Discussing apartment living with BKK's Simon Knott

Following on from last week's piece on Cirqua comes the second installment of Urban Melbourne's chat with BKK Director Simon Knott encompassing aspects of the practice's work, the lure of apartment living and the ever changing landscape of the apartment market.

Laurence Dragomir: We touched on the focus being on the owner occupier market with relation to the Cirqua development, but have you found that coming to the fore in the types of multi-res projects the office is working on?

Simon Knott: We tend not to get too involved in the investor driven type projects. In terms of the mulit-residentail work we're doing, we're currently working with Neometro on part of the Victrack development at Jewell Station which has been a fantastic project. It's really exciting as it's an entire precinct which is just about to be submitted for planning.

Jewell Station development. © BKK

Jewell Station is a precinct-based approach to Placemaking. The design encompasses a more holistic approach to urban regeneration that builds upon the local character and delivers a benchmark solution for inner-city living. The creation of an urban village will act as a catalyst for positive change and future high-quality development in the area. The project was won through a competitive VicTrack bid process where BKK were the master-planners for the site and architects for the northern apartment building.

The outcome is a design led solution that incorporates the latest in community consultation, sustainable practice, access for all, integrated living and adaptability. The process for realising this project has been a highly collaborative one that involves an expansive team of consultants including, among others, MA Architects, Glas Landscape and Neometro.

BKK website

SK: We're also doing an interesting one in Fitzroy actually, which I think Urban Melbourne touched upon in a piece a few weeks ago. The current owners bought the site with a permit for 14 or 16 apartments, and there were issues with the design so we completely reworked them into eight townhouses and that is firmly aimed at the downsizer market - every townhouse has an internal lift inside so you get four levels plus a rooftop terrace of a really high quality.

We're working on the interiors at the moment and we think they're as good as any house we have designed previously. The big difference though is how many ways can you plan out a 3.5m long kitchen for example - it's so formulaic.

Fitzroy Townhouses. © BKK

A collection of eight luxury, 4-level, vertical dwellings. The project draws upon the local character and various dwelling typologies to create a new type of housing for this gritty, inner-city suburb of Melbourne. High levels of environmental design, vertical green spaces and extra-large dwellings are clustered around a tranquil courtyard garden. Every aspect of this project is considered in detail to achieve a benchmark well beyond the standard.

BKK website

SK: I think people are coming to architects like us wanting to get something different and hopefully the likes of Kerstin (Thompson) and those other residential architects get recognised for that, in favour of some of the others. Don't get me wrong though there's certainly a place for investor driven apartments and I don't have a problem with them.

Upper House by JCB, I've been to it a couple of times and I've taken our students in there as well - now they're not lavish apartments in size and they're pretty stripped back in terms of what the interiors are but they've done a really good job with the project. In terms of borrowed light the one bedders you can open it all out which I think is what I'd rather have - something that's more of a studio space. On top of that it's a great location to live in.

I also think there's a cultural shift in the works; it's not just the empty nesters but also younger people who are not wanting to live in the outer suburbs. That's the overseas experience too, it just hasn't quite fully taken grasp in Australia yet but people in general are spending more time out, whether it's for coffee or breakfast etc. Generally you need to be close to activity hubs to get that.

The interesting thing will be getting into the 3 bedders. Everyone keeps talking about the need for more three bedroom apartments yet developers say "we put these 3 bedders in and no one buys them" because they cost you $800-900K and people would rather buy a house. I think we're starting to see that shift where eventually more families will be drawn into apartments.

LD: A number of developers tested the waters with regard to the higher end product about 3-4 years ago with developments like the previous incarnation of Avenue and Capitol in South Yarra which didn't garner all that much interest and in Avenue's case. It was redesigned with more apartments. If the original design was marketed say today it would probably sell in a matter of weeks. Do you feel there's more quality apartment projects now then there was a few years ago?

SK: There's definitely a march in that direction. The downside for us is everyone wants to change everything because they're going to be living in them. They want to change the robes, the kitchens, the number of bedrooms and so what we're ending up with is there's no standardisation which can be quite good in a way because it's more akin to designing a house. If it's an investor project they'd just sign off on it and move in after 2-3 years time.

LD: BKK are getting involved in the next Commons-style development?

SK: Yes we are, we're involved in Nightingale 2.0. Jeremy's a good friend and he asked us to get involved in Nightingale 1 but it just wasn't the right time for us to do so yet we're fully supportive of it and think it's a great idea. There's not that many architects involved, about half a dozen out of 24 in this case and they've got a strong group of professional colleagues associated. I think there'll be an ongoing market for it, and the next version promises to be interesting

LD: Thanks again for your time Simon, much appreciated.

1 comment

Wink Brand Design's picture

Very insightful interview. The quality of apartment projects continues to improve, with many innovative designs and creative concepts for sustainability. The Fitzroy townhouses are a great example of this, and they look fantastic. Bravo BKK!

Wink Brand Design

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