A thoughtful response to a challenging and rigorous brief has seen the transformation of a tired residential estate in Richmond, Victoria into a much needed affordable and sustainable public housing.

The redeveloped ‘walk up’ buildings on Elizabeth Street, Richmond are the first completed part in a series of upgrades from Williams Boag Architects (WBa) which promise to transform the district’s housing estate into a benchmark affordable housing facility.

The masterplan was commissioned by the Victorian Government Office of Housing in accordance with the joint State and Federal Government initiative ‘Building Better Regional Cities’. As project architect Peter Williams explains, this entailed stringent design, safety, budget and sustainability guidelines.

“The key deliverables of the Elizabeth Street housing project were the provision of 207 social housing apartments, on-site car parking, achievement of an average of 6.8 star energy rating for each building, a safe and engaging living environment and a benchmark starting point for eventual future stages of the project,” he said.

The apartments and amenity are delivered across four six-storey high density buildings, 10 per cent of which are accessible apartments and 10 per cent of which are adaptable for older persons.

 “Affordability of the dwellings, the standard and amenity of the individual units and the integrated landscape are clear indications of what is possible when a collaborative process is applied to a rigorous brief,” says Williams.

The amenity and integrated landscape Williams refers to incorporates a wealth of innovative products and material application that ensured the project met its energy rating targets without sacrificing the cultural appeal of the construction to residents.

Left: A series of archway entrances to the walk-ups are highly noticeable against the rectangular geometry of the buildings and declares 'entry' from the long distance approach. For Williams, it is “way-finding on the macro scale”.

Spotted gum sticks in machined tongue and groove profile by Woodform Architectural form the entrance archways.  The spotted gum is coated in a clear finish from Cutek and blends well with the marine-grade ply facade directly above which is finished in Onyx Gold Aqua Oil from Quantum Timber Finishes.

The hot-dipped galvanised steel universal beam and walkway balusters above provide another element of contrast and an enduring finish, as does the archway’s galvanised frame.

Adding another splash of colour above the suspended walkway are ExoTec facade panels from James Hardie, finished in low sheen, Dulux Weathershield. Lighting choices such as the LED Archilede and Miniwalky from Iguzzini, contribute hard-wearing illumination and vibrancy to the entryway.

Above: Once through the dramatic arched portal, the design transitions into a variable scale, responsive composition of softer elements where inhabitatation is clearly revealed secure within the strong and robust street forms.

This comfortable interior shared open space is created from material selections which are stout in everything from fascia to footing.

Lysaght Longline fascia in Zincalume, precast concrete and Stramit Monopanels clad the majority of the external shell and their angles and colour complement a strong congruency.

Modwood batten combinations of 68 x 17mm & 137 x 32mm provide sun screening and privacy for all western facing balconies. The battens are coloured silver grey to match the hot dipped galvanised angle frame and their size varied to provide what Williams describes as smaller, “human scale resolutions.”

Roof-top solar panels provide energy efficient hot water to residents and create a multi skillion effect. Rain water is also captured from the roofs and used for irrigation within the complex.

The encircled central courtyard houses a self-watering community rain garden and is complete with concrete planter boxes and Street & Garden Furniture Co. pieces.

A key design element is the single-loaded corridor and encircled courtyard layout which provides good cross-ventilation for all the apartments.


Above: One of the key uses of colour in the project is its application to the underside of balconies and roof soffits. The differing colours were chosen by Williams and his team as a complementary palette that allows residents to identify with their particular part of the building.

“This detail is designed to mitigate perception of height of the tall building providing visual interest in varied colours applied to different repeating building elements as they go up the building.”

Lysaght PanelRib façade panels in a Colorbond finish are also used in different sections of the development to offer a contrast with the Stramit Monopanels.

Left: Williams explains that the street between the buildings was seen as a usable outdoor space and designed with human scale rather than car scale. This manifested in the choice of concrete pavers and no kerb instead of a traditional asphalt road.

A variety of precast concrete pavers from Stonevue were chosen for this high-traffic area with vehicular and pedestrian suited products placed accordingly.

Stainless steel bollards from Polite Enterprises Corporation will provide safety for pedestrians for many years to come.




Right: The open walkways overlooking the courtyard area encourage the residents to interact with the outdoor public space. Charcoal Boral Designer Blocks in a variety of surface finishes are used throughout these walkways, offering textural elements that move and change during the day.
Tremco water proofing products seal and tread exposed concrete surfaces, providing a minimum R12 Slip Resistance rating.






Above:  Williams Boag incorporated colour in the project to complement and offset the grey hues of the building’s external makeup.  A key example is the blue translucent privacy screen  louvres that are backlit at night to provide timeless colour for the building at all hours of the day. They are framed in Danpalon dp10 aluminium and galvanised steel.

Below: Considering the building is a public housing dwelling, practicality and durability were amongst the primary informants for the project brief.

Enduring materials, right down to flooring finishes and lighting fixtures, run throughout the project to enrich the amenity and standard of comfort.

The windows frames are powder coated aluminium and come from Capral’s Narrowline 400 series. They are covered by either Capral 50 series awnings or bespoke designed, perforated aluminium sun shades; dependant on the window’s geographical aspect. 


Project team: Peter Williams, John Clark, Kath Forsyth, Mark Greenwood, Richard Cox,  Megan Carroll, Dion Keech, Charity Edwards, Ali Little, Jo Wheelahan

  • 207 Apartments
  • Floor Area - 20,000m2
  • 6 Levels & 1 Basement Level
  • 10%  Accessible apartments
  • 10% Adaptable & Older persons apartments
  • 18 month construction programme