An affordable but sustainable housing development in Melbourne has emerged as the biggest winner at the 2014 Sustainability Awards, taking home the program’s highest honour, the Best of the Best prize.

The Commons by Breathe Architecture was selected from seven other category winners to claim this top award, chosen because of its holistic approach to sustainability – a concept that is truly brought to life, evident and practicable in this project.

“From a very strong field, The Commons by Breathe Architecture has been selected as ‘the best of the best’ because it embodies many important approaches that showcase how sustainability is an essential part of a positive future,” the 2014 jury panel says. “This includes:

  • Taking a difficult and damaged site and making it better through an appropriately sized and designed development
  • Using the simple and minimal approach to design as an inspiration for the creation of great architecture
  • Allowing the natural characteristics of the carefully selected materials to be expressed and celebrated
  • Creating affordable and delightful housing that provides both communal and separate spaces for the occupants to enjoy, with opportunities to live lighter and better

“Importantly, the creation and realisation of this project by the architects and their team, shows we can all dream what the future should be and then make it happen.”

Also winning the Multi-Density Residential category, The Commons was designed as a triple bottom-line development, to be environmentally sustainable, financially viable and socially responsible.

It seeks to provide spacious, generous and simple apartments that add value to the community, and offers a replicable prototype for the modern sustainable multi-residential apartment building.  

The project was very much driven by the architects, who noted the challenges of finding builders and developers they believed were ethical; convincing relevant stakeholders that a pared-back, simple building with shared communal spaces would be marketable; and even obtaining the permission to build an apartment block without any car parking.












The pursuit of architectural ‘de-materialisation’, where only what is needed and not what is expected is included, has also had real effects on the building costs, which were notably reduced.

Embracing the motley culture and industrial context of its Brunswick site, The Commons is more than an architectural form, but a project with social conviction informed by, and built for, its immediate community.

Key initiatives:

  • No cars, air-conditioning, second bathrooms, individual laundries and washing machines, plasterboard ceilings, chrome, tiles, toxic finishes or imported timbers
  • Parking for 72 bikes and car share
  • Natural light and ventilation to all bedrooms, cross ventilation to all apartments
  • Shared 5kW PV array, solar hot water system and hydronic heating boiler
  • Recycled timber floors, exposed thermal mass in the form of concrete structure and ceilings, locally manufactured raw brass tap ware and door hard ware, copper sinks, double glazed timber doors, double glazed thermally broken windows, and mild steel light fittings
  • Bricks from existing site recycled in new lobby construction
  • Functional and social success of the project hinges on the use of communal spaces, including a rooftop garden, water collection, hydronic heating, PV array and laundry. This is hoped to engender a compassionate and supportive community, and encourage behavioural changes in lifestyle habits.

Photography by Andrew Wuttke & UA Creative

The awards, which were held on 23 October in Sydney, also celebrated a number of other projects and products in a range of categories. With a strong selection of finalists this year the jury, consisting of Envirotecture’s Dick Clarke, TERROIR’s Gerard Reinmuth, PIDCOCK – Architecture + Sustainability’s Caroline Pidcock and ‘anti-greenwash’ expert Suzie Barnett, had a tough time choosing the winners.

In the end, a ubiquitous product used by many Australians won the Innovation of the Year award, while a small riding base camp took out the Small Commercial category. To see the full list of winners and highly commended projects, please click HERE.

Check out all 70 finalists for this year’s awards in this interactive video: