Project Name: Nightingale Ballarat Apartments
Architecture: Breathe Architecture
Project Manager: Hygge Property
Location: Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Photo Credits: Derek Swalwell
Text by Breathe Architecture
2023 Australian Design Awards — Multi-Residential (Silver)
It’s 1854, and the city of Ballarat is alive with activity. People live upstairs in the center of town while making a living below. The tram rattles up and down Sturt Street to meet the growing city’s transport needs. Fast forward 165 years, post-motor vehicle ownership, through planning and zoning changes. Residents have fled to the city’s edges, to single houses following the great Australian Dream. After dark, Ballarat is now eerily quiet, a beautiful but dormant city. Continued urban sprawl, climate change, and an aging population have become of great concern for the city.
The City of Ballarat, undergoing massive population growth, has embarked on a strategic plan to bring residents back to the city, to restore it to the vibrant place it once was. The heart of this strategy is infill, adaptive reuse, and medium-density housing. Nightingale Ballarat is the granular delivery of this plan. A prototype for the city and its people to see if this bold plan could possibly work in a regional context, a test case for the viability and desire for medium density in Ballarat’s future.
Nightingale Ballarat includes one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, a rooftop garden and community room, a café, and an office on the ground floor, all 100% sold prior to completion. Its form is an elegant response to Ballarat’s 1800s boom-era architecture and the rhythm of its more austere brick neighbor to the north with an overarching priority towards social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
We made simple urban design gestures to activate the street. We took the powerlines underground, carved out a generous, semi-public courtyard, and planted a significant tree to throw shade over the footpath and built-in seats to improve the pedestrian experience. By pulling back from the northeast, we created a view of the ‘ghost sign’ on the neighboring wall. We worked with Council’s heritage team to restore the “McK’s Jelly Crystal” sign to give a glimpse back in time.
The building and basement were held back from the western edge to allow deep root planting of canopy trees. It steps down two storeys to the south to respond to the existing residential condition and allow for a not-too-distant future where the built form will be denser and taller. The arched facade is constructed from red bricks recycled from a Ballarat demolition site and talks to the historic Sturt St typologies while complementing the heritage building next door in materiality and line.
With zero gas, the project is powered by solar and 100% GreenPower. With an 8+ star NAtHERS rating, every home is cross ventilated with access to open-air walkways and operable windows. Materials are robust, recycled, and locally sourced wherever possible including windows and joinery made in Ballarat. A high-efficiency CO2 heat pump powers shared hydronic heating and hot water systems.
Importantly, 20% of apartments are allocated to Housing Choices Australia on a mission to provide safe, secure housing to those most in need. The entire building is step-less and accessible with flush transitions throughout. It’s inclusive and allows for effortless aging in place.