A Western Australia mid-density, low-rise housing complex that defies the typical edge-to-edge McMansion-style housing model has won the industry’s highest honour for multiple dwelling architecture.

Knutsford / Stage 1 by Spaceagency Architects fought off competition from renowned apartment designers SJB and McBride Charles Ryan to win the Frederick Romberg Award for Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing at the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Architecture Awards.

Spaceagency received the prize at the awards ceremony held in Sydney on 3 November. 

View the full list of winning projects from the 2016 National Architecture Awards here.

Read the full jury citation for Knutsford / Stage 1 by Spaceagency Architects and see the other awarded projects in the Residential Architecture—Multiple Housing category below:

The Frederick Romberg Award for Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing—Knutsford / Stage 1 (WA) by Spaceagency Architects

Photography by Robert Frith

Jury citation: In what was, at the time of construction in Western Australia, an inflated building industry, an incredibly low construction budget made Knutsford immediately stand out as a project that needed to be visited. What then emerged as a clear category winner was a highly unusual form of multiresidential housing, underpinned by factors so rarely sought in this category – namely context, community and belonging.

The mid-density, low-rise model is commendable for the care and restraint exercised by the architects in what would typically be edge-to-edge, McMansion-style housing. The delicate site planning revolves around a series of dissecting laneways and courtyards. Instead of the typical street frontage of garage doors and crossovers, the laneways enable cars to be buried deep within the centre and therefore allow liveable areas and outdoor patios to engage directly with the street. The resulting network of internal streets carved deep into the blocks creates a suburban setting where you could imagine children practising their fast bowl or stab passing a Sherrin.

Occasionally adopting a zero setback, and using a series of generously proportioned courtyards and terraces, the architect has ensured that each apartment/townhouse has equal access to northern light. A series of stepping walls and brick volumes creates an instant neighbourhood landscape, designed to bring light deep into the floor plates but also retracting in places to open up dwellings almost entirely to the street.

The rambling white brick and recycled concrete blocks follow the gentle terrain, masking what would usually be a tabula rasa benched site. The architects are not precious about how the occupants change the dwellings’ identity. They are almost factory shells, ready to be occupied and influenced by those who inhabit them, a fact made evident by the galvanised pipe framework that tempts inhabitants to drape bamboo screens or other found objects over it for sun protection.


  • National Award for Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing—10 Wylde Street (NSW) by SJB 

Photography by Brett Boardman

  • National Award for Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing—Monash University Logan Hall (VIC) by McBride Charles Ryan  

Photography by John Gollings