A new townhouse development alongside Northcote’s Merri Creek is being described as ‘a holistic exemplar of sustainable living’ with features such as shared community spaces, lush landscaping and residences designed to achieve an overall NatHERs rating of 8 stars.

Located on Wurundjeri Country adjacent to the bushy parklands of Merri Creek, on the site of a disused bus repair shed, Northcote Place is a planned community of 74 diverse, flexible townhouses born of an unusually close collaboration between Metro, Akas Landscape Architecture, SDC (Sustainable Development Consultants) and ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects.

Though the project was designed before the pandemic, Northcote Place delivers the kind of environmentally and socially connected 20-minute neighbourhood Melburnians in particular have been calling for since the tough Covid-19 lockdowns, says Metro general manager David Steele. Eighty percent of stage one residences are already sold and construction is set to commence after current demolition works are completed.

“Eight stars is a tangible measure of energy efficiency that’s resonating with Northcote buyers because they’re ESD-focussed. But beyond stars we wanted to create the most well-rounded sustainable townhouse living in Australia, and we were open about how to achieve that on this site. Kicking off with a Creating Vibrant Communities workshop at ClarkeHopkinsClarke helped us create a shared vision, and that’s kept us pushing well beyond what’s available elsewhere,” Steele says.

No other 8-star townhouse development in Australia at this scale offers such holistic sustainability, observes SDC director Ben De Waard.

“What’s a first here is the scale and the number of different sustainability elements Northcote Place brings together. We’ve got the high energy ratings, the rainwater tanks connected to both toilets and laundries – that’s pretty rare, the community vegetable garden, the electric-only option for people to be gas-free, having the townhouses ready for solar car charging battery storage.”

ClarkeHopkinsClarke’s partner Toby Lauchlan, who heads the Multi-Residential team behind sustainable communities such as Lt Miller-Nightingale Brunswick East and The Stewart Collective, says Northcote Place is conceived as a habitat not just for flora and fauna but for residents and neighbours.

“We’ve designed these homes, gardens and shared spaces as a micro community that reflects local values, connects local ecology and bike paths, gets better with age, and creates an exemplar of contemporary community design,” he says.

The high-performing townhouses include thermal breaks at each floor level and triple- and double-glazed thermally broken windows carefully placed for maximum effect, ClarkeHopkinsClarke associate Janice Tan says. Design highlights also include north-facing living areas, cross ventilation, ceiling fans in all bedrooms and living areas, large eaves, solar power, rainwater tanks, large terraces, gardens and shared outdoor spaces that are designed as habitat, not decoration, as well as a robust materials palette with high ESD values.

Available in 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom configurations, the townhouses combine generous proportions with flexible floorplans to accommodate the changing needs of households in future.

Landscape design by Akas, best known for Nightingale Ballarat and NGV’s Melbourne Now exhibition, was inspired by the architecture and recent regeneration of Merri Creek with indigenous (local) planting. Co-director Anthony Sharples explained that they used an 80% indigenous plant palette along with 10% natives, 10% exotics and local rock to reflect the local ecology and invite native fauna and flora into the site. Ample space is provided for sweeping four-metre-wide garden beds while a community garden will enable residents to grow their own food and create a sociable space.

Additionally, a central mews for pedestrians and cyclists provides the missing link between local bike paths, the popular Merri Creek Trail, and the new footbridge to CERES Community Environmental Park.

Northcote Place is attracting a broad mix of buyers, from young families and downsizers to sustainability experts such as Patricia Fitzsimons who appreciates the 8-star energy rating as it represents accountability.

“Once the buildings are completed they have to report on whether or not they’ve actually achieved that rating, so there’s a system in place you can evaluate and monitor rather than just spurious claims. It’s a commitment to achieving a really high goal. There’re few residential buildings at that level. I wanted to be part of a development that’s at the cutting edge. That is really at the forefront of residential design.”

Images: Gabriel Saunders