Collingwood design firm EME Design has taken out the annual Building Design of the year award in style with its innovative Artisan Apartments in Heidelberg.


It’s the first time a multi-residential development has won in the award’s 21-year history.


Organised by The Building Designers Association of Victoria, the annual awards profile excellence in building design and promotes the importance of building design to the wider community.


This year the focus is sharply on community benefit and the need for healthier, more environmentally friendly living spaces.


Chair of the Judging Panel, Timothy Ellis said the apartments, which hold an 8.6 star energy rating, address the growing demand for sustainable medium-density living apartments in Melbourne.


Internal daylighting, water efficient plumbing fixtures, energy-efficient lighting and a 20, 000 litre rainwater tank are just some of the features which offer occupants lower running costs and healthier living spaces.


“This is a unique and stunningly sculptural home for local empty nesters and young professionals who would otherwise be driven to Melbourne’s fringes,” Mr Ellis said.


EME Design may have won the award for their unconventional approach to apartment design, but their unusual style resulted in numerous delays in planning approvals and some hesitation from local legislative authorities.


“The interesting thing about the design is the concept was actually started in 2009,” Lead designer on the project, Luke Middleton said.


“It was just fantastic we had this project realized and…that a project design of that may years ago is still ahead of its time today, still at the leading edge or cutting edge.”


Mr Middleton said the process had him pulling his hair out at times.


“Councils, councils, councils, water authorities… a lot of things, in a nutshell there was a lot of bureaucracy and hurdles to overcome,” Mr Middleton said.


We think it’s vital, it’s essential that people in our position, designing buildings and making the future city fabric are engaged, seriously engaged and committed to sustainable outcomes.”


A schism between the strategic and statutory planners also created some problems.


“You have one part of the council saying this is fantastic and you’ve got another part saying well, it doesn’t really comply with the current legislation,” Mr Middleton said.


As a result, Mr Middleton said the design got “watered down”.


“It was probably a bit larger and more poetic in its original form and it was sort of chopped and changed by people who didn’t understand the bigger picture and now do and who now will; probably use it as an exemplar to council.”


Whilst admittedly frustrating, Mr Middleton also said he could understand where some of the hesitation came from: it can be nearly impossible for people to visualize a design, until they’re walking through it.


Difficult or not, Mr Middleton said it’s the imperative of the building designer to push their designs towards sustainability.


“We think it’s vital, it’s essential that people in our position, designing buildings and making the future city fabric are engaged, seriously engaged and committed to sustainable outcomes.”


Without that, he said, the city will be going in the wrong direction.


Mr Middleton said while councils and planners obviously also have a hand in this, and councils such as the City of Yarra and the City of Melbourne, are doing their bit, it’s the professionals who have the responsibility in this area.


“If you’re not encouraging your client to pull towards a more sustainable environment, then you’re just encouraging the same problem – building sickness is a problem.”


A lot of Melbourne’s buildings, he says are not only inefficient, they’re unhealthy because of their inefficiencies. This, he says, has left us with beautiful facades and substandard buildings.


While he encourages more sustainably orientated developments, Mr Middleton notes even the Heidelberg apartments have their flaws.


“We’re still learning ourselves, this project is by no means perfect okay. This project has a lot of things that could be improved upon, but it is a giant step forward, sitting in such high-efficiency.”



Caitlin is a journalist who enjoys reporting on local news, music, theatre, politics and everything in between. You can follow her on Twitter here. Or check out her website.

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