Melbourne’s community by design
How Melbourne architects are helping people love thy neighbour.
In the back streets of Fitzroy, between buzzy cafes and cheek-by-jowl workers cottages, is a secret garden secluded behind a high red-brick wall.
This quiet haven, shaded by two wattle trees, with a trampoline, barbecue and long wooden table, belongs to architect Kerstin Thompson – or rather to Kerstin and two other families.
The group pooled resources in 2000 to buy a 440-square-metre site that included four red-brick buildings from Fitzroy’s industrial past, all facing on to a large common garden.
Kerstin’s brother and his family moved into the three-storey, former Ace Billiards factory on the north side of the site; Kerstin, with her young son, made a home in the west-facing two-storey former warehouse; and the third family moved into an early-20th-century building on the south side. Kerstin’s architectural practice KTA leased the fourth building as its office.
The idea, explains Kerstin, was that rather than each family scraping together funds to buy a small inner-city house with a tiny backyard, as a group they could secure a substantial plot in the suburb they loved, with a large shared garden where the kids could run around. “We could keep an eye on each other’s children and share things like toys and garden tools.”
But friends and family weren’t convinced. “They thought we were mad,” recalls Kerstin. “They said, what will you do if there’s friction between the households or a dispute and someone wants to sell out. How will you get out of it?”