A humble student accommodation block in Redfern has won a prestigious award for residential architecture, beating some of the best new apartment buildings in Sydney.
The 18-level, 370-bed Iglu student building in Redfern has picked up the Architectural Award for multiple housing in the annual Australian Institute of Architects NSW Awards on Friday, July 5.
While most of the other finalists were complexes of new luxury apartments, the Bates Smart-designed conversion and amalgamation of 10 two-storey terraces with a tower above was deemed to be a standout.
“The quality of the spaces is amazing,” said the chair of the judges’ jury, Conrad Johnston of Fox Johnston. “They had a simple idea of amalgamating terrace houses and putting shops into them on the ground level, which has saved the heritage feel of the area.
“They saved that facade and then introduced great communal spaces for the students where they can meet other people and be social, which is so important when you’re looking at issues of mental health for students.”
The building, at the corner of Regent and Redfern streets, was given the award along with Stanisic Architects’ Imperial apartments in Hurstville, and OneA in the Ashmore precinct in the inner west by Breakspear Architects and KANN FINCH. The named award in the same category, the Aaron Bolot Award, was won by Candalepas Associates for apartments in North Rocks.
Iglu Redfern opened its doors to students in February this year and instantly proved one of the most popular accommodation buildings in Australia. Close to three universities – Sydney University, UTS and Notre Dame – it’s also centrally located, just steps from Redfern Station and all the cafes and nightlife of the area.
It’s part of a rapidly expanding sector, with a Knight Frank report last year saying that by the end of 2017 there were only 93,890 purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) bedspaces available, compared with 337,117 international students studying in higher education in Australia.
In an education sector that was worth $28 billion in the 2016-17 financial year, rising 16 per cent over the same period the year before, the report concluded that the lack of good accommodation could impact the industry. Further, it said that “a lack of good quality and affordable PBSA bedspaces could be detrimental to a university’s reputation and ability to recruit the best students”.
Iglu Redfern could be an important step in that direction.
Yet Bates Smart director Guy Lake was taken aback by the award. “I’m always a sceptical whether a jury is able to get its head around student accommodation,” he said. “You’re trying to deliver buildings for people on a budget so comparing them to high-end residential is a very different proposition.
“Virtually all student accommodation doesn’t mix with other uses, and is standalone, but this is very different in that Iglu agreed to retain the ground plan for retail which enabled us to knit together some of the existing laneways, and then selected the tenancies very carefully.”
Those two-storey terraces, redolent of the area generally, helped create a lively streetscape so different to those of so many other student blocks. Then on level one of the building it’s all communal areas with a lot of shared facilities and generous, double-height spaces, both indoor and outdoor, overlooking the street and laneways for students to study and get together. Studio apartments and four, five and six-bedroom apartment clusters occupy the tower levels.
The awards jury praised the fine grain of the terrace fronts, the slender tower and the communal spaces for helping create a vibrant community. Its citation for the award said: “… communal student areas are co-located on level one of the podium and are complemented by an outdoor terrace. This communal heart has an up-beat atmosphere and engages with the tempo of the neighbourhood, overlooking activated laneways and Regent Street.
“In the tower student accommodation is spatially efficient, however, provides appropriate amenity, opportunities for natural ventilation and district views. Multiple aspects of student wellbeing have been considered throughout the internal planning of common, shared and private spaces.”
Bates Smart won another architectural award in 2013 for a much smaller student block, the eight-storey, 98-bed Iglu Central in Chippendale, which is often said to have set the benchmark for student accommodation generally in Australia.
“That was more modest in style,” said Mr Lake. “But I think this also sets another benchmark, this time for integrating retail with the housing and for how you can have a building like this that is sympathetic to the existing context, this time Redfern. It’s managed to preserve many of the things that students like about Redfern.”
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