AR­CHI­TEC­TURE

Sus­tain­abil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity to the fore.

Belle - - Belle Promotion - Pho­to­graph MARK ROPER Edited by KAREN McCART­NEY

Mel­bourne prac­tice Breathe Ar­chi­tec­ture is rein­vig­o­rat­ing the scene with its af­ford­able and sus­tain­able ap­proach.

THE CHOICE OF AR­CHI­TEC­TURE as a ca­reer path is not al­ways easy, but when you are a prac­tice that is chal­leng­ing norms, not just in terms of de­sign, but the en­tire de­vel­op­ment cy­cle, the road gets even rock­ier. Breathe Ar­chi­tec­ture, a Mel­bournebased prac­tice, doesn’t shy away from the hard ques­tions of our times: af­ford­abil­ity, sus­tain­abil­ity and com­mu­nity, all the while pro­duc­ing work that is thought­ful and vis­ually beau­ti­ful.

I re­call vis­it­ing Mel­bourne cafe Chez Dré and won­der­ing who had cre­ated such a skil­ful high/low de­sign dy­namic, as high-backed but­toned leather ban­quettes were com­bined with the hon­est ex­po­sure of ser­vices. So while the work of the prac­tice spans hospi­tal­ity and com­mer­cial projects it is in the arena of ‘ver­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ties’ that Breathe is mak­ing its mark. Make no mis­take, this is no ‘socks and san­dals’ out­fit with a pen­chant for ru­ral, mud brick houses, rather they are ad­vo­cates of sus­tain­able ur­ban­i­sa­tion with the goal of mak­ing cities more live­able. “Breathe,” says its founder Jeremy McLeod, “had a few sim­ple premises when we launched in 2001. One was that ev­ery hab­it­able room would have win­dows that open.”

Jeremy’s back­ground – fam­ily, train­ing and pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence – has shaped his role of ar­chi­tect as in­sti­ga­tor, ag­i­ta­tor and agent of change which in turn is cen­tral to the broader phi­los­o­phy of Breathe Ar­chi­tects. As a child he was po­lit­i­cally en­gaged and re­mem­bers pick­et­ing at Old Gov­ern­ment House for af­ford­able hous­ing with his ac­tivist par­ents. His un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree, at the University of Tas­ma­nia’s School of En­vi­ron­men­tal De­sign, af­forded him a thor­ough ground­ing in sus­tain­able think­ing. A re­turn to Mel­bourne in 1997 co­in­cided with the re­ces­sion and the only job he could se­cure was on a casino pro­ject. The irony was not lost on him.

Sub­se­quently when he joined Nonda Kat­sa­lidis he wit­nessed how an ar­chi­tect needed to own the process in the way Kat­sa­lidis did with the iconic de­vel­op­ments Mel­bourne Ter­race Apart­ments and Re­pub­lic Tower.

Breathe’s most awarded (13 and count­ing) pro­ject to date, is The Com­mons, in Mel­bourne’s Brunswick. “We were a bit em­bar­rassed by all the at­ten­tion as the model has ex­isted in Europe from the 1960s. It is just new to Aus­tralia,” says Jeremy. And the model is glo­ri­ously sim­ple: the com­mu­nal laun­dry is on the roof and the two bed­rooms have one bath­room, to­gether giv­ing six square me­tres back to the liv­ing space. Lo­cated close to sev­eral forms of pub­lic trans­port there are no car spa­ces, just ac­cess to a Go Get car (us­age is in the top five per cent in the na­tion) and, of course, bi­cy­cles. The de­sign at­ten­tion given to ther­mal and noise in­su­la­tion means it is both quiet and cheap to run. Jeremy, who lives and works in The Com­mons, boasted an elec­tric­ity bill of a dol­lar a day last Au­gust for his do­mes­tic us­age.

The next it­er­a­tion, Nightingale 1, is un­der­way de­spite many set­backs, some of which would paral­yse a less com­mit­ted prac­tice. With a wait­ing list of more than 1000 peo­ple who want to be part of this 20-apart­ment de­vel­op­ment it is clear that Breathe is tap­ping into some­thing mean­ing­ful. “We have cre­ated a process that we are shar­ing with other ar­chi­tects who want to work in this space. Ar­chi­tects Six De­grees and An­drew May­nard are al­ready pro­gress­ing fur­ther Nightingale projects,” says Jeremy.

The quiet revo­lu­tion is clearly un­der­way.

Mel­bourne ar­chi­tects Breathe were pho­tographed ex­clu­sively for Belle at the Trans­former cafe in Fitzroy, which they de­signed.

Clock­wise from top le Stonewood House ref­er­ences other houses in its North­cote street. Wooden slats and rain­for­est-like green­ery at Slack Mel­bourne O ce. Award­win­ning sus­tain­able hous­ing at The Com­mons. Green vel­vet ban­quettes and sweet in­spi­ra­tion at Bi­belot in South Mel­bourne. Loft liv­ing at Tin­der­box, a re­vamped his­toric brick ware­house.

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