A dilapidated 1930s three-storey apartment building in Sydney where unused space is being converted into extra units, and balconies are being added, is forging the future for over 100,000 crumbling old blocks throughout Australia, writes Sue Williams.
In what’s being hailed as a game-changer for strata nationally, the redesign and renewal of the Bondi Beach property will transform the decrepit property into a smart, up-to-date, much more valuable set of units – and act as a prototype for much of the rest of the ageing apartment stock.
“This is the forerunner, really, for strata renewal in Australia,” said Caroline McConnachie, general manager of Maxbuild, a building company specialising in strata. “It’s about adaptation and remediation and bringing the whole building up to scratch, and then turning it into a role model of what you can achieve with ageing buildings.
“It will inspire confidence, bravery and perseverance among owners to get something similar done. Being able to see a finished building, and knowing that the process will become quicker as more buildings come online, will make all the difference. This is the game-changer for strata.”
The Bondi project, being financed by selling off the new lots, the sale of air space and a strata loan, has also kicked off plans for a major new three-year research project into renewing ageing apartment buildings. With more than 100,000 strata schemes in Australia built before 1990, and 11,794 of three or more lots registered before 1980 in Greater Sydney alone, its progress is being keenly watched.
It has the potential to unleash a whole new wave of adaptive redesign in the strata world, rather than the current fondness for knocking down old blocks and building new ones
Associate professor Hazel Easthope of City Futures at the University of NSW, together with associate professor Sandra Löschke at the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, are applying for Federal research funding for the study, along with a group of industry partners.
“It’s more sustainable environmentally, as well as economically and socially, to do these kinds of projects rather than knocking down buildings and rebuilding them,” Ms Easthope said. “People don’t all have to move out and you don’t have all the issues of embedded carbon and the financial and environmental costs of demolition.”
The building in Bondi at the heart of the movement, at 101 Ramsgate Avenue, is an 18-lot building of one-bedroom units that needed major remediation works to get it up to standard, due to minimal maintenance since its construction in 1938. Typical of its era, the building had small windows and no outdoor spaces.
But owners agreed to add two balconies onto each apartment and to divide the common property basement area – a wasteland of abandoned surfboards and IKEA furniture – and develop it into two new lots, with a sunken courtyard to bring light in, to sell to fund the main works. At the same time, the building received a complete remediation and upgrade, including compliance works.
One owner also merged two top-floor apartments, with a loft addition into the roof space, to create a spacious two-level, three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit with panoramic views of Bondi Beach from the balconies.
The work is being partially funded with a strata loan through (Flat Chat sponsor) Lannock Strata Finance, which is also loaning money to owners at the 1960s eyesore Glenview Court in Tamarama for a $20 million facelift, which includes creating two ocean-view penthouses on top that will be sold for around $10 million each.
“With these kinds of projects, it makes sense to finance them with a combination of money in the sinking fund, owners contributing via a special levy and a strata loan,” said Lannock CEO Paul Morton.
“If they include features that they’ll be able to sell, like extra apartments, it’s the obvious thing to borrow against them because you’re going to be creating income. In essence, it’s like bridging finance. And you know there’s going to be a good return on your investment.”
One of the Bondi owners also has a garage, and turned the disused storage area above it into a new lot for short-term letting, which another owner duplicated for his similar lot.
Building work on the block started in early 2018 and the main works are expected to be complete around Christmas this year, with Maxbuild doing a full fit-out and refurbishment of 10 of the apartments.
The block had every problem imaginable with an old building, including asbestos in the roof, worn wiring and non-compliance with modern fire safety requirements. “There was no fire rating between here and next door, not much water pressure and we had to install tanks underground to hold 30,000 litres of water,” said Maxbuild site manager Brad Gallivan.
“We also had people still wanting to live on site while the building work was going on. At one point, it was fully occupied but had no extremal walls and 70 per cent of the building was on props.”
Such multi-owner projects take a long time to come to fruition and require owners to work closely with builders, architects, the strata manager, surveyor, the council and lawyers. As a result of the work already done on this building, three neighbouring buildings are now considering something similar.
“It’s difficult to see just how big a movement it is, but it’s a massive, but silent, trend,” said McConnachie. “There are 100,000 strata schemes across Australia built before 1990 which means they require maintenance or need to be upgraded and future proofed with adding facilities like lifts for mobility.
“This adaptive design space is a great solution to future proofing buildings and upgrading for how we live today; and has a far more positive impact than just remediating.”
This story first appeared in the Domain section of the Sydney Morning Herald.