In Melbourne, Cirqua Apartments’ defining row of oculi has its roots in the Ivanhoe’s arts and crafts history.
Long known as a country of oversized suburban houses, Australia has recently witnessed an unprecedented rise in development consortiums churning out uninspiring apartment blocks. In particular, downtown Melbourne has seen an overabundance of generic glass towers filled with micro-units designed more for investment than for setting down roots.
By contrast, the Cirqua Apartments in Ivanhoe East, an established neighbourhood in the northeastern part of the city, is a mid-density residence that accommodates a multitude of lifestyles and family sizes. It’s the work of BKK Architects, a local firm that has, over nearly two decades, experimented with all types of building projects that respond sensitively to their contexts.
One of the driving forces behind Cirqua, says BKK founding director Simon Knott, was a desire to diversify the inhabitants by offering a range of unit types. There are 38 floor plans within the 43-unit complex. The bulk of them are 80-square-metre two-bedroom apartments, while the remaining range from bigger (110 square metres for three bedrooms) to smaller (50 square metres for one). And each receives ample natural light and ventilation via a generous outdoor space that extends living areas outside. “It was really about giving people the sense they have their own individual house,” says Knott. The units, designed to appeal to owner-occupiers, have attracted young urban professionals along with older couples looking to downsize.
One of Cirqua’s most appealing features is its animated facade, where six 3.3-metre-wide oculi puncture the blue-grey brick cladding. Knott says his firm took its cues from some of the nearby houses that were built during the Arts and Crafts movement, especially Chadwick House by Harold Desbrowe-Annear, who is largely credited with bringing the turn-of-the-century building style to Australia.
As Knott explains, houses like the Chadwick are stellar examples of how fine detailing and screening can achieve a visual reduction in scale and “create a sense of lyricism” across a facade. To that end, Cirqua’s unique frontage is intended to create the illusion that this four-storey complex is only two storeys high. From the street, it could be confused for a cluster of townhouses. In fact, its seven-metre slope from north to south facilitates this scaling down of the mass.
Inside, the planning is a simple arrangement, with the apartments organized along a central corridor clad in locally sourced Victorian ash battens. This double-barrel approach generates a mix of shared courtyards and private outdoor spaces. There is significant landscaping integrated into the surrounds, to capture the “garden city” essence of Ivanhoe. “Essentially the idea was to mix native and exotic species and maximize a green buffer to the adjacent properties.” Ornamental pear trees have been planted along one side boundary while flowering banksias and Yellow Box and lightwood trees define the entrance areas.
During a recent visit, the two-bedroom apartment facing onto the street revealed just how effectively those porthole windows framed views of the landscaped zones and nearby terraces; the motif was echoed throughout the interior, from the custom stainless-steel light fixtures within the corridors to the circular mirrors and white penny round ceramic tiles found in the bathroom. Such attention to detail is yet another sign Cirqua is not just another condo development.
Multi-unit low-rise apartments
Ivanhoe East, Melbourne, Australia
BKK Architects, Melbourne
1,361 sq. m
2,200 sq. m
Daniel Robertson brick
Timber, stone and tile