Nightingale concept design. Image: Andrew Maynard

The Nightingale Model is going gangbusters. This triple-bottom-line approach to developing innovative housing in inner-city Melbourne is gaining momentum across Australia with 11 projects now boasting a Nightingale licence, including two in WA. UrbanGrowth NSW has expressed an interest in bringing the concept up to Sydney, there’s watchful eyes in the ACT, potential buyers registering their interest in New Zealand and even the US is interested.

Nightingale Model projects are architect-led mixed-use apartment developments that aim to deliver environmentally, socially and financially sustainable dwellings.

Nightingale Housing general manager Jessie Hochberg said the organisation was really excited about the interest

Jessie Hochberg

it’s receiving from around Australia.

“Obviously the issues the we face in urban Melbourne are also faced by other cities – around the quality of development and also the unaffordability of housing – so it’s really exciting to see architects wanting to undertake Nightingale Model projects in other cities around Australia.”

The building and appliance industry is also keen to link in with Nightingale, with three and possibly four large corporate sponsors now aboard, although contracts have not been finalised.

“Industry has been really, really supportive of Nightingale,” Ms Hochberg said. “We are just in this really exciting phase right now where everything is on the cusp…”

Austin Maynard Architects has selected 209 Sydney Road Brunswick for Nightingale 3.0 and are about to submit their town planning application to Moreland City Council. The studio will then hold a purchaser information night for potential buyers.

Clare Cousins Architects is undertaking site selection for Nightingale 4.0 in Melbourne and has held an information session for potential investors.

Any registered architect may propose a project to be licensed as a Nightingale project. A sub-committee of the Nightingale Board reviews each proposal and if it meets all of the objectives it’s given access to a range of tools and support networks.

The Nightingale Licensing Committee recently approved six applications including two in Western Australia and one for Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs.

Nightingale moves south of the Yarra

Guymer Bailey Architects will design the new Melbourne development and has appointed Armitage Jones as development managers.

Andrew Thomas

Senior architect Andrew Thomas said he was incredibly inspired by what Jeremy McLeod and Breathe Architecture had achieved with Nightingale 1.0 and loved the Nightingale Model concept.

“It seemed like a great way to actually improve the quality of the apartments we are building and create real communities,” he said. “It’s a triple-bottom-line development and so that’s about achieving a pretty rewarding outcome.

“For what will effectively be a speculative development, we will actually have a client group we can consult with and we can develop a design with an end-user in mind rather than unfortunately … the approach so many apartment developers have, where it is about the creation of a product for sale and therefore the things that are driving that is minimising cost and maximising profit.”

Guymer Bailey has a couple of sites in mind, and City of Stonnington will be a target area.

“We have done some very early feasibility on those just to see what we can get on those shaped footprints or those floor plates but that is as far as it’s gone,” Mr Thomas said.

The project will be a similar size to other Nightingale developments – 20 to 25 apartments and four to five storeys.

“The exception to that will be if we find a site that is twice the size – you could actually run it as two Nightingales and that’s been talked about,” he said.

“We have spoken to [Armitage Jones] about that being an opportunity to give them a bit more scope in terms of looking for sites.”

Damien Tammer

Architect Damien Tammer said the project would not be too different to previous Nightingales as far as locations go – good access to public transport and reasonably close to the city.

“We can use the previous Nightingales as precedents and then build on that.”

“It probably operates best in a ‘donut’ around the inner city,” Mr Thomas said. “That is probably the sweet spot for one of these.”

Mr Tammer said it was impressive that the Nightingale team was quite willing to put forward anything that could be learnt from and improved upon. For example, the rooftop garden in The Commons lacked wind protection. On the flip side, light wells have worked brilliantly.

Keen to learn and share

It’s early days to be discussing the project’s sustainability features, however the Guymer Bailey team threw around ideas such as thermal chimneys, light courts and green facades.

“We are probably just leveraging off what the previous Nightingales have already done and improving on (them), with the improved technology since then as well,” Mr Tammer said. “I know Jeremy’s trying to get to 100 per cent fossil-fuel-free developments, which is a great ideal. I’m not sure we’ll be able to achieve that just yet but we’ll give it a good shot.”

Guymer Bailey already engages ESD consultants for all projects and has its own landscape department so will be keen to involve them in the Nightingale project.

“Perhaps that’s where there may be an opportunity – we can make a contribution (to the Nightingale Model) in the way we handle the landscape,” Mr Thomas said.

Nightingale 3.0 concept. Image: Andrew Maynard

Nightingale 5.0 and beyond

The Guymer Bailey project will not be known as Nightingale 5.0, despite being the fifth licensed project.

“The Nightingale Housing board has taken the decision that they won’t be referring to projects by numbers now,” Mr Thomas said. “They are discovering, as this ramps up, they have applications in for a couple projects where they have a site in mind. Even though we are fifth in the queue, we might be the eighth that actually gets to construction.”

Ms Hochberg agreed.

“Now that we have 11 projects looking at the landscape, it would be very unlikely that they would roll out in the order that they were licensed,” she said.

Some projects come with land and equity, while others come with just an idea.

“They will start happening in all different orders and locations so it doesn’t really make sense to call them by numbers.”

The architect’s name and the project location are likely to be used as the identifier.

“We are really excited and really proud to be the fifth in the queue,” Mr Thomas said. He suggested naming the project “Nightingale South”.

“They might not want us to stake out whole south side of city, but we’ll try!”

Nightingale for NSW and ACT?

At this stage no licences have been granted for Sydney projects. However, according to Ms Hochberg it is something that Nightingale Housing is exploring.

“UrbanGrowth NSW are also exploring how they can bring Nightingale to NSW,” she said. “They have been really supportive and are really interested in the model.”

UrbanGrowth is undertaking work with the University of NSW to explore how the Nightingale Model might work in the NSW context.

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury has pledged to bring the Nightingale Model to Canberra.

“It’s time to put people at the centre of housing – not developers,” he said.

“We want to foster new housing procurement models that disrupt the status quo, including bringing the Nightingale Housing Model to Canberra.

“The Nightingale Model reduces the cost of development and ensures that people can afford to live near their jobs, transport connections and family.”

New Zealand and further afield

There’s been heaps of interest in the Nightingale Model in New Zealand too, according to Ms Hochberg.

“Auckland faces very similar conditions to Melbourne and Sydney in terms of affordability issues and design issues so we’d really be keen to see a project start in New Zealand,” she said.

“We are speaking to some architects there as well as some community groups who want to undertake their own developments but that hasn’t really progressed beyond interest and discussion at this stage.”

Awareness of the Nightingale Model has even crossed the Pacific to the US.

“There’s been actually a lot of interest from America but it’s not something we have really pursued beyond initial discussions,” Ms Hochberg said.

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  1. Hi Tina – Thanks for your hard work on Fifth Estate and for an interesting story. Would appreciate a summary of what is different about this approach to development versus the usual.
    Thanks Narelle

    1. HI Narelle, thanks for the feedback and good point about the differences. From what I understand, in conventional development, you pay a deposit to secure your off the plan apartment, it’s pretty much what the developer thinks the market wants. This has given us some very limited choices to date. You might get a choice about a few “options”, usually aesthetic. With Nightingale you get to decide a great deal more. You get a say on whether you want parking, or save $50,000 to $100,000 per unit (some councils don’t give you a choice), whether you want private laundries or bigger balconies, shared community gardens and other shared amenities (Bike sheds for instance) and you get to work with the architect on the look and feel of the place, so it’s more like a commissioned dwelling. Nightingale also promises from the get go to be as sustainable as possible. So no aircon, and high levels of insulation and so on. (Not saying they will be to the Living Building Challenge level which aims to be net positive to the environment.) The other huge deal is that the profit margin is kept to 15 per cent instead of the usual 30 per cent. It helps a lot to know you have a waiting list so the financier has much lower risk of default compared to selling on the open market. And it also helps to save on private laundries and air con if that’s the choice, and also it does away with a marketing suite and marketing. As part of the promise to contain profit the developers will open their books to the stakeholders.

  2. The only thing missing in the information is whether the housing designs incorporate the principles of universal design (at least Silver level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines). Jeremy from Breath Architecture hinted at accessibility and ageing in place at a housing forum earlier this year but if it is present it is not stated.

  3. It would be great to convince local authorities that already favour priorities like hotels and student accomodation and aged care with reduced infrastructure charges like Brisbane City Council to even up price competition for sites

  4. I am very supportive of the concept, falling as it does neatly between co-housing and conventional speculative apartment initiatives.

    But I have a special interest in how the approach also illuminates technical performance issues that are increasingly cropping up in the apartment design field. I was specially struck by the quote:

    “the Nightingale team was quite willing to put forward anything that could be learned from and improved upon. For example, the rooftop garden in The Commons lacked wind protection. On the flip side, light wells have worked brilliantly”.

    In NSW with the Apartment Design Guide, and imminently in Victoria with the Better Apartments Draft Design Standards, reliance on small courtyards/light and ventilation wells is effectively prohibited. Yet, as The Commons experience must be confirming, such voids can very effectively solve some problems, where the related issues of noise transmission and even odour pollution become matters of social management. Just like they were traditionally in inner cities.

    I’d be very interested to find out more about the experience of The Commons. Is it being recorded/published anywhere?