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Category Archives For: Architecture

Melbourne’s Building Styles – The Guide

“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”
– Paul Cezanne

When searching for a property to move into or to customise for your own needs, an understanding of the building styles available is paramount. Each town has a history, which helped to form its built fabric.

We have put together this guide to help you understand the history of Inner Melbourne. When you find your blank canvas, remember to take the rough with the smooth, and we hope this helps you find some inspiration!


Create is a division within Secret Agent that delivers personalised inspired habitats, for your home, investment property or office.


Site Access

If you are looking to buy a home (or site) to renovate, extend or build afresh, an often overlooked factor is site access. In Melbourne’s inner suburbs our tight Victorian era subdivisions and attached housing can make getting materials and people to the job site a exercise in frustration. This everyday ‘friction’ on site can add considerable cost to any renovation or extension.

When undertaking the typical renovation on an early victorian attached terrace in Fitzroy (new living, dining, central bathroom and kitchen) poor site access can add in excess of $50,000  to the cost of the build.

Site Access

Perhaps the worst case example would be at attached terrace in the inner suburbs where there is no ROW or rear lane access – located in an area where parking is tight. From the very start of the building process (the demolition) there are on site complications.

It’s often difficult to find a place for a skip bin on the property and council permits have to be arranged to place the bin on the street. Debris are then carried through the existing house via wheelbarrow or material conveyor.

It’s these kind of scenarios where a skilled and organised builder can make a world of difference as to how smoothly the job runs. When faced with a challenging site, be sure to discuss any access issues with the builder before they finalise their quote.

Some things to consider when looking to purchase a renovation candidate;

  • The street, is it narrow?
  • Is the parking free, metered or permit?
  • Is there a place to accept deliveries of materials outside the front of the property (nature strip)?
  • Are there mature trees in the vicinity (impeding possible crane or large vehicle access)?
  • Is there a fire hydrant, power pole, telecommunications pit or other infrastructure outside the site?
  • Is the site flat or is there a significant fall that will make materials handling difficult?
  • Are the neighbours properties likely to impede access in any way?

This advice not only applies to detached properties but also apartments. If you are buying in an older apartment building and looking to renovate the kitchen and bathroom you could be in for a surprise. In older buildings sometimes the lifts are too small to bring construction materials up – the only way is the stairs. If access to an apartment is poor, it can add over 20% to the cost of a kitchen and bathroom renovation.

The Return of the Post War Home

Tribe Studio

Tribe Studio – 50’s BV Extension, Courtyard

An insight from the Head of Create – Julian Faelli

There have been a number of great projects recently that celebrate the much criticised Post War ‘Brick Vanilla’. As locations that were formally ‘suburbia’ have started to become desirable and gentrified (eg. Thornbury and Preston) a number of keen eyes are beginning to celebrate and work with 50’s post war homes.

The rapid uptake of the family car after the war spurred housing growth on the pastoral land between Melbourne’s radial train lines.

The new subdivisions were bigger than Melbourne’s early working class haunts of Collingwood and Carlton. Typically the suburbs created in the 50’s and 60’s had blocks of 500 – 800sqm. These new areas offered the start of the suburban dream for a expanding middle class.

Speculative builders like AV Jennings cut their teeth on these housing estates in a similar fashion to their contemporaries on the fringes today. The wartime bungalow was overtaken by the brick veneer. They were cheap and fast to construct at the time, despite this, the structures have held up well in many cases. The materials used at the time had something to do with it – house frames built in ‘green’ hardwood have only got stronger as the years have gone by.

Now they offer accommodation for the next generation of young and growing families. More often than not – professional couples with kids who still want to be close to the city and lifestyle locations.

These post war homes are a great base for an extension to meet changing family needs.

It’s becoming desirable to renovate instead of heading further a field to the more established suburbs, like Surrey Hills, Hawthorn and Ascot Vale where there is traditionally larger housing stock.

Architects such as WoodWoodWard and Tribe Studio in Sydney have developed a unique approach – where the extension is a separate pavilion, providing varied spaces and courtyards in place of the grassed backyard.

Tribe Studio

Tribe Studio – 50’s BV Extension, Frontyard



Forever House – WoodWoodWard Architecture


Copenhagen VS Melbourne

This holiday edition we take you away from Melbourne to Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen. Why? It’s the world’s most liveable city, according to leading design and current affairs magazine Monocle. Melbourne was featured as the No.2 city in the world, and while this is great, we cannot rest on our laurels!

The Monocle report ranks cities according to safety/crime, international connectivity, climate/sunshine, quality of architecture, public transport, tolerance, environmental issues, access to nature, urban design, business conditions, proactive policy and medical care. Secret Agent decided to head to Copenhagen this Christmas to see what all the fuss is about! Spearheaded by Paul Osborne and Julian Faelli, the focus of the trip was to document some details of the city, and find in those details some lessons to be learnt. We hope you enjoy this special insight and wish you a super year ahead for 2014.

The Secret Agent Report

Democratic Cities

SOLid Panel
Last week Julian was invited to speak at a panel discussion run by the SOL:id team at RMIT. The evening was led by Michael Trudgeon of Crowd Productions.

Also on the diverse panel;
Eduardo Velasquez + Angelica Rojas (Flinders Street Station people’s choice winner (Architecture)
Scott Mitchell – Open Object (Industrial Designer)
Eli Giannini – MGS Architects (Architecture/Planning)
Michel Hogan – Brand Analyst (Branding)
Tim Longhurst – Key Message (Futurist)

The panel was asked to unpack the following;

How are our city spaces designed and planned? what is the role of the individual in the urbanisation process?  how do grassroots movements impact upon our cities and the cities of the future? what are the implications of open information exchange and open source design?  is everyone a designer? how can design professions adapt in this context?

The wide range of viewpoints both on the panel and in the audience contributed to a robust discussion on the role of the designer in the future of our cities.
It was put forward that perhaps cities succeed and thrive organically – and quite often our best design efforts are where we don’t design a built outcome.

The Secret Agent Report – Planning

The planning process has an impact on every construction idea, and it is important understand any changes to the zones and rules. Further to our Planning Bulletin last week, we chat to Glossop Town Planning to go a little deeper into what the new changes mean to Inner Melbourne real estate, deciphering the new zones; General Residential, Residential Growth and Neighbourhood Residential. Since 1997, Glossop has specialised in residential and commercial development projects, including medium and high rise housing projects.

Paul also gives an overview of the market in general in the lead up to the festive season, with his view of the media’s ‘Boom or Bust’ and ‘Bubble’ attitudes.

Next month we take a closer look at the commercial side of things, so please stay tuned.

Click HERE or below to download the latest report!

The Secret Agent Report October 2013


TEDx Sydney: Joost Bakker’s Straw House

At TEDx Sydney recently I was lucky enough to witness presentations and performances from some incredible forward thinkers and doers. Among lawyers, activists, mathematicians, archivists and political scientists was Joost Bakker; a Dutch born creative operating out of Melbourne. I say creative because Joost’s range of skills are hard to pin down with one word. With a beginning in floristry, he is now designing structures, as well as concepts for ‘closed loop’ sustainable restaurants.

No one needs to be reminded of the devastating affects of bushfire in this country. Sitting at the Sydney Opera House surrounded by water on a cool day, it was hard to imagine the intensity of CSIRO’s fire test on one of Joost’s projects… until he showed us the fire test carried out on his straw house prototype. Reaching external temperatures of 1000 degrees celsius after 30 minutes of ‘major fire front’ testing, the internal temperature peaked at only 35. This classified the straw building as a bunker.

Magnesium oxide board was used to clad the straw house, and the 38 metre square structure was erected in only 7 days. The test was carried out to get the go ahead for a home being built By Joost in the Victorian Otways, an area prone to bushfire.

You can read more about the test, and watch the video here.

From Lauren Bezzina, Secret Agent Communications. 

Spanish Design

From Create By Secret Agent’s head designer, Julian Faelli

We have started to see a string of interesting architecture and design projects come out of Spain in the recent months. This trend is in spite of the countries economic woes, with Spain now battling a youth unemployment rate of 56.5%.

The struggling economy has pushed young architects and designers to make the best of a bad situation. With a rich architectural history exemplified in the work of Santiago Calatrava and Enric Miralles’s expressive buildings, there is fertile ground and a bold point of departure for today’s architects.

Niu Architectura

Niu Architectura is one such firm, their recent Calvià Running Track is an exercise in restrained yet exciting design. Simple materials used well – it is exciting to see such thorough it’s use of transparency and volume. The dramatic cantilevers and sunken spaces make this humble sports pavilion a real gem.

CSLS Arquitectes

The Girder House by CSLS Arquitectes is a whimsical and light approach to residential accommodation. A bright, white fitout provides a brilliant backdrop for life within the building. The small footprint is negotiated with a hidden kitchen and foldaway bed. It’s a approach that works well with the warm spanish climate, a climate not dissimilar to ours in Australia.

Johnston street has always been the traditional home of Spanish culture in Melbourne, and I wonder if it’s any coincidence AJAR has recently opened a furniture store on Johnston – primarily importing the Spanish Arlex brand. Designed and produced in Barcelona the quality is on par with the established Italian brands. At a competitive price point due to the depressed Euro, AJAR look like they are onto a winner. 


Project Images © José Hevia