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    Sociable Weaver creating architect-designed homes for the masses

    Nicholas Rider

    A new Victorian housing company is using top Australian architects to design a suite of off-the-shelf homes that are affordable, sustainable and socially enriching.

    Launched in March 2016, The Sociable Weaver is a partnership between Martin Builders and purpose-driven investment company Small Giants. It was founded upon the intention to bring high-quality alternative housing to the Melbourne market, and the company has been busy recruiting some of Melbourne’s top architects to achieve this vision.

    Branch Studio Architects, Clare Cousins Architects, Core Collective Architects, F2Design, Franky Walker and Healthy Living Spaces are all on board the Sociable Weaver initiative and have provided a diverse range of house designs for the company.  

    The homes are practical, economical, carbon neutral or carbon positive, and priced to suit different budgets. They place strong emphasis on passive solar design, using recycled materials and building biology, but most importantly, says Brad Wray, director at Branch Studio Architects, they’re an alternative to the poorly designed spec homes which currently saturate the housing market and infecting the Australian public’s perception of the ‘dream home’.

    “As a practice, we are completely appalled at the current state of what the open commercial market has to offer and what this has done to general consensus thinking, in Australia particularly,” says Wray.

    “It seems the great Australian Dream has now taken to steroids and the consensus is: the bigger your house, the better it looks on your social media post and, in turn, the better your status is in life.”

    “We see the Sociable Weaver project as a beacon of hope from this line of thinking and a means of creating a well-designed, affordable and thoughtful alternative for home buyers in Australia.” 

    MODERNISM TO MCMANSIONISM AND BACK AGAIN?

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    Natures Address by Clare Cousins Architects is the blue print for The Sociable Weaver Positive Impact Home 

    Wray’s comments mirror the sentiment of the recently launched Streets of Your Town documentary by comedian Tim Ross, which tracked the evolution (and so-called demise) of Australian suburbs and house designs from the modernism period to now.

    Ross’ main assertion was that the quality, affordable, socially enriching and architect-designed Australian houses of the 50s, 60s and 70s have made way for inferior builds—whose dominant feature is their size—and reclusive communities, where people spend the majority of their time inside their homes glued to televisions instead of outside in the community or in the backyard. 

    Wray agrees, and it was actually his and fellow Branch director Nicholas Russo’s firsthand experience of this evolution that proved to be one of the major reasons they joined the Sociable Weaver initiative.

    “The founding location for our studio was located some 50km outside of Melbourne, in the once rural, Officer,” says Wray.

    “We witnessed firsthand what the commercialisation of bad spec homes can do to the existing identity of place and how it can impact on the landscape.”

    “We felt particularly compelled to want to create an alternative to this confused commercial 'product' as the market commonly refers to.”

    THE DESIGN COMMUNITY IS INTEGRAL

    Courtyard-Crank.png
    The central focus of the Courtyard Crank house design by Branch Studio is the garden, with all internal spaces maintaining a clear connection with the outdoors and celebrating the natural environment 

    Another key emphasis of Streets of Your Town was the absence of the architect in these new McMansion-type houses. It documented the changing role of the architect in Australia’s housing market over the past 60 years, charting their departure from affordable housing and arrival in the high-end luxury home market.

    This is something the Sociable Weaver intends to reverse and another reason Branch Studios is on board.

    “We’re quite fond of the notion of 'attainable architecture' as we think good residential—and all architecture for that matter—should be for everyone and not just the super-rich,” Wray says.

    “We were also excited with the prospect of potentially extending a lineage of what once leading Australian architects such as Robin Boyd and insightful building companies such as the Merchant Builders did back in the 60s in terms of creating affordable and attainable, good quality architecture for the everyday Australian.”

    BIGGER THAN NIGHTINGALE?

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    The Aviary house design by Franky Walker features an elegant floor plan allowing zoned living whilst still maintaining a direct connection to the outdoors

    Wray noted that the design community has been trying to do these projects for quite some time but has had little success, mostly due to market imperatives. He also referenced Nightingale, the design-driven multi-res development model currently sweeping the state, as a source of inspiration and a key indicator that now is a good time for building revolutions of all forms in Australia.

    “We think this is an absolutely imperative time for the industry as a whole to get involved as we can’t go on the way we currently are,” he explains.

    “There are some revolutionary architects already doing some wonderful things in the field of residential housing—such as Breathe Architecture and their Nightingale model—which I am delighted to say is growing exponentially and even nationwide.”

    “I would love to hope the Sociable Weaver project can create a far bigger gouge on the market place and assist in some way in creating a new trajectory for housing in Australia.”

    “We remain optimistic and feel the Social Weaver project is a really good shot in the right direction.”

    SOCIAL WEAVER INITIATIVES

    The team at Weaver believe in giving back to the earth, not just taking from it. They work with a set of initiatives and goals in mind:  

    • 300 tree initiative – by planting at least 300 trees for every project The Sociable Weaver undertakes, they intend to help restore the natural ecosystems and regenerate the timber used on site
    • Zero waste philosophy – currently, over 90 per cent of the company’s construction waste is recycled with a goal of 100 per cent by 2020
    • Carbon positive – all Sociable Weaver homes will be carbon positive by 2020. By leading the way, The Sociable Weaver set a goal of all new homes being carbon positive by 2040
    • Sustainable apprenticeship – the company integrate training and education into their teams personal and professional life giving opportunities of bringing back craftsmanship and personal growth through mentoring, training, physical and mind health 

    The Sociable Weaver also supports organisations that foster improved health, wellbeing and a deeper connection to the natural world. A portion of every project is donated to a cause of the clients’ choosing. For more information click here.

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