Our first Nightingale completed in Perth

Apr 20, 2023

Designed by EHDO, Nightingale Fremantle was completed last month. We spoke to Don Fini from Fini Sustainability, who brought Nightingale to WA.

How did Nightingale Fremantle come about?

I heard Jeremy [McLeod, Nightingale co-founder] speak at an architecture conference in Melbourne in 2014, about The Commons and the next project, Nightingale 1. Coming from a family of developers, I thought, ‘What a brilliant idea.’ So I put the word out to architects in WA, and then one firm in Fremantle decided to apply for a licence* for a Nightingale project. I ended up being the development and project manager, and the sustainability consultant.

What appealed to you about the Nightingale approach?

Thinking about the people who could be living there, rather than about making a profit. The opportunity to create a community with the residents. I liked the size of the buildings that Nightingale were delivering because they weren't too big. Also: making the building more sustainable and having less impact on the environment in the long term. 

How did you manage the process of keeping in touch with home purchasers during construction?

Unfortunately the ballot system didn't work in Western Australia. We had to take the conventional approach of selling the apartments. We didn't have the money to pay a real estate agent, so I did the selling. Then I organised meetings with the homebuyers every couple of months. Once construction started, we organised site tours on a regular basis.

What challenges did you overcome during the development and construction period?

We had the big issue with COVID causing delays. I supplied a lot of materials for the project, like finishes and things like that, because I'd save 10% on what the builders would charge me. Also, I could get a better rate because I could say, ‘It's for a Nightingale project,’ and a lot of suppliers gave us a slightly better discount. 

It's been an interesting challenge, understanding what the building industry is like today. I worked in the building industry back in the eighties; I'm a builder, and I ran our family's construction division. We were all teams, with the consultants, designers and our trades. We all worked together to achieve something properly. That doesn't happen today. It's all very administrative; it's not a team scenario. A lot of trades are very interested in only making big profits at the moment. 

What are your favourite features of the building design?

I like the reverse brick veneer, because you can get more insulation into that sort of construction. 

We have some two-storey apartments where we’ve made both levels accessible with the lift, with the bedrooms at the lower level. If people have children or they have difficulty walking up and down stairs, they can leave the apartment and use the lift to go to their bedrooms or the living room. That was something I came across in Berlin, where there was a project built the same way.

We use painted brickwork internally, which was a very popular Fremantle architectural thing back in the eighties and nineties. We used engineered timber flooring in some apartments, and engineered cork where we had an apartment above, because the acoustic performance of that was better. We did a fair bit of research on what we were trying to do acoustically. 

We have a big roof deck of 300 square metres. I know in Melbourne you generally use timber on balconies and roof decks. In Perth, our climate is a bit different. Sunshine is very harsh and it really greys the timber and blackens it in some situations. The maintenance cost is just too great. So we went for a porcelain paver on pedestals for our roof deck.

What are the other ways in which the design responds to the Perth climate conditions?

The building has really good solar passive design. All living rooms get solar gain in winter. All the apartments get cross-ventilation. We had an average NatHERS rating of 9.2 stars. 

We put an air conditioner in every apartment, because our climate is a little bit different to Melbourne. But we basically kept the same philosophy of Nightingale with 2.8m high ceilings as a minimum requirement in all the living spaces and most of the bedrooms, and good insulation, of course. We use ceiling fans in living rooms and in bedrooms. We couldn't afford to get heat pump hot water systems like what you've done in Melbourne projects, because it was going to cost us $4,000 per apartment (in Melbourne it's about half that price). So we used instantaneous electric hot water systems for each apartment. We've placed them to reduce the distance that the hot water is running. 

What are your hopes for the future of Nightingale in Perth?

I get asked, are you going to do another Nightingale in Perth? And I say, ‘I'll let you know in 12 months, once I've got the stories from the residents.’ I'm intrigued to find out how people go living there. You want to get the feedback from residents, to validate and give you the confidence to do another project.

Nightingale influences other people to think more sustainably. I've got one developer whose projects I'm managing now, who decided to fully double glaze all their apartments. I noticed when The Commons was finished in Melbourne, there were some other developers using some of those principles in their new developments. I think that's the most important thing to aim for.

*This project was the last to be delivered under Nightingale’s earlier model of issuing licences, whereas now we manage project delivery in-house. Read more of our story.

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