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Rory Hunter: One man’s MODEL for build-to-rent

As he creates a template for the future, Rory Hunter envisages a type of build-to-rent that will deliver better lives for residents on every level.

Rory Hunter: One man’s MODEL for build-to-rent

Rory Hunter is a man making waves amidst the sea of build-to-rent projects currently on the drawing boards of architecture practices across Australia. He brings his own particular brand of entrepreneurial expertise to the fore through MODEL and his white paper heralds a new way of thinking about design, building and living. He is driving his ideas by talking to politicians, architects and multiple stakeholders in order to make MODEL a reality and is on the cusp of announcing a major capital partner.

Hunter’s ideas centre around better lives for renters where they become a part of the community, contribute and belong, while living in a home that provides security and amenity for today. Importantly, it’s also about housing that is designed for the future.

Jan Henderson talks with Hunter about his plans and finds out just what makes the man and MODEL tick.

Jan Henderson: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background.

Rory Hunter: I’m originally from Sydney but now a proud Melburnian. Over the years, my passion for entrepreneurship has led me on numerous adventures. In my 20s, I even purchased an island in Cambodia ( It wasn’t just transformed into one of the world’s top 10 hotels, but also into a beacon of sustainable tourism.

As I’ve grown older, my adventurous and risk-taking tendencies have mellowed a bit. My love for learning remains strong and my dedication to sustainable business is unwavering. I’ve been a part of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader program for eight years and now serve as a Sustainable Development Committee Member for The Property Council of Australia.

Gillies Hall at Monash University’s Peninsula Campus, designed by Jackson Clements Burrows Architects, targeted Passiv Haus Certification and utilised cross-laminated timber as the primary structural element, photograph by Peter Clarke.

Where does your interest in sustainability stem from?

Growing up in the countryside fostered my appreciation for nature, but it was a lecture I heard by Dr. David Suzuki when I was 16 that truly ignited my environmental passion. Some of my proudest projects include establishing Cambodia’s first-ever marine reserve, which later became a 400-square-kilometre marine national park in collaboration with Monaco’s Prince Albert. Song Saa allowed me to use the hotel as a platform for broader impact.

From creating solid waste management systems in nearby communities, providing hospitality training and full-time jobs to lift locals out of the poverty trap, creating and operating a school for 200 local children, to annual medical missions where we’d fly in over 40 doctors and $2m of supplies to provide healthcare to 5000 people on neighbouring islands, I saw first-hand how aligning the interests of all stakeholders can have significant impacts.  It’s this approach which has been at core of my development philosophy ever since.

How is MODEL different to other proposed build-to-rent concepts? Can you explain MODEL?

MODEL was born from the recognition that we face climate, housing and mental health crises simultaneously. Our bold approach to decarbonisation distinguishes us from more traditional players. We’re committed to tackling these crises head-on and are unafraid to venture where others might not tread.

If there’s ever a time to be courageous in trying to solve our climate crisis, it’s now.

But we’re also cognisant that the people and institutions who will commit to investing in nature-positive projects at scale expect a great return on that investment. With that understanding, and the insights about the changes in government policy and capital allocation garnered from our research, we believe MODEL provides the gateway for truly successful sustainable business.

What are you hoping to achieve through your vision?

Put simply, transformation.

Australia’s current approach to housing is untenable, especially given impending climate challenges and population growth. I hope that MODEL serves as a lighthouse for tenant-centric, amenity-rich living, pointing the way toward a post-carbon future.

At what stage are you in the implementation of MODEL?

Currently, our focus is on building a pipeline of 1000 apartments in Melbourne, spanning both the inner ring and key suburbs within the middle ring.

Related: Regenerative design with LFIA’s Laura Hamilton-O’Hara

Burwood Brick Works designed by NH Architecture sets a new standard for retail development that balances both consumer needs and ecological wellbeing adhering to The Living Building Challenge, image courtesy of NH Architecture.

Who are your supporters and what do they collectively bring to the projects you envisage?

I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with the finest minds and institutions in the country on my recent white paper. We’re already working with some of them on projects, including Urbis, Warren and Mahoney, Slattery, and Fathom.

Great ambitions require strong teams, and I’m assembling the best in Australia who share MODEL’s values and belief in the power of the built environment to drive transformative change to decarbonise our economy.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Australia’s $30bn green bank) was a key collaborator in the writing of the white paper. Its insights into how capital allocators are increasingly looking at net-zero investments, and advice on how to de-risk projects in a rapidly changing world, led to the theory of Regenerative Decarbonisation and ‘value over cost’. I delve into this in depth in the paper. It’s a paradigm shift in how we view project feasibilities. It’s not all about the upfront cost anymore, rather how resilient your project will be in a world of changing policy, climate and customer expectations in 20 years’ time. The CEFC’s recent public endorsement of MODEL’s white paper’s frameworks as the ideal model for development in Australia was a very proud moment.

Can you tell me about your white paper, summarise the ideas espoused and what it brings to the build-to-rent discussion?

The white paper stemmed from my frustration with the perception that sustainable building is too expensive – and that was a barrier to making the change at scale rather than just doing the bare minimum to meet sustainability expectations.

Through interviews and research with industry mavens, pioneers and experts, I discovered that our economy is on the cusp of a ‘great transition’, akin to the industrial revolution in scale as we – whether people know it yet or not – get set to decarbonise at an increasingly unprecedented rate.

I aimed to outline these changes and provide a framework for policy makers, investors and developers to adapt and thrive. While it’s partly a manifesto for MODEL, I also hope it serves as a roadmap for broader change in our dialogue around development, design and planning’s role in creating the communities of tomorrow.

In a world that will be marked by increasing change, the white paper’s ultimate finding was as simple as it is compelling – it’s too expensive not to build sustainably.

MODEL stands for business where idealism meets realism.

The Otago Polytechnic designed by white paper contributors and architects Warren and Mahoney exemplifies sustainability principles by embracing The Living Building Challenge framework, image courtesy of Warren and Mahoney.

What are your hopes for the future?

Perhaps my greatest hope is that we learn to use technology to augment our poor overwhelmed minds to cope better in a world that will never be as slow as it is today so we can find calm in the chaos, peace in the present and inherently bend towards our better tendencies and what makes humans so special – our ability to love.

As for my hopes for MODEL, we strive to build homes where our residents can not only feel safe and secure, but also have a sense of belonging. Where they know and trust their neighbours and can put roots down into their local community. Home is not only where the heart is, it’s the wellspring for our health – mental, physical and psychological – a responsibility that’s not lost on us.

When can we expect to see the physical manifestation of MODEL?

We’re aiming for an inaugural project to commence construction in 2024, with the completion of our first residential building projected for 2026. While this is not as fast as I’d like, I know great design and impactful outcomes take time, so I’ll just have to learn to be more patient.

Read the entire white paper here


Portrait by Jay Patel

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