Brunswick 1
CYCLE 01 2022

Living Together

Living Together

Long Story, Short

An investigation into socially sustainable housing in Brunswick. Housing affordability and sustainability is examined with architects, developers, and residents through sharing their experiences.

What We’re Exploring

Living Together explores collective (deliberative) housing – a model focused on sharing and living together – as an alternative approach to housing that has emerged in Melbourne in the last 10 years. This research investigates the future potential for deliberative development and how it might address issues concerning affordability, sustainability and urbanisation. Throughout the project, conversations about the research will be shared through design studios, public discussions, exhibition and publication.

Project Team

The Living Together Project Report is here!

Led by the research of Architecture and Urban Design PHD Candidate Rebecca Roke and Architecture Associate Professor Richard Black, we wanted to understand how housing at density may be designed and procured differently to typical speculative, market-led models that exist within the Melbourne context.

We explored the ‘economy of shared resources’, considering how – and if – shared resources of collective housing models impact on the everyday experience of residents.

We identified 8 design strategies that repeat across 3 case studies – including a shift towards more green and open spaces, flexible rooms to support functional change, and activation of the ground plane.

Our early findings point to a range of opportunities that this housing model may provide through the lens of design, policy, forming strong and stable communities, and economic benefits.

This Living Together Research Project strengthened our understanding of the impact shared resources have on the lived experience of residents in collective housing forms, and contributes to solutions for living together better at greater density.

Together, we’re tackling real-world, urban challenges and seeking innovations that improve liveability, connection, and community resilience; and ultimately evolve spaces into places.

This report will be shared with our local government and industry partners. Please feel free to send this link on to anyone or any organisation that might be intrigued!

Explore more in our full report available to download from the ‘Download Report’ button above.

An Orange file with the title 'Living Together'

Living Together Map and Guide

Our Academic Lead Rebecca Roke, together with our Brunswick team, produced a map and guide to innovative housing in Brunswick. It details key collective housing projects in our neighbourhood, including three developments at the core of the Living Together Research Project: Nightingale Evergreen, Balfe Park Lane and Davison Collaborative.

The map and guide also collates a range of innovative medium-density housing, town houses, and Nightingale Housing across Brunswick, Thornbury, Northcote and Coburg.

‘Living Together: Stories from the Collective’ event. Image by Emily Short.

Living Together map and guide at the ‘Living Together: Stories from the Collective’ event at MPavilion. Images 1 & 4 by Emily Short. Images 2 & 3 by RMIT PlaceLab.

Collect a copy from our Brunswick Research Studio and take a self-guided walking tour.

Living Together: Stories from the Collective

On Saturday 4th March, we joined the MPavilion program to present an MTalk, ‘Living Together: Stories from the Collective’, in the Queen Victoria Gardens under the vivid orange and red canopy designed by all(zone).

We brought together a panel of residents living in local collective housing developments – Balfe Park Lane (Brunswick East), Nightingale 2 (Fairfield) and 122 Roseneath Street (Clifton Hill) – to explore the reality of sharing amenities and living together better in the context of growing population density.

‘Living Together: Stories from the Collective’ panel discussion at MPavilion. Image by Emily Short.

Facilitated by our academic lead on the Living Together Research Project, Rebecca Roke, the discussion focused on the resident experience of collective housing and explored themes of sustainability, activating community, underperformance, like-mindedness, and value for money.

Panellists Jen, Ray and Johannes shared stories from their lived experiences, touching on topics such as, the strength of their connections with neighbours, the tricky balance between safety and openness in the building, and the impact of the car-free strategy for some developments on the neighbourhoods they call home.

‘Living Together: Stories from the Collective’ panel discussion at MPavilion. Images by Emily Short.

With residents from a variety of deliberative and speculative developments represented on the panel, the group was able to discuss the extent to which each of their buildings engaged in collective housing elements, such as sharing amenities and initiating a sense of community. Balfe Park Lane resident, Johannes Lupolo-Chan, shared:

“The more of these elements you can pick and choose and make it work for that local context, I think that will help give people a sense of ‘I’m going to feel comfortable and safe in this space’, so it’s more about diversity and some will have a bit more shared, and some will be less shared. I think that’s the really important part of the conversation.”

‘Living Together: Stories from the Collective’ panel discussion at MPavilion. Image by Emily Short.

If you weren’t able to join us on the day, the MTalk recording is now available. You’ll find the MPavilion link below.

A huge thank you to our wonderful panellists for sharing your time and insights, and to all of you who came along to enjoy the discussion with us!

‘Living Together: Stories from the Collective’ panel discussion at MPavilion. Image by Emily Short.

Living Together Series Premiere event.

Living Together Series Premiere

We held our film screening and community discussion event this month at our Brunswick Research Studio. Gathering community members, students, and local council together, we explored local collective housing projects in Brunswick and Brunswick East with academic researcher Rebecca Roke.

It marked the release of three short films created by Rebecca, our Brunswick team, and videographer Matt Quattro of On Q Media, in collaboration with four interviewees and homeowners from the projects: Nightingale Evergreen, Balfe Park Lane and Davison Collaborative.

Film screening and walking tour.

Attendees had the opportunity to hear the progress of Rebecca’s research with RMIT PlaceLab Brunswick and share in a community discussion. For the Living Together Research Project, Rebecca wanted to understand ‘what life’s really like living more closely together, and does it really make any difference to live in collective housing compared to a ‘normal’ home?’.


‘How do residents take on decisions together? Are there things that take you by surprise? Are there things that you grow to love – that you just can’t imagine life without? What are the main reasons why people are adopting a collective approach in Melbourne?’

The discussion amongst the group touched on key elements such as sustainability, scale, cost, self-management, community, and connection in the context of the local case study projects presented. We wrapped up the event with a walking tour to visit two Brunswick-based projects: Nightingale Evergreen and Davison Collaborative. This allowed the group to take a closer look at external design details, contextualise the projects within the surrounding neighbourhoods and chat informally about the topic with Rebecca and the RMIT PlaceLab team.

Walking tour to Nightingale Evergreen and Davison Collaborative.

A big thank you to everyone who joined us on the night and for sharing your insights, questions and experiences!

Living Together at Nightingale Evergreen

Nightingale Evergreen is part of the Nightingale Village in Brunswick, located on Wurundjeri Country in Melbourne’s inner north. This precinct of six architect-designed buildings follows Nightingale Housing (NGH) principles to support social, environmental, and financial sustainability.

Completed in 2022, Evergreen was designed by Clare Cousins Architects and, with only 27 apartments, is the smallest building in the village. Instead of individual laundries, the building includes a communal rooftop laundry and washing lines. This idea, which is seen across NGH projects, aims for more sustainable operation and creates more space within individual homes. It also brings together residents informally during their day-to-day activities. Other shared resources include a rooftop garden, productive vegetable garden, dedicated bicycle parking, and access to shared vehicles at the car-free village.

We sat down with residents Katherine Sundermann and Andy Fergus to hear what life is like at Nightingale Evergreen, giving us a sense of their home and common spaces at the project.

“We don’t have any reason why we wouldn’t stay here for as long as we possibly can.”

– Andy Fergus, Nightingale Evergreen resident

Development Name: Nightingale Evergreen
Designer: Clare Cousins Architects
Developer: Nightingale Housing

Film produced by: RMIT PlaceLab Brunswick’s Living Together Research Project
Narrated by: Rebecca Roke
Interviewees: Katherine Sundermann & Andy Fergus
Filming and video production: Matt Quattro from OnQ Media

Further resources:

Katherine and Andy’s Nightingale Evergreen home.

Living Together at Davison Collaborative

Davison Collaborative is located in Brunswick on Wurundjeri Country in Melbourne’s inner north. This award-winning project follows a collaborative model of development, similar to Danish cohousing. The owners pooled their resources and professional expertise in architecture, sustainability, and project management; together, they created three town houses on what was a single residential block.

The goal was to create homes of quality, with excellent environmental performance. Powered by solar and battery-stored energy, they are entirely electric.

We sat down with resident and Archier Director Chris Gilbert to hear what life is like at Davison Collaborative, giving us a sense of his family’s home and their experience developing this project.

“That idea of community through the type of building you live in is interesting and really joyful.”

– Chris Gilbert, Davison Collaborative resident and Archier Director

Development Name: Davison Collaborative
Designer: Archier Architects
Developer: Hip v Hype Developments

Film produced by: RMIT PlaceLab Brunswick’s Living Together Research Project
Narrated by: Rebecca Roke
Interviewee: Chris Gilbert
Filming and video production: Matt Quattro from OnQ Media
Living room artwork credits (L to R): Rosie Hastie, Camilla Perkins, Saskia Wilson, Melanie Macilwain and Kayleigh Heydon.

Further resources:

Chris Gilbert’s Davison Collaborative home.

Living Together at Balfe Park Lane

Balfe Park Lane is located on Wurundjeri Country in Melbourne’s inner northern suburb of Brunswick East. As the name suggests, Balfe Park Lane has a close relationship to its location, situated between Balfe Park and Nicholson Street.

Completed in 2021, Balfe Park Lane was designed by Kerstin Thompson Architects and comprises 72 homes. This award-winning project was market-led yet it is notable for including priorities often found in collective housing models, such as responsible environmental performance and communal resources for residents.

We sat down with resident Johannes Lupolo-Chan to hear what life is like at Balfe Park Lane, giving us a sense of his home and the project’s common spaces.

“The open spaces, access to natural light and views and greenery; those are the things that make you feel better and happier, and better for your wellbeing, so that’s I think what sets it apart from other similar buildings.”

– Johannes Lupolo-Chan, Balfe Park Lane resident

Development name: Balfe Park Lane
Designer: Kerstin Thompson Architects (KTA)
Developer: Antipodean Land Developments

Film produced by: RMIT PlaceLab Brunswick’s Living Together Research Project
Narrated by: Rebecca Roke
Interviewee: Johannes Lupolo-Chan
Filming and video production: Matt Quattro from OnQ Media

Further resources:

Johannes’ Balfe Park Lane home.

An architect's drawing of an angular white building against the blue sky.

Living Together Design Studio work by RMIT Architecture student Ruitian Li.

Living Together Design Studio Exhibition

Brunswick is undergoing significant urban transformation, particularly along the Upfield train corridor, and its existing character is at stake.

Led by A/Prof Richard Black, the Living Together Design Studio with RMIT Bachelor of Architecture students explored a new housing typology for Brunswick, one that emerges from a reliance upon shared amenity. This applies to the interior, where residents share a laundry, a meeting room, or more and the exterior, where the sharing of air rights above an existing building may enable more opportunistic additions to the urban fabric.

The proposed housing typology for Brunswick responds to the suburb’s mix of industries, manufacturing, and creative practitioners, as well as emerging urban changes like housing densification and transport infrastructure.

The exhibition held at RMIT PlaceLab Brunswick from 18/11/2022 until 3/12/2022 was a culmination of the semester’s work. Congratulations to A/Prof Richard Black and all the students on their fantastic work!

An architect's drawing of a multistory house.
An architect's drawing of an undercover walkway.

Living Together Design Studio work by RMIT Architecture student by Yannis Nicolandos.

Behind-the-Scenes: Filming the Walking Tour

As part of our Living Together research project, we’re creating a walking tour of three local collective housing residences in our community. The walking tour will take place in early 2023, beginning at RMIT PlaceLab Brunswick. We’re very excited about this project and we’re looking forward to sharing more details soon! Until then, here’s a a behind-the-scenes look of filming some of the interviews.

A father and young daughter in the front yard, viewed through a window.
Filming at Davison Collaborative, Brunswick.

Filming at Davison Collaborative, Brunswick.

We will walk to each residence to watch a pre-recorded video interview with a resident to learn about their experiences and peek inside their home and the communal spaces of the residences. Pre-recording the interview protects the privacy of the residents who are taking part in the project, while also increasing the accessibility for people to participate in the walking tour through a digital option able to be viewed online.

Three people filming in a red brick laneway.

Filming at Balfe Park Lane, Brunswick East.

Combining a walking tour with watching the filmed interviews allows us to see how the residences are situated in their neighbourhood and the proximity to local amenities. We will watch and discuss the films “in situ” to learn more about what it’s like to live in collective housing.

Three people in a kitchen, one person is pointing at something off screen.
A close-up shot of a book shelf and kitchen table.

Filming at Nightingale Evergreen.

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A French Bulldog sitting up like a good boy.
A fluffy black dog on a burnt orange couch.

Furry friends during filming.

Research Methods: Interviews in the Home

One of the key research aims for Living Together is to learn about the lived experience of collective housing, which are residential developments that rely on shared amenities and are built at a greater density than traditional detached suburban homes. The research asks whether the promises of collective housing and living closer together, with amenities like shared rooftop gardens and communal spaces, eventuate for residents?

To learn about lived experience, it is critical to consider the choice of research methods to ensure empathetic research. For this project, interviews were chosen as a research method because they are a reliable way to “produce conversational, emotional and empathetic research encounters” (Pink 2012, 41). Rebecca Roke, the lead researcher, chose a semi-structured interview format to offer a ‘window into worlds’ that allows participants to contribute observations or opinions as well as answering pre-set questions. She said, “Participants can paint a personal picture of their world and themselves – a quality that is considered especially appropriate when discussing their home environment.”

Interviews offer a ‘window into worlds’. People can paint a personal picture of their world and themselves – a quality that is especially appropriate when discussing their home environment.

A photo of a living room corner showing bookshelf and timber ceiling.

Photos that illustrate a resident’s lived experience, taken during an interview for the Living Together project.

The ‘window into worlds’ approach of the interview was further encouraged by situating the interviews in the home. This allowed each person to speak to their lived experience while pointing out different elements of their home that affects their everyday experiences. Residents were asked about their views on what a project felt like to inhabit, whether it met or failed to meet their expectations, any key areas within the shared amenities that they felt were notably successful or unsuccessful, and why they held that opinion. Specific questions about home ownership and consumption were also asked to understand residents’ wealth or lack thereof and, by extension, if collective housing was unevenly occupied by an educated middle-class demographic as determined in other surveys of collective living (Jakobsen & Larsen, 2019).

A home and its inhabitants transform each other – Daniel Miller

Interviews that occur in the privacy of the home have the potential to feel intrusive, but they also allow the researcher to understand the ways in which “a home and its inhabitants transform each other” (Miller 2001, 2). The potential to capture and analyse the transformative action between residents and shared resources of collective housing underpins the research project and its potential findings. It acknowledges the importance of good design in facilitating ways of living together cooperatively and collectively, while sustaining a desired quality of life.

It is anticipated there will be interviews with 45 residents across 9 collective housing projects, with additional contextual interviews with architects and developers for each project. We are already learning so much from the interviews conducted and look forward to sharing some early insights with you soon.

Jakobsen, Peter, and Henrik Gutzon Larsen. 2019 “An Alternative for Whom? The Evolution and Socio-Economy of Danish Cohousing.” Urban Research and Practice 2(4): 414-430.
Miller, Daniel. 2001. Home Possessions: Material Culture behind Closed Doors. Oxford; New York: Berg.
Pink, Sarah. 2012. Situating Everyday Life Practices and Places. Los Angeles: SAGE.

A kitchen with timber ceilings and white cupboards.
A photo of a balcony overlooking the park.

Photos that illustrate a resident’s lived experience, taken during an interview for the Living Together project.

Meet the Researcher: Rebecca Roke

Meet one of our researchers, Rebecca Roke. Rebecca is a doctoral researcher in the School of Architecture and Urban Design at RMIT University. We sat down with her to learn more about her research interests and the collaborative Living Together research project.

A site visit to Nightingale Evergreen, Brunswick. Image: RMIT PlaceLab.

“By listening to the lived experience of those on the ground, we can begin to understand what the collective as a whole wants, doesn’t want, and what they are willing to compromise on.”

What has been the focus of your previous research projects?

Most of my research makes a connection to the built environment, and the world of making, drawing on my career as writer and editor and my training as an architect. I enjoy working across different topics and media within that broad spectrum: whether through my books Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things and Mobitecture: Life on the Move, both of which consider the rise of small built footprints – or through the wider consideration of building types – from architectural and design monographs, to analysis of particular movements – Brutalism, for instance.

Why the Living Together project?

The provision of housing continues to be a pressing topic in Australia. It is a fundamental need that can be read in the context of three key concerns: the cost of living, the impacts of a changing climate, and a population that is both ageing and growing. Combined, these pressures mean we need to think carefully about how we live together – and in particular, how we may achieve housing density in the suburbs without sacrificing high quality of life. Living Together forms part of my wider doctoral research into collective housing as a new typology that aims to offer an alternative to the typical Australian duality of a standalone home or speculative apartment.

Two women walking along a red brick walkway.

A site visit to Balfe Park Lane, Brunswick East. Image: RMIT PlaceLab.

“We need to think carefully about how we live together – and in particular, how we may achieve housing density in the suburbs without sacrificing high quality of life.”

How do you hope that Living Together will have impact in the wider community?

Hearing from local residents and learning what they fear and favour about the way housing affects them, their neighbourhood – and the larger, civic scale is an important aspect of this research. By listening to the lived experience of those on the ground, we can begin to understand what the collective as a whole wants, doesn’t want, and what they are willing to compromise on.

Why have you chosen to work with the RMIT PlaceLab team for Living Together?

My research focus shares some productive overlaps with the aims of RMIT PlaceLab. In particular, the four housing case studies that form part of my research project are located in the Brunswick suburb. RMIT PlaceLab offers a terrific opportunity to explore this connection to place – Brunswick – more closely, and to gain a more broad understanding ‘on the ground’ of how densification, and particularly collective housing, is perceived by the community.

What is Collective Housing?

Collective Housing describes a range of different housing types that focus on collaborative participation, affordability, shared resources, and connection to community. Some recent Australian examples include Nightingale Housing, Assemble Futures, and Property Collectives, all local to Melbourne.

An overhead photo of a communal dinner.

A communal dinner in Brunswick. Image: Kate Longley, Nightingale Housing

The roots of collective housing are often traced to European precedents that prioritise sharing, such as German Baugruppe, meaning ‘self-build’ or ‘building group’, Danish co-housing (bofaellesskab), and Swiss cooperatives. While the housing types and projects may vary, there is a shared intention of community-oriented living.

For more information on collective housing, you can read recent articles on the growth of communal living in Australia and co-living, community and affordable housing or check out the Australian Collaborative Housing resource.

Living Together at Melbourne Knowledge Week

RMIT PlaceLab was introduced as RMIT University’s new research initiative at Melbourne Knowledge Week in May 2022. This included a first look at our research projects for Cycle 01, including Living Together.

The event was held at The Capitol as part of the RMIT Culture Talks series. Researchers Dr Richard Black and Rebecca Roke spoke about the Living Together Research Project, asking the community about the main challenges to housing choice in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.

Follow along here with the Living Together project as we explore the experiences of residents living in collective housing in Merri-bek.

A 3D architectural model of a townhouse.

Communal living space. Image: Michael James Christian

A man delivers a speech at a podium.
A panel discussion includes a woman on a screen giving a speech online.
A group of people with drinks after the event.

Melbourne Knowledge Week. Images: RMIT.

RMIT PlaceLab acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the Eastern Kulin Nations on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University.

RMIT PlaceLab respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present, as the original and continuing Makers of Place.

Brunswick 3
CYCLE 02 2023

Wear & Care