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Social housing success

ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects has delivered a project that makes a difference to the lives of First Nations people concurrently creating a new and exciting model for medium density social housing.

Social housing success

There is change coming and it’s for the better. Design is leading the way in social housing and doing it with style and sensitivity as the Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV) Dandenong project demonstrates.

The project for AHV was undertaken by ClarkeHopkinsClarke (CHC), with Yorta Yorta Senior Architect James Gilliland as design lead, and First Nations Landscape Designer Charles Solomon. Gilliland brings his perspective to the architecture and design with an understanding of the requirements that are needed to create homes for First Nations people.

AHV Dandenong was built through COVID and this presented the challenges that many architects and builders faced at the time. However, what is most powerful about this project is a new design approach. This is not a regular apartment block to house First Nations people; it is a development of 10 apartments with a townhouse feel that creates a home for the residents. The architecture interrogates the usual idea of social housing and presents a new dimension on how people can live with culture and on Country.

ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects - AHV Dandenong

The 10 one-and-two-bedroom apartments are positioned on a 996-square-metre site and Gilliland has worked hard to ensure the design provides the best utilisation and yield for AHV. From the front and rear the structure is two storeys, however another level is added in the middle and this creates a generosity of space within the interior. The first apartment is slightly larger than the others and has been designated as a home for an Elder. This decision was made after stakeholder discussion that explored the benefits of introducing a custodianship element.

James Gilliland explains, “The ground floor Elder residence provides sightlines through the front of the development and the shared courtyard for great passive surveillance. Internally, spatial planning accommodates the needs of extensive kinship networks.”

The concept of the design was inspired by the Ngaruk Willam clan of the Boon Wurrung people. Ngaruk refers to the rocky slopes of the Dandenong Ranges and Willam translates to “home Country of these people”. The materiality of stone is represented throughout the development with reference to the clan.

Related: A benchmark for sustainable development has been set by ClarkeHopkinsClarke

ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects - AHV Dandenong

“Ngaruk Willam translates roughly to stone dwellers, so we played with that theme. The use of stone is a reoccurring design element. We have stones in gabion cages, stone walls at the front of the development and on the north facing courtyard. That flows through into the interiors, where block work and exposed concrete features give these homes a solid feel,” says Gilliland.

At the heart of the project is a north-facing communal courtyard and garden where residents can gather, interact and foster connection. Plant selection was driven by cultural significance and includes species with medicinal and culinary uses. Among the selection are coastal banksias, silver princess and chalksticks that help support biodiversity and offer ecological resilience.

Gilliland comments, “We worked with the Indigenous landscape designer to be quite selective in what was planted. So the courtyard is a nice spot for reflection or a bit of respite from the apartments.”

ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects - AHV Dandenong

The design delivers thermal comfort alongside the safety and security essential for social housing but it also helps destigmatise negative perceptions of social housing in the neighbourhood with the townhouse typology.

Robust and durable materials include steel panels that will gradually oxidise and bring to the design a more earthy patina. Gilliland has also designed patterned external screens that are a representation of local clans that dwell along the river. Internally, textural hoop pine ply linings are used along with polished concrete floors, blackbutt timber stair battens and terrazzo tiles. The design is culturally sensitive and considers residents’ lived experiences in its choice of colours, form and materiality.

ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects - AHV Dandenong

The project not only addresses social sustainability but environment initiatives that support high-quality, low-impact and low-cost living.

As an all-electric development in a 20-minute neighbourhood there is transport and amenities. The building itself achieves an average NatHERS energy rating of 6.4-Stars and on the roof is a 10kW solar system that produces 12,900kWh of electricity on-site annually. Heating and cooling are provided by energy efficient reverse-cycle air conditioners and ceiling fans and 18,000 litre rainwater tanks are used for flushing toilets and landscape irrigation.

AHV Dandenong’s mix of high-quality built form, detailing and culturally significant communal landscaping is exceptional among Aboriginal social housing. It is a template for future developments and provides best practice design for residents.

ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects - AHV Dandenong

Gilliland reflects, “This a good development that really responds to tenant engagement conversations and AHV’s aspirations around helping to break generational cycles of inequity. These apartments might be the catalyst for some of these First Nations people to find stability and build a new future.”

We all need a place to call home that is designed well, offers amenity and provides a secure base from which to work, learn and play. With AHV Dandenong, there is the chance for First Nations people to thrive and may there be many more developments like this that can really make a difference to the way people live.

Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV) Dandenong by ClarkeHopkinsClarke (CHC) is an entry to The Multi-Residential Building at the 2024 INDE.Awards and this category is proudly partnered by Cult.

ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects

Diana Snape

ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects - AHV Dandenong

Next up: Bradfield City Centre, the climate-responsive masterplan aiming to green Western Sydney

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