BKK's Simon Knott talks Cirqua, Ivanhoe East

BKK's Simon Knott talks Cirqua, Ivanhoe East
Cirqua Hero Shot. © BKK
Laurence DragomirJune 21, 2015

Designed by BKK Architects, for developer Cubik, Cirqua is located at 206 Lower Heidelberg Road, Ivanhoe East and comprises 44 bespoke and expansive 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments which offer owners the choice of one of 36 individually articulated interior floor plans.

We have chosen to build Cirqua to this level of design quality because we wanted to have an inherent sense of architectural beauty about it.

Jim Fagan, Cubik

A key design feature of the building are the circular portal windows which are a reference to the rich architectural landscape of Ivanhoe East and its Arts & Craft and Queen Anne Federation residences. The 20th century Arts & Craft movement conceived homes as part of a total ensemble that also included not only the architecture, but also the garden and it was these principles that provided the inspiration for Cirqua.

Landscape designer John Patrick has carefully considered the surrounding landscape and private courtyards encompassing Cirqua. He specified a proliferation of native plants and trees for the garden and some courtyards will be as large as 100 SQM.

In front of Cirqua, an established Yellowbox gumtree will create a sense of place for the building, while native evergreens will soften the perimeters of the property, providing privacy and enclosure while encouraging a feeling of being amongst the native flora and fauna of the area.

BKK's Simon Knott talks Cirqua, Ivanhoe East
Cirqua facade close up. © BKK

Urban.com.au caught up with BKK director Simon Knott at their offices on Russell Street initially to discuss Cirqua, but also to gain a general over view of the work the office is producing. The latter aspect will appear in a separate article on Urban.com.au.

​Laurence Dragomir: Can you tell us a little bit about the project Simon? It seems specifically designed to respond to the owner occupier market.

Simon Knott: The project was firmly aimed at owner occupiers with the main driver being creating homes for people, for us that market has shifted quite dramatically in a fairly short period of time. It wasn't long ago when the Grattan Institute released a couple of reports talking about the state of the market and what was out there, particularly in the middle ring suburbs which weren't really being catered for.

Perhaps people who want to live in slightly smaller developments, who don't want to live in 300 apartment-type developments. They want bigger apartments, they want bigger living spaces and in the end what they really want is for them to be homes. At the time the reports were released, most of the developments going up in Melbourne featured smaller apartments, with the exception of a number of developments in Docklands, St Kilda Road or detached housing out on the periphery.

That has suddenly shifted quite dramatically and I think it's a cultural shift and I think it's partly driven by economics.

It's also young people looking to enter the market as well as that downsizer market where people have the family home, particularly if you're in places like Ivanhoe, Glen Iris, Hawthron, Kew, Birghton etc. All those places where you can sell a house for $3-4m, and they've probably got 100% equity in it but then buy a really nice place in an apartment building for say $1m in the same area. They have all the benefits of that in addition to security, low maintenance, lifestyle; all the benefits that come with those types of developments and people are really making the move.

We're excited by it because it means for us as a practice - whose foundations have been in houses - firstly renovations and then single houses which all provide an opportunity to create really good living environments for people that aren't just the base unit.

Cirqua features 36 different types of apartment which are bigger than what you would normally expect, typically 70-80sqm for 1 bedders, and even given that people are still buying them and then combining them into larger apartments which we're quite staggered by. This is clearly empty nesters that are doing this but we had some 3 bedders, one of which would have been about 110sqm and they want to take out the third bedroom replace it with a small study nook and increase the size of the living area, because that's what they want, they want a large living space; it's got a good view, it's got a great aspect and it's difficult to get apartment developments up in these areas.

Cirqua provides a really good opportunity to buy into the area and with the new zoning rules it will probably make it even more difficult.

LD: I suppose areas like Ivanhoe East are also more sensitive in terms of the established neighbourhoods and so are more likely to see opposition to this type of development?

SK: We wouldn't have gotten this up under the current zoning rules, it took a long period of time and was an exhaustive process but we lodged a year or so before the new zoning was implemented. Had it have gone to VCAT the danger would have been that the determination is made based on the laws of the day.

Now the planning permit will be assessed against the rules that were in place when the application was submitted but that's not the case with VCAT. But we managed to get it through which is quite amazing.

LD: Ivanhoe is generally associated with the Arts and Crafts movement and the houses of Harold Desbrowe - Annear. How much influence did that have over the development's architecture?

SK: We did a bit of a study of the vernacular in the area looking at the streetscape and the typical sort of Queen Anne Federation, bungalow 1920's inter-war style architecture and that really tough, muscular form, with highly articulated facade, masonry etc. that is then offset by this fine level detail and recessed balcony / verandah spaces. Those were the sort of elements that really stood out to us and with Cirqua we tried to provide, I guess a contemporary interpretation and one other important feature was how the houses related to landscape and that as really fundamental to the garden city terrace house.

We wanted to create a highly articulated facade that broke down the scale. Essentially trying to make it read as two large houses of 4-4.5storeys due to the sloping nature of the site which slopes quite steeply to the rear of the site. So it's a little deceptive in its scale. There's a gun barrel entry which people were a bit skeptical about initially, which surprised us because we thought it would be fantastic, you would be able to look right through the building to the other end.

At the moment the proposal is for those Whitney Museum sort of lights, so a whole series of lights just running down the centre of the space.

​The way the landscape was then drawn into the plan was via these deep recesses so we can get natural light, cross-ventilation through into the apartments; we don't do bedrooms with borrowed light. All living areas get a great aspect and the bedrooms all get some sort of internal courtyard space with quality amenity, then there are the sizeable decks. All in all we're pretty happy with the design outcome.

BKK's Simon Knott talks Cirqua, Ivanhoe East
Bedroom interior with view to internal courtyard. © BKK

Next week, we continue our chat with Simon Knott about BKK's work, the lure of apartment living and the ever changing apartment market landscape.

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.

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