Neometro: Design and Community Focused Development
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Founded in 1985, design-focused development group and certified B Corporation Neometro has been at the forefront of Melbourne’s housing paradigm shift from a suburban city dominated by the detached house on the proverbial quarter-acre block to one of vibrant, dense urban living.
Founder Jeff Provan likens Neometro’s work to an ‘orchestration’, bringing together and conducting the arrangement of the diverse array of parties and considerations required in any given project. This idea speaks to the company’s approach which sees Neometro beginning each project with no preconceived idea about what the building will be, instead taking the time to do significant research and consultation. “We’re not interested in replicating one project in different places, we’re about responding to locations and communities”, says Jeff.
While Neometro may attempt to begin with no preconceptions, they draw on their experience and values which inform each project. As Jeff says, “it’s not just about the shareholders, we’re focused on community, environment, our employees, and, above all, creating something with substance. It’s about more than the bottom line”. As a developer, demographics and statistics are an important part of the decision-making process, but, Jeff explains, these are not the cornerstones of a project’s success. Rather, Neometro developments have succeeded as a result of something more intangible that “goes beyond the physical design and the mathematical equations of the apartments”, says Jeff.
Founder Jeff Provan likens Neometro’s work to an ‘orchestration’, bringing together and conducting the arrangement of the diverse array of parties and considerations required in any given project.
“We’re now building micro-neighbourhoods”, he continues. “In a high-rise building of 200 apartments you might bump into a neighbour in the carpark or the lift, there is no sense of community, no neighbourhood”. Such buildings also do not generally contribute to the street or the existing local community, whereas Neometro developments are mixed-use, with local businesses located below and communal spaces for the residents that foster genuine personal connections. This includes well-loved communal gardens, but also other shared amenities such as a bike storage and maintenance area in their Brunswick development, and a meeting place in an upcoming building where residents who work from home can conduct business outside of a home or cafe environment.
These examples highlight the ‘intangible’ aspect of why Neometro buildings work – they foster community and personal connections, they are responsive to the changing life and work needs of the inhabitants, and their design and location helps people to free up precious time to do more of the things they love. Jeff says, “the most important things aren’t measurable, it’s feedback we get around the dinner table, people will say ‘We got rid of one car now that we live in an inner-city apartment, I have more time because my commute is shorter, we have more money to travel’ and so forth. Apartment living offers commodity we can’t buy – time. With communal spaces there is less maintenance, and the urban locations mean less travel time”.
“We’re not interested in replicating one project in different places, we’re about responding to locations and communities”.
Yet while Neometro may emphasise these aspects over the apartments’ physical attributes, the design itself has become a core part of Neometro’s identity. Over the years they have worked with numerous independent architects, interior designers and landscape architects and they take seriously the responsibility to build well-designed buildings that will last for the foreseeable future. The Harper Lane building in St Kilda is one such example. Completed in 2009, the building combines a strong concrete facade with an abundance of greenery in the form of a communal garden onto which almost every apartment has an aspect. The garden is typical of Neometro’s emphasis on green space in their projects, while the predominant use of concrete reflects their focus on quality, low-maintenance materials with a distinctive urban aesthetic.
“We minimise manufactured finished which do tend to wear out”, says Jeff. “Our mantra is ‘apartments that wear in, not out’, like a favourite quality pair of shoes, over time they may need a heel or laces replacing, but fundamentally they get better with age and remain in style over the years”. Externally, the design process involves a lot of time spent with urban designers to refine the clarity of the design, as “often what’s more important is what you take out, rather than what you put in”, he reflects. Internally, the emphasis is on the essentials – natural light, a green aspect, and high-quality detailing that quietly reinforces the design integrity. As Harper Lane shows, this approach results in a building that remains relevant, becoming an important part of the neighbourhood streetscape, while the residents settle in and apartments become homes, each with their own character.
“It’s not just about the shareholders, we’re focused on community, environment, our employees, and, above all, creating something with substance. It’s about more than the bottom line”.
One Harper Lane resident, a lawyer who bought off the plan in 2009, is a collector of art and furniture, both contemporary and antique. After 10 years living in the apartment, it is transformed into a highly personal “beautiful little home”, says Jeff. This reflects the intention to create interiors that offer “a refined well-considered concept that people, whether they’re creative or not can adapt to their own style”, he reflects. “Morris’s house is about creating his own environment, a nest within this building. If you tried to draw it on a plan, all the furniture and art that he has in there, you’d never believe it could work but in reality, it comes together beautifully”. By encouraging this kind of connection with one’s environment, whether the community at large or the space itself, the design not only stands the test of time but improves with the years as these connections deepen.
From their first project on Smith Street, Fitzroy in the 1980s when the area was “still pretty rugged”, the one thing Neometro have learnt is that “over time, is cities and areas change. You can’t prescribe it, it’s an evolution”, says Jeff. Now in their over 30 years working in Melbourne, Neometro have become part of this evolution, both responding to and driving the demand for well-designed, community focused apartment living.