What began 5 years ago as a neighbourhood walk by the former Victorian Planning Minister – where he observed the poor quality of high-density residential developments – evolved to become the Future Homes initiative, a better way of anticipating and planning the future of apartment living in metropolitan Melbourne.

Future Homes was conceived as apartment ‘blueprints’ that would become world leading in design, quality, liveability and sustainability. The joint venture between the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) and the Department of Transport and Planning (DTP) was officially launched in April 2023. What has emerged is a template that will significantly elevate the standard of apartment buildings being constructed in Melbourne. More importantly, it will have a profound social impact on the communities that will reside in these buildings, the neighbourhoods where they will be built and the way people will interact with amenities, services, local businesses and each other.

Acknowledging that the ¼-acre block with a freestanding house may no longer be a viable or sustainable option, particularly in growing cities, Future Homes explores a different way for people to live comfortably in established suburbs with good transport links, high level amenities and great services in place. It offers design exemplars created by 4 competition winning architectural firms/groups with 3 variations of each design that can be adapted for use across a wide range of sites. Developers can choose from the 12 options and must meet a stringent set of mandatory criteria. To incentivise them, a streamlined planning procedure was introduced that reduces the approval period from 12+ months to 4.5 months.

The anonymous, online design competition took place during the height of the pandemic, opening the door to smaller players in the design industry and levelling the playing field. This was the perfect opportunity for insightful ideas to dominate the conversation, rather than reputations. The brief focused on natural light and ventilation, improved accessibility, better environmental performance, high quality communal and private open spaces and facilities that would support sustainable usage of neighbourhood amenities and transport options.

Connection, community and choice

For one of the Future Homes competition-winning teams, Andres Lopez (Design Strategy Architecture) and Angelica Rojas (IncluDesign), the project was intensely personal. Both grew up in apartments in densely populated cities in South America. Both had the lived experience of how important that sense of community connection was and how interaction between the street and private spaces was fundamental to the success of apartment life.

Making the conscious choice to raise her own family in a Melbourne apartment, Angelica feels strongly about the importance of connecting with her local community. The fact that the project allowed her to create something beautiful, replicable and truly sustainable was highly rewarding. The concept of ‘connection’ anchors her team’s design, giving residents the choice of interacting while respecting their need for privacy.

“For me architecture is a process not just an outcome. It involves continuous social dialogue to bring different ideas together seamlessly. Architecture is not just buildings. It’s learning from the place and the people who are actually going to live there,” Angelica commented.

“We have a responsibility to the community, so nurturing the design from a human-centric perspective is crucial. Being able to create inclusive spaces for families and people with different abilities – giving them the opportunity to live comfortably in attractive surroundings – speaks right to my heart,” she added.

For Angelica’s collaborative partner Andres, carefully managing the building’s thresholds was key to creating multiple communal spaces that connect with community. He wanted spaces like the central courtyard and stairway to belong to the residents, creating areas for congregation and interaction but also places where people could express their individuality by tailoring their usage.

“One thing I noticed when I moved to Melbourne was the limited relationship between homes and the street. Front yards are wasted and it’s hard to feel the connection. The Future Homes project is a way to change that dynamic,” Andres remarked.

“Melbourne is still young and evolving. Concepts of home ownership are changing, and I believe that people are receptive to adapting and embracing different models of collaboration to generate sustainable, new ways of living,” he added.

The inner west takes the lead

The City of Maribyrnong was chosen as the first municipality to pilot the Future Homes initiative, largely due to its demographics, abundance of residential-zoned land and great access to transport and services.

Cr Sarah Carter, Mayor of the City of Maribyrnong, is passionate about Future Homes’ potential to support sustainable growth and active transport options while promoting a greener and healthier lifestyle for residents.

“Council is proud to partner with the Department of Transport and Planning and the Office of the Victorian Government Architect to pilot the Future Homes initiative. By taking part in the program, we aim to encourage high quality apartment developments in the municipality,” she said.

“Aging in place and remaining connected to their community becomes more feasible for residents, empowering individuals to create fulfilling lives within the City of Maribyrnong,” she added.

Creating a legacy for Melbourne’s communities

While the architects, DTP and OVGA are fielding multiple enquiries from prospective developers at this early stage, two additional metropolitan municipalities are planning to join the program in the coming months. And although construction has not commenced yet, Homes Victoria has committed to the first Future Homes building – a public housing project in Braybrook, using the Lian Architects & Kerstin Thompson Architects design.

Ideally, as a first step, one of each design will be built, demonstrating that smart spatial planning, quality, amenity, community focus and affordability can go hand in hand.  And possibly more, if not all Melbourne councils, will sign up to be part of the program to change the notion of what modern apartment living can be.

“At the initiative’s core is the notion that good design is for everyone. Everyone, without exception, deserves to live in a high amenity and well-designed home,” commented Amy Mak, Manager, Building Better Homes (Department of Transport and Planning).

“In many ways, Future Homes builds on the foundation established by Robin Boyd and the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in the late 1940s with the Small Homes Service. Hopefully, it will have a similar legacy – creating family-friendly, inclusive and sustainable homes for more people that will stand the test of time,” she added.

The 4 Future Homes concepts were designed by:
A. Design Strategy Architecture & IncluDesign