“Every man and his dog seems to be calling their development sustainable these days,” says Liam Wallis, founder and development director of Melbourne firm HIP V. HYPE. “So it’s hard to understand what sustainability actually means.”

Wallis says there are three tiers of true sustainability: environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability. A project must tick all three to achieve truly meaningful sustainability that goes beyond the surface.

Wallis knows from firsthand experience what genuine sustainability looks like. HIP V. HYPE recently collaborated with Six Degrees Architects to create Nightingale 2.0, a low-energy, mixed-use apartment and retail building adjacent to the Fairfield railway station. The Nightingale model might be Melbourne’s most well-known example of sustainable housing – its projects include The Commons, Nightingale 1.0 in Brunswick and Nightingale Brunswick East.

Situated on a 500-square-metre plot next to Fairfield station, Nightingale 2.0 is a 20-apartment “island site” that’s 100 per cent electric, with power generated on-site thanks in part to solar panels on the roof. It’s also home to three retail sites on the ground floor, including landscape-design studio Peachy Green, whose founder Frances Hale is a Fairfield local.

We asked both Wallis and Hale to demystify some sustainable touchstones and tell us what they actually mean.

Keeping in the heat – and cool
Passive heating and cooling is one of the prime focuses of sustainable housing. Tools and techniques include ceiling fans, cross flow ventilation, north-facing windows, vertical gardens and the use of double glazed, timber framed windows.

“Timber is obviously a beautiful natural material and makes an apartment feel more like a home,” says Wallis. “It’s also less conductive of heat energy, so it’s much more thermally efficient. The windows [on Nightingale 2.0] are tilt-and-turn, lift-and-slide European-style – they get a better thermal and acoustic seal. They also enable you to cross-ventilate your apartment without opening up the whole window.”

The use of timber in conjunction with ceiling fans and cross flow ventilation means air con is not needed to maintain good comfort levels. Vertical gardens provide living shade, north-facing windows introduce beneficial winter solar gain during colder months, and the building uses hydronic heating and a centralised electric pump for hot water. The solar panels on the roof pass lower running costs onto both the residents and commercial tenants.

Social design
Wallis says social sustainability and design that encourages community is as crucial to a successful development as being green. “There are so many bad examples of buildings that just sort of fly in like spaceships and dock [without any thought to the community],” he says. “They’ve got really poor-quality ground floors, so the retail takes forever to be leased out and you end up with pretty average streetscapes. The buildings aren’t contributing positively to the local community.”

As well as ensuring ground floor designs are welcoming, Wallis and team like to actively seek ideal tenants. “Fran [Peachy Green] taking tenancy in the ground floor is the perfect outcome for us and the project,” he says. “She’s a local to Fairfield – her kids go to the primary school. She can help the residents of the building make sure the landscape grows. It’s a perfect complement to a community-minded building.”

Hale says it’s a win-win. “Fairfield Village is my hood,” she says. “My local grocer, butcher, yoga studio and kids’ school are all part of this neighbourhood. To be able to walk or ride to work and have that easy flow between studio and home will provide a good balance to a busy life.”

Community feel and green space
“In higher-density living, you want to embrace the benefits of community,” says Wallis. “That’s really important as a design attribute: creating spaces like [the] communal laundry on the roof deck. You get a chance to bump into your neighbour.”

Hale, whose own landscape-design work aims to create “gardens that are well considered, practical and beautiful,” echoes those sentiments. She praises Nightingale 2.0’s gardens and green spaces, designed by her peers at SBLA.

“I want to enjoy a glass of wine in front of the outdoor fireplace on the roof,” she says. “Get to know my new neighbours and watch the garden as it hopefully takes over the building. It will be interesting to see if we have some green thumbs. [Maybe] we can guerrilla-garden some of the unloved pockets around the adjacent train tracks.”

Understanding (and sharing) the results
HIP V. HYPE are working with RMIT University on a 12-month post-occupancy study for Nightingale 2.0. In an effort to share their learnings, the results will be made public.

“We really want to see how this building performs,” says Wallis. “We’ve designed it to be best-practice, but we also want to understand how it performs and share those results so everybody can benefit. Every decision has been made through that filter of environmental, social and economic sustainability.”

That holistic approach is the “sustainable” difference, says Wallis. “[This way of thinking is] deeply embedded, rather than a bolt-on.”

This story is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with HIP V. HYPE.