An empathetic multi-residential neighbourhood by TANDEM Design Studio keeps a small community connected.

A strong intergenerational migrant population and a history of relative housing affordability make West Footscray a melting pot of culture and community. 

These grassroots connections lie at the heart of Lions Club of Footscray, a small housing village home to 21 predominantly elderly Filipina women. The existing site comprises a ring of modest homes at the perimeter of open green, with the shared Lions Club rooms at the entrance. 

With the most recent additions to the village installed in the 1970s, many of the buildings are well worn and no longer fit for purpose. Linked through a mutual friend, Lions Club member and past president Bert Jessup approached TANDEM for a considered, contemporary design to secure the village’s future.

“When we came to the project, the community already had all the elements present in many successful co-share house models overseas,” says Tim Hill, director at TANDEM Design Studio. “We saw an opportunity to apply some of that thinking more intentionally. It became a question of: how can we make good housing design available to more people?”

The largely migrant residents’ shared cultural values of mutual aid and communal living are reflected throughout a considered and empathetic design. The original courtyard, evidence of the site’s prior usage as a bluestone quarry, is retained and interpreted through a shared green space filled with benches, lush landscaping and areas for residents and visitors to congregate, more akin to a village green.

The project’s street-facing civic presence required particular sensitivity, given its significant role within the community, the need for security and privacy, as well as its increased future potential for suburban activation. A staggered angular line of hipped roof forms emulates its surrounding forms, presenting a confident silhouette. 

“The forms are house-like without being a house, and communal without being homogenous – each home has an individual identity within the bigger building,” says Tim.

Open balconies with double aspects to the north and west welcome the outdoors in, maximising access to natural light and cross-ventilation while reinforcing a connection to neighbours in the suburban setting. Multiple operable windows also contribute to the project’s environmentally sustainable quality, reducing the need for powered heat in winter and cooling in summer. 

This deliberate openness and porosity are in stark contrast to what has become the unfortunate social housing status quo; historically typified by more introverted, poorly lit, cramped and bunker-like environs. TANDEM’s reimagined Footscray Lions Cooperative Village is instead designed foremost to support the individual health of its ageing inhabitants and preserve the vital, nourishing interactions that sustain this small community.

The streamlined new multi-residential building more than doubles capacity from 21 to 49 units, allowing Lions Club to increase their capacity to provide safe assisted accommodation and welcome more residents to the village. Internal spaces are designed in a flexible modular fashion, with optional room layouts. These include studio apartments for single residents, one bed plus study for couples and 2 bedrooms to accommodate some residents’ preference to share their home with a partner or flatmate. 

“The design is a real standout in my mind,” says Michael Dunne at Metropol Planning. “It’s rare to find a project of this scale where there’s not a single dud apartment in the building – each one is of tremendous quality.”

The exemplary level of detail, consideration, and community benefit evident in TANDEM’s design provided a concrete vision for the project. It enabled a pathway of advocacy which – with dedicated support from partners at United Housing Co-Operative and sub-consultants at Metropol Planning and Legata Projects – ultimately enabled Lions Club to realise its new design-led future. 

“In town planning, for something to be worthy of approval, it needs to demonstrate a net community benefit under the planning legislation,” says Michael. “With a project like this, there are so many great benefits from a broader community perspective, but especially for those who will occupy the apartments.”

Happily, for the residents, Lions Club, and the network of consultants and collaborators who have rallied to see this project built, TANDEM’s Footscray Lions Cooperative Village redevelopment will be one of the flagship projects being funded through the Victorian state government’s Big Housing Build.

Importantly, beyond what has been achieved in West Footscray, TANDEM’s ambitious design advances the model for social housing in Melbourne. The research and groundwork for this project also included exploring prefabrication and volume building, positing a simple and replicable framework for genuinely good, affordable homes where people from all walks of life can live in health, dignity and community.

This post-lockdown economic and industry stimulus strategy, announced in late 2020, represents $5.3 billion allocated to build 12,000 social housing projects in Melbourne and regional areas. 

The new Footscray Lions Cooperative Village is scheduled to open in April 2023.

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