News / Housing

Nightingale spreads its wings across Australia

With more than 360 apartments under its belt, Brunswick-based developer has another 830 in the pipeline

Meron Tierney with her partner Adam Heath and their son Sebastian outside the entrance to Nightingale 1 in Florence Street. She has been living there since the building opened in 2017.

Mark Phillips
Friday, November 4, 2022

A LOW COST, high sustainability apartment concept developed in Brunswick is spreading across Australia.

Nightingale apartments launched its first project in Florence Street alongside the Upfield bike and walking path just nine years ago. 

With no car parking, communal laundries and a frugal approach to interior design, the Nightingale model is a challenge to much conventional thinking about apartment living which usually emphasises luxury finishes and mod cons. 

But it has proved such a success Nightingale now has projects underway or completed around Melbourne and in regional Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales. 

These include two new buildings nestled alongside Anstey railway station, and an urban village on the southern side of Bulleke-bek Park. 

Casting itself as a not-for-profit property developer, Nightingale’s mission is to develop affordable, high-quality, carbon-neutral apartments. Prices are deliberately kept low, investors and speculators are discouraged, and up to 20% of apartments in some buildings are set aside for community housing. 

But perhaps the most radical aspect of the Nightingale model is an emphasis on shared, communal living, a counter to the isolation often experienced in larger high-rise apartment buildings. 

The concept was initially developed by Breathe, a Brunswick-based residential architecture firm with its multi-award-winning The Commons building, which opened in 2014 and has been the prototype for subsequent developments. 

The Commons was the prototype for the Nightingale concept.

“[Breathe] looked out across Australia and saw a housing system that was broken, delivering tiny apartments that are terrible for the environment, terrible for the people within them and terrible for the broader community – and increasingly impossible for first time buyers to get into the market,” says Nightingale’s head of communications, Kate Longley. “So they wanted to do something about that.” 

With features such as roomy open-plan layouts that included large balconies on which vines grow during warmer months to provide shade, communal laundries and a shared rooftop garden, The Commons created a buzz in the architecture world such that when the first project under the Nightingale name was launched across the road in Florence Street, the 20 apartments were heavily over-subscribed. 

From there it has been onwards and upwards. Nightingale 1, as it is known, was completed in 2017 and followed by Nightingale 2 in Fairfield and Nightingale Brunswick East on Nicholson Street in 2019. 

Nine more projects have been completed since then, including Nightingale Ballarat which opened this year, and eight more are under construction. They include buildings in Fremantle, the Adelaide suburb of Bowden and the Sydney suburb of Marrickville. Seven more projects will be released to the public next year. 

In total, Nightingale has delivered 362 homes with 822 under construction or in planning. 

Most projects have been developed on sites that previously had industrial usage and have been chosen for their proximity to public transport and shops. 

Meron Tierney is an original resident of Nightingale 1, buying a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor for $425,000 which she now shares with her partner, Adam Heath, and their seven-month-old son, Sebastian. 

An architect herself, she had been impressed by The Commons and was looking for something that was affordable on a single income and in an inner north location where she could walk or cycle to shops and services. 

“I think it’s enabling a lot of people to live in a desirable location in Melbourne at affordable prices and the sustainability of the building is also on everyone’s minds,” she said.  

“They’re very nicely designed projects. The layout of the apartments is very functional, particularly having one bathroom rather than two gives back more living space. The rooftop garden and the green façade are also big drawcards, and the commercial spaces downstairs activate the streetfront and bring in more people so Florence street always has things going on.” 

Top: Every Nightingale building has a large communal rooftop garden. Above: A typical interior fitout. Photos: supplied

Ms Longley, who also lives in a Nightingale apartment with her partner and two young children, said the developer kept costs down by “sustainability through reductionism”. 

“They’ve taken out a bunch of things that people think they want, but maybe don’t necessarily need like the car parking when you live right next to a train line and a tram line and bus services and can walk everywhere that you need for anything in Brunswick,” she said. 

“So they took out the basement carpark, second bathrooms, individual laundries, and then created this amazing rooftop space with a communal laundry and gardens, dining space, all designed to foster community.” 

Typically one or two bedrooms, all apartments in Nightingale buildings are generously proportioned and make the most of living space. 

All tapware in the apartments is raw brass without a chrome finish, floors are made of recycled timber and walls are unpainted concrete. Services like plumbing and electricity are exposed rather than hidden by a false ceiling which adds an extra sense of height space to the apartments. 

Floor to ceiling sliding doors allow access to large balconies, hydronic heating keeps electricity bills low and smart use of ventilation means no air-conditioning is required. 

Along with the commitment to sustainability and affordability, Nightingale projects seek to engender a sense of communal co-living among the residents of each building. 

The buildings are kept deliberately small – even though Nightingale Anstey has 50 apartments, it is split in two – to further encourage community. 

“I think for me particularly, Sebastian is my first baby and it’s been really lovely having the support of other mums in the building,” says Meron Tierney, pictured with her partner Adam Heath and their son Sebastian.

“The thing people ask me about most is the shared laundry and a lot of people can’t get their head around the idea of that but it really does create a community because you run into your neighbours up there and have a chat,” Ms Tierney said. 

“When I first moved in, I was single and female and it was nice to be in a building around people who were like-minded people and I really liked that.  

“We have a WhatsApp chat and if someone has run out of sugar or milk people will look after each other or if they’re going away they will water their plants and look after their cat or dog. 

“I think for me particularly, Sebastian is my first baby and it’s been really lovely having the support of other mums in the building.” 

When each Nightingale project is announced, potential buyers enter a ballot to avoid people bidding against each other. The company strongly discourages investors in favour of owner-occupiers and minimises its profit margins to keep prices affordable. 

“The apartments are sold for what it costs us to produce them,” Ms Longley said. 

“The cost of the land, finance, construction. We need to keep our lights on in the office, but we don’t add a profit and any contingency that is left over per project just gets returned to the mission.” 

In the more recent developments, Nightingale has partnered with a community housing provider to ensure that 20% of apartments are made avaliable to people on their lists.  

A proportion of dwellings in many projects are also Teilhaus apartments – studio apartments that are only sold to first-home buyers on limited means and are cross-subsidised by larger two and three bedroom apartments in the building. These have been popular with single women aged 55 and over. 

For people curious about the Nightingale concept, weekly tours of Nightingale 1 are conducted every Wednesday morning at 10.30am. The tours are led by one of the company’s development managers and cost $20.