LIAN's winning design for the Victorian government's Future Housing design competition

The Victorian government is forging ahead with its 5.3 billion Australian dollar Big Housing Build initiative, having last week revealed the winners of the Future Homes design competition.

Guiding the construction of at least 12 new public housing apartments will be designs by four winning firms: LIAN, Spiral Architects Lab, McGregor Westlake Architecture, and Design Strategy Architecture in collaboration with IncluDesign.

Melbourne-based firm LIAN, will be the first to see its design brought to life in a demonstration project in the suburb of Braybrook, Victorian Minister for Housing Richard Wynne announced Tuesday. 

LIAN’s proposal, titled Freespace, attempts to inject the advantages of a single family home into higher density residencies through innovative use of public and private space. 

Garner attributed the success of their design to its adaptability and focus on liveability

Architects Lisa Garner and Andrej Vodstrcil launched LIAN on the back of the competition, having worked for other practices during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown, while working on the proposal in their spare time.

Garner attributed the success of their design to its adaptability and focus on liveability. 

“Our main goal was to prioritise the amenity of the dwelling. So, giving each apartment a double height space and a big garden, all of those principles are kind of baked into this replicable idea,” Garner told the Fifth Estate. 

To address the diverse demands of social housing, Freespace offers the opportunity to adapt the dwellings by adding rooms in a building block-like fashion, ranging from studios to four bedrooms.

The building blocks are arranged along a 4.5 metre spatial and structural grid, whereby living rooms and bedrooms can be combined to create unique apartment types within the same primary structure.

All of the homes consist of a high-ceilinged indoor living area and aim to provide as much private outdoor space as possible, with the initial proposal stating a minimum of 25 square metres per outdoor area.

According to Garner, having a double height indoor living area allows natural light to create a larger sense of space, amenable to multifunctional practical use.

All of the homes consist of a high-ceilinged indoor living area

“(High ceilings are) a small element of luxury that doesn’t actually require extra materials or anything fancy, it’s just that spatial delight that comes from extra volume and extra light that really has the capacity to make the living space a lot more special.”

Lisa garner, LIAN

“We feel like multi-res right now is delivering a very standard product and very similar floor plan. And you never really get that difference in volume so, it was important for us to embed something special and a point of difference.”

To keep costs down, LIAN’s design embraces minimalism and relies on leaving elements such as the timber structure exposed.

“By not specifying expensive finishes and materials but leaving it quite bare, the beauty I guess comes from the generosity of space and the air and light, not the extra special finishes.”

Lisa Garner, LIAN

Helping to save on space and encourage more community engagement, the dwellings also utilise communal areas, increasing social interaction during “everyday rituals” such as arrival and departure, washing, gardening and playing areas.

Shared spaces include a communal laundry, gardens, compost, car park and bike shed as well as an elevated walkway connecting public to private spaces. 

Helping keep the project environmentally sustainable, as well as habitable, is the use of cross laminated timber (CLT) to increase thermal performance, limiting the use of superfluous materials to reduce waste, and orienting the apartments to maximise solar access in the winter and passive shade management in the summer. 

The proposal includes rooftop solar panels as well as the harvesting of rainwater to use in the shared laundry. 

While the final design is still under development, Garner said that working alongside environmental sustainability consultants they hoped to achieve a rating towards the top of the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS).

According to Garner, construction is hoped to start on the demonstration project before the end of the year. 

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