Narrow sites and over-developed streets: these are two contexts that, for the architect, pose a challenge when it comes to standing out. Somehow, on a site that encompasses both, SJB Architects have created a building that stands up to the noise.

Tapestry, SJB’s multi-residential building in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, is a deep and narrow building; a shape that fills and makes use of the site’s own geography. Instead of a singular depth and frontage, Tapestry has three. Each of its three stacked volumes are set at varying depths from the street, somewhat reminiscent of stacked building blocks.

What sounds like chaos is made to work thanks to a coherent material palette. Matte-black metal screens are set against raw concrete; an industrial texture that nods to the history (and present) of Melbourne’s inner-north. A single concrete element sits over the building like a cloak that reaches right down to the ground level, providing further consolidation for the building’s disparate blocks.

“We like our buildings to have a kind of sculptural quality; we like them to have depth; we like them to have detail; we like them to have the recognition of materiality. [This] building, in our view, is one suited to the notion of concrete and steel in its robust industrial precinct,” says SJB’s founding director, Michael Bialek.

“The screens are like the old verandah on a terrace, or the frieze over the top. [In a terrace house, these screens] may have been wrought iron, but ours are a combination of the metal screens and glass balustrading.”

As well as providing aesthetic coherence, this concrete element is also functional. By further bolstering the ground-level façade of the building, the robust wrap dispels noise and lends residents an additional level of privacy.

Unsurprisingly for a building made of concrete and metal on a narrow urban site, one of the more interesting challenges was how to get light into Tapestry’s core. The solution was the inclusion of four lightwells that sink through the centre of the development. Each of these has been strategically-placed to ensure maximum light infiltration to residences and communal spaces.

For additional functionality and liveability, these lightwells have been turned into landscaped, private courtyards at ground level. These bring additional natural light – and glimpses of greenery – into the bedrooms of residences. Thanks to this and other dexterous solutions to a number of site challenges, the architects were able to fit 21 apartments into a narrow footprint without compromising comfort.