Commercial Building. Engineers can use technology to connect into the building’s services, such as cooling towers, chillers and boilers, and provide data on design functionality and potential weaknesses. These can then be reported back to the client with an opportunity to make improvements for optimum efficiency, thus using technology to potentially effect behavioural change.

The future of workplace design supports employee wellbeing as well as considers impacts on the broader urban fabric. Successful examples require complex decision-making for an optimum outcome, creating long-term value for everyone involved. Our new project in South Melbourne provides space for groups and individuals to choose their most productive workspace. Floorplates that step back create a building dotted with small atria, each specifically designed to attract different modes of work for both individuals and groups, sparking new connections and breaking down the barriers of the traditional office. We achieved an excellent result that incorporated good sustainability, including platforms of lush greenery, landscaped terraces and break out areas and amenities.

As designers, we must shift and shape creativity and innovation to better allow for both collaboration and withdrawal, communication and problem solving. As members of the global community, we’re in the fortunate position to fundamentally shape our future for the better.

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[1]  The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, Professor Sir Cary Cooper

[2] Kimberly D. Elsbach and Beth A. Bechky, ‘It’s more than a desk: working smarter through leveraged office design’, University of California, Berkeley Vol 49, No 2, Winter 2007

Co-living – what is it and why should we care?

By Nigel Hobart, managing principal, Rothelowman & Al Jeffery, co-founder, Base Commons

If co-living is the next phase of co-working and the new development model for our future cities, how do we make it a commercial reality in Australia? How do we design a sustainable development model to redefine the way people work, live and play?

Co-living is an innovative model for shared housing, where residents live together united over a common goal to create a more purposeful life. By managing spaces, sharing resources and hosting activities together, residents are empowered to contribute to the surrounding community and the world at large, creating greater connections and happier lives.

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Shared ground level amenity

As designers and facilitators, we need to explore these alternative models to respond to a growing housing affordability crisis. So, instead of the traditional development model, let’s flip convention and start with the client first. Rather than beginning with the site, engineer a product designed around the inhabitant’s wants and needs, where the consumers are owner-builders. By involving clients upfront for inclusion in the design process, the result can be more sustainable, more affordable and a more authentic outcome.

At Base Commons, the intention is to create the first Australian model for co-living in line with this thinking; entirely community-first and design-led. The model is not simply an office rental coupled with an accommodation solution, as is traditionally the mixed-use principle. It is the next phase where an organic space is built from the ground up by engaged members of the community, who each have an authentic desire to nourish human connectivity, create meaningful connections and drive social impact. The larger aim is to set up co-living communities or ‘bases’ locally and internationally to create a shared economy and global network of regenerative co-living developments.

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Consolidated private balconies craft a larger shared sky garden

Base Commons co-living will feature communal and private spaces to encourage work and living with a shared community experience, including ‘the exchange’ as an open creative space for co-working, events and workshops that will be open to the public. This area is provided to encourage new ideas, new energy and to be a platform for innovation. Residents will live in compact studio accommodation with shared living space, designed not only for startups and entrepreneurs, but also for young couples and older persons with an inter-generational focus, who share wider cultural and environmental aspirations.

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Utilizing circulation space to create greater resident amenity

At Rothelowman, we believe that the need to build community for the health of future residents and sustainability of localities is fundamental, and co-living offers an affordable, diverse and amenity-driven product to an albeit niche, but growing market. The challenge is how to physically create the spaces for people to live in that meet the Base Commons brief but also can be developed commercially. Underlying this challenge is the biggest issue currently facing the Australian development industry; funding. As often is the case with innovation in business, established funding models do not easily accommodate new thinking. Designing co-living spaces is proving to be less difficult than convincing major banks to modify their rigid lending policies.

The Rothelowman team draws on experience in residential design, student accommodation, hotel design and workplace design to create a co-living model that is impossible to resist. We are confident that the demand will be so strong that keeping up supply will be a bigger challenge than funding.

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Multi-purpose space engaging with public atrium

The community-first approach where residents are the owner-builders offers greater buy-in success from the beginning. The design can be enhanced alongside emerging technology, for example CLT and pre-fabrication, to create a faster build and minimise construction costs without compromising on quality. The clients benefit from the learnings of design and construction whilst the designers have a unique opportunity to learn more about that particular group’s priorities and aspirations. Finding that common ground is the trick.

In the US, the co-living model is already streets ahead. Companies like Open Door, Common, and WeLive, a subsidiary of WeWork, have become niche offerings but boast thousands of applicants and waiting lists for spots in urban areas. Co-living has long been established in other parts of the world as well, perhaps best highlighted by the Baugruppen movement in Germany. In this community housing model, a group of people are assisted to become the developer of their own multi-unit housing project, with a focus on sustainability, community and affordability.

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Vertical neighbourhood with graduated visual interactions

In Fremantle, the Western Australian land development agency, LandCorp and the University of Western Australia are currently collaborating on Australia’s first Baugruppen project and interest is high. The sharing economy is well and truly alive, as home ownership continues to elude millennials and other segments of the community affected by the housing affordability crisis.

For Base Commons, the starting point is to create an experimental lab for the future of living in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The space will create a home for the Weave Event Series rolled out earlier this year, which invites the community to engage with the vision, learn the skills for sustainable living and be part of the co-design process for the future of living.

It’s evident that this is an audacious goal in Australia. However, curiosity is high and the community is engaged. At a time when the property industry needs to radically rethink housing, a fresh co-living model might just be the sustainable elixir.

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Placemaking with ground plane activation