38 Albermarle Street designed by Fieldwork for Assemble delivers the country’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.
The 73-apartment project, combining one, two and three-bedroom units, is the first step in delivering Assemble Futures’ BTRTO strategy. The initiative, founded by housing developer and community management business Assemble, 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.
38 Albermarle Street interrogates and elevates typical medium density living standards, while crafting opportunities to meaningfully connect residents — with the landscape, the surrounding urban fabric and each other.
The existing building on the site, designed by Australian architect Harry A. Norris, is a significant early industrial structure which was a former recording studio, CD and cassette factory Dex Audio.
The starting point for Fieldwork's design was to find a way to adapt the site to its new residential function while respecting the existing building. This was achieved through interventions on the ground plane, and efforts to create a dialogue with the broader context of the neighbourhood.
The 1950s, 60s and 70s walk-up apartments scattered through Melbourne’s inner suburbs became a key point of reference for Fieldwork - in particular, the way that residents personalise the apartments’ external circulation paths. Typically personalised 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.
Inspired by this spatial philosophy, 38 Albermarle Street is innovatively split into two individual towers connected by an external breezeway. A landscaped, semi-circular void connects each level — an artistic response to mandated tower crane access through the site — while each apartment is connected to the breezeway by a bridged verandah that encourages residents to personalise the shared environment. “This ‘connective tissue’ becomes the focus of the architecture, building a nurturing and neighbourly place,” says Quino.
Seeking to address the perceived and actual limitations of apartment living, the design team revisited concepts implemented at 122 Roseneath Street — a previous Assemble development designed by Fieldwork. This project was informed by the life that is enabled through a typical single-fronted terrace house and introduced facilities that would allow residents to enjoy “as full a life as if you’re living in your own house with your own backyard, front verandah, back shed and garden,” says Quino. Building on these principles, 38 Albermarle Street is designed to be pet friendly, kid friendly and encourage a diverse cohort of residents.
On the ground floor, a multi-purpose 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.
An adjacent hospitality space, 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.
These additions deliver amenity previously considered unobtainable in typical Australian apartment developments, fostering incidental moments of neighbourly interaction.
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 secure 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 — effectively extending liveable spaces beyond the footprint of each apartment.
While Fieldwork aimed for the new building form to present as simply and consistently as possible from all aspects, passive building performance and occupant comfort remained a primary consideration. In response to this, the northern apartments’ deep private terraces are screened to provide passive solar control, while living spaces sit closer to the façade in the southern tower to maximise natural light penetration. All glazing frames to residences are thermally broken, achieving an impressive 7 NatHERS rating, while hard-wearing materials, no natural gas, cross ventilation and rooftop solar panels powers the operations of the community further improve building performance.
38 Albermarle Street is set amongst strong transport links with easy access to important amenities such as schools, healthcare services, shopping precincts and employment hubs, supported by an innovative scheme of on-site carparking. Car bays are communally owned and rented from Assemble on an as-need basis — an attractive space that may be retrofitted to serve a new use, should car ownership reduce in the future.
With a vibrant community feel already growing, 38 Albermarle Street offers an enticing housing proposition, offering rental stability and an alternative pathway to home ownership. Designed by Fieldwork with thought and rigour, the project demonstrates the importance of good design in bringing Assemble’s BTRTO housing model to life – delivering fair, liveable and uplifting housing options for generations of Australians.
Architecture, Interior Architecture, Interior Design: Fieldwork
Interior Design (Cassette): Six Degrees Architects
Landscape Design: Pop Plant
Consultants: Building Surveyor-McKenzie Group, Accessibility – Before Compliance, Engineer – Webber Design, Sustainability – Atelier Ten, Heritage – Bryce Rayworth, Landscape – Pop Plant, Services Engineer – Stantec, Traffic Engineer – Traffix, Waste Consultant – Leigh Design