Assemble, a Melbourne-based rental developer and operator has delivered Australia’s first medium density ‘built-to-rent-to-own’ (BTRTO) development, facilitating healthier, socially connected and financially sustainable homes in Melbourne’s inner north-west.

Designed by Melbourne architecture studio Fieldwork, 38 Albermarle Street is a 7-storey structure featuring 73 apartments in one, two and three-bedroom configurations, and has been delivered via Assemble Futures. The initiative allows residents to rent new apartments for up to five years with the option to purchase the property for a fixed price at the end of the lease period.

The existing building on the site, designed by Australian architect Harry A. Norris, is a significant early industrial structure, which housed a recording studio, and CD and cassette factory, and was the starting point for Fieldwork's design.

The 1950s, 60s and 70s walk-up apartments scattered throughout Melbourne’s inner suburbs became a key point of reference for Fieldwork, in particular, the way that residents personalised the apartments’ external circulation paths with pot plants, bicycles and outdoor furniture. “These spaces serve as an informal extension to the living areas and make for a nice transition between public and private — an expression you simply don’t get in an internal corridor arrangement,” says Quino Holland, co-director of Fieldwork.

Built by Descon, 38 Albermarle Street is innovatively split into two individual towers connected by an external breezeway. A landscaped, semi-circular void connects each level while each apartment is connected to the open-air walkway by a bridged verandah that encourages residents to personalise the shared environment, and establish neighbourly connection.

“This ‘connective tissue’ becomes the focus of the architecture, building a nurturing and neighbourly place,” says Holland.

On the ground floor, a multipurpose communal workshop with a bike repair station, workbench, tools and industrial sinks accommodates DIY undertakings, creative projects and repairs, while a laundrette gives residents flexibility to convert their own laundry space to an alternate use. A parcel room supports the secure delivery of goods, while a lending library encourages residents to share useful but rarely used items such as kitchen items and power tools amongst the community.

A hospitality space, also on the ground floor, aptly named ‘Cassette’ in tribute to the old building’s origins, is run by Assemble’s Neighbourhood Team and designed by Six Degrees Architects, offering a community-centric intermediary between Assemble, the residents and the broader community.

To provide a pet-friendly environment, non-glazed fixed panels in all apartments allow for pet doors to be installed with ease, while a dedicated dog washing bay on the first floor encourages higher levels of pet ownership and care. Marmoleum floors create a resilient, low-maintenance finish in the communal spaces to endure wear from pets and kids, while the apartment interiors are designed with a focus on quality and durability. Secure pram parking and play areas are incorporated in multiple locations, with 140 bicycle parking spaces provided within their own dedicated storage area, accessed via the lobby.

A communal room and overlook on the top floor democratise the project’s best views across the city. Envisioned as a multipurpose 'scout hall' with a kitchen, bathroom and outdoor barbeque, this space is bookable and free of charge for residents, catering for private and community-building events, such as yoga sessions, birthday parties, large dinners and movie nights.

“Moving residents into our first Assemble Futures development is a proof point for our mission ‘homes for change’” reflects Assemble managing director Kris Daff. “The design of 38 Albermarle Street has a feeling of community and liveability, and is the first in a series of communities, which will create a real impact in improving fair housing options.”

From the street, 38 Albermarle offers a subtle backdrop to the intricacy of the red-brick heritage building. Vertical, pre-cast concrete ribs articulate the western façade, gently referencing the fluted frieze and capitals of the Harry Norris building. To the north, a series of perforated and corrugated aluminium panels, colour-matched to the concrete, transform the building’s light qualities throughout the day. The building’s split form is reinforced by a cantilevered balcony peeking over Albermarle Street.

Passive building performance and occupant comfort remained primary considerations during the design phase for Fieldwork. The northern apartments’ deep private terraces are screened to provide passive solar control, while living spaces sit closer to the facade in the southern tower to maximise natural light penetration. All glazing frames to residences are thermally broken, achieving an impressive 7 NatHERS rating, while hardwearing materials, cross ventilation, and rooftop solar panels further improve building performance.

38 Albermarle Street offers residents the advantage of robust transport connections in the neighbourhood, enabling easy access to important amenities such as schools, healthcare services, shopping precincts and employment hubs. The innovative on-site car parking scheme allows residents to rent the communally owned car bays from Assemble on an as-need basis.

Photographer: Tom Ross