Post-war architecture inspires terraces focused on masonry, brickwork

Freadman White Architects is extremely familiar with this site, a stone’s throw from the Fitzroy town house. But in contrast to the adjacent apartment building Whitlam Place, this new development has its own “voice”.

Whitlam Place, also designed by Freadman White Architects, received an award from the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA Victorian Chapter).

Milieu wanted a design that had its own style of architecture.
Milieu wanted a design that had its own style of architecture.Credit:Gavin Green

Their latest apartments, Napier for Milieu, received the Best Overend Award from the AIA a year later.

“Milieu wanted a design that had its own style of architecture, something that was different to our previous project, but one that found its own architectural expression,” says architect Michel White, who worked closely with co-director and architect Ilana Freadman.


While Whitlam Place is more brutalist in style, with beautifully expressed concrete walls, here the focus is on masonry, hit-and-miss-brickwork and large sliding glass windows and doors that allow the interior spaces to “blur” with the terraces.

With Milieu’s brief to create homes rather than cookie-cutter identical apartments over the five levels, essentially pitched at the home-owner market, there is also a variety of spaces: from one-bedroom apartments at 60 square metres, through to three-bedroom dwellings up to almost 150 square metres in area.

Two-storey townhouse-style apartments are in the mix, as well as two-bedroom apartments in the order of 75 square metres.

“The idea was to create different floor plans to cater for essentially young professionals and empty nesters scaling down,” says Freadman.

Unlike the Whitlam Place apartments, which benefited from unencumbered vistas on three sides, for this development on roughly the same size site (approximately 400 square metres), there is only the eastern orientation to Napier Street and the western elevation from the rear laneway.

The scheme became two buildings separated by a broad internal landscaped terrace, located at the core, on every alternative level.

One of the starting points for Freadman White Architects was the post-war apartments by Sir Roy Grounds, especially a cream-brick walk-up arrangement in Arden Street, North Melbourne.

As inspiring for the architects was Heidi II in Bulleen, designed in 1967 by McGlashan & Everist for John and Sunday Reed as a home/gallery. “We love the sense of arrival – across a bridge and a walk through a series of garden-walled spaces,” says White, who was also trying to create a sense of lightness in the urban landscape rather than at Heidi.

While the hit-and-miss brickwork (a 1950s technique) at the Napier Street apartments adds a decorative layer, while the large sliding doors and steel balustrades provide an important function: ventilation, with a vent behind these bricks allowing fresh air to circulate.

Likewise, the large steel doors can be adjusted to allow the steel balustrades to function as Juliet-style balconies.

Freadman White Architects also delivered highly bespoke interiors, akin to those one would expect in an architect-designed house or renovation.

The kitchens, for example, feature some of the materials used for the exterior, such as a brass hand on the timber-battened front door (to allow ventilation in the lobby).

Brass detailing appears in the kitchen joinery, with the marble island bench beautifully hovering above the timber floors on brass legs.

“We’ve used local timbers, such as Tasmanian oak, to add texture and warmth to complement the concrete ceilings,” says Freadman, who was conscious of the effect using plaster on the ceilings would have.

“This way we can elevate the height of the ceilings,” adds Freadman, pointing out the track lighting.

Other design features, such as the large pivotal steel doors in the studio apartments located at ground level, allow the spaces to be manipulated; the bedroom can be closed off at night, or the door can be left open during the day.

“We wanted owners to engage with the architecture, make it their own, rather than giving them just something that would be repeated somewhere else,” says White, who with Freadman, want passersby to enjoy the same level of engagement.

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