The Turner Studio-designed Bigge Street social housing project in Liverpool commissioned by the NSW Land and Housing Corporation turns public housing on its head with a building that combines high quality with cost-effective design.

Social housing developments are often not welcomed by existing residents in the neighbourhood for fear that the projects would negatively impact the social environment and property prices. Bigge Street is an example of how a social housing project can meet the increasing need for public housing while delivering a building that both the occupants and neighbourhood can be proud of.

Bigge Street won the coveted Premier’s Prize for Architecture at the 2023 NSW Architecture Awards. “Bigge St demonstrates a high quality and thoughtful approach to delivering cost effective housing and shows that meeting the needs of our community is not dependent on sacrificing the architectural quality enjoyed by the residents and the community,” read the citation.

Sitting on a 1,758 sqm site in Warwick Farm, the $28 million Bigge Street building is a six-storey tower above a four-storey podium, has a total floor area of 3,908 sqm, offers 52 apartments and accommodates about 80 residents. According to Turner, factors such as maintenance, longevity, and the sensitive needs of social housing residents, which impacted the long-term performance of the building, drove the design character as well as materiality of the building.

The use of precast concrete adds character while reducing the need for ongoing maintenance that a painted surface would have required. Vertical and horizontal louvres maximise solar access to all aspects, while balconies with level access provide additional living space and amenity. Communal spaces in the open lobbies enable natural ventilation and social interactions. Surrounding the building are landscaped areas, providing ample avenues for gathering and relaxation. The finishes are functional, robust and durable, and the spacious, naturally-lit interiors have plenty of storage, establishing an equitably-designed model for future social housing projects.

Commenting on the design process, Turner director Stephen Cox says, “It was important to us not to lower expectations or aspirations of what an apartment building should be, simply because it’s social housing.”

“A criticism I have of lots of social housing is that it looks unusual or strange – like it doesn’t fit in. That’s not what we wanted to achieve for Bigge Street – instead the project works with the urban context and is an exemplar of what is possible in a suburban setting while still working with the specific requirements of social housing.

“The strong form and refined material palette offers a handsome building that the occupants and neighbourhood can be proud of,” Cox added.

Photo: Brett Boardman