5 Minutes With... James Tutton of Neometro


James Tutton is a director of Melbourne design and socially focused development group Neometro. Neometro’s current projects include Nine Smith Street Fitzroy, 377 George Street Fitzroy, Six Brookville Road Toorak, as well as two separate buildings in Brunswick’s Jewell Station precinct. James is deeply passionate about progressive thinking and integrating mindfulness into Australian social and corporate culture.

Neometro is celebrating 30 years in 2016. You would have seen a lot of changes and trends in the residential development space over that time. Does your “developer shopping list” change every year or is it a more gradual or seasonal process?
What people are looking for is a moveable feast. Buyers are more knowledgeable and design literate than ever before and are much better at detecting when developers are feeding them rubbish from a sales perspective.

We operate in a space where there’s a genuine interest in modernist design and sustainability, which requires us to evolve from project to project. That market is showing an increased focus on amenity that encompasses everything from environmental sustainability, the size of a building and the number of common utilities between apartments.

A prime example of that is the evolution of shared vegetable gardens, people are shifting from small planter boxes on the balcony to a community garden that everyone can utilise. They’re far more mindful of community and don’t see apartments as just living in a building that provides shelter and a roof over their head. They want to know how far they are from public transport, where the nearest park is because theses are all things that contribute to their well being.

What influences a developer’s shopping list? Is it money, trends, demographics or all of the above?

Generally speaking, a developer’s shopping list is influenced by global trends. Apartment buyers and consumers have a higher expectation for all their consumables these days. Whether it’s food, housing or education, they are seeking products and services that are responding to their needs in more than just a superficial manner.

There’s a significant societal shift where consumer needs are more complex and as developers our responsibility is to provide a solution that addresses more of the nuances. People are becoming less materialistic and are less concerned about owning a statement home and more focussed on how they feel internally and what the project offers externally. We are embracing some of the ethos and values that defined the 1960s and 1970s, just with a digital overlay.
What are the three top priorities for developers in launching an urban multi-unit project in 2016?
Credible quality of design and that applies to both to architecture and interior design is the biggest priority. The second is being able to offer buyers a credible track record. Consumers want to know they’re buying and investing with a developer has a consistent history of design quality. The third would be community. It’s not just about a building, as developers we have a responsibility that extends beyond the completion date, at the legacy they are leaving. It’s about considering open spaces, public transport, shared community gardens, bike paths, outdoor performance areas, cafes and restaurants. That’s the community element that’s become absolutely essential for apartment buyers.

At the recent High Density Happiness series at Melbourne’s MPavilion it was mentioned that “the idea of a pool in an apartment building doesn’t really work”. Some people might have once aspired to live in such a complex, is that no longer the case, are swimming pools passé?
I went to Brunswick Baths recently, they’re very close to our project, Jewell Station. Apart from being a beautiful complex there’s a real sense of community there. It’s not manufactured or forced. Most people who are there go not only to swim but because of the social experience that comes with it. A public swimming pool is a community asset. You go to swim, relax and socialise. You meet people you know, see those living around you and I think that is a very valuable asset, it connects people and ensures they’re not isolated.

Often pools within an apartment complex are amenities that people view as status symbols and signs of success but they’re facilities they don’t ever actually use.

Above and below: Neometro's Brookville, a premium low rise building in Toorak, Victoria. 

What is it about a pool that doesn’t work for you? Has the pool, as an item of luxury, been replaced by something else then? And if so what?
As status symbols, swimming pools are like expensive showy cars, they’re pretty daggy and antiquated in 2016 and the rest of the world has moved on. People have more pride around their vegetable gardens, sustainable practices, commuting by bike and their chickens then having people look at their resort-inspired lap pool.

You also mention that you rethink a design if you, personally, would not be prepared to live there. Do you have a checklist and how do you decide whether a building design is or isn’t for you?
I think it’s an over-arching moral and ethical position. Without sounding too philosophical it comes down to the notion that you do unto others as you would expect them to do unto you.

It’s a really important ethical line in the sand. If we wouldn’t want to live in an apartment we’ve design then we’re not doing the right thing. Not only is that part of our DNA as developers but our DNA as caring human beings. I don’t look at a one-bedroom apartment and imagine living there with my wife and two kids, I look at it objectively. If I was a single person or a couple in my 30s would it make me happy? If the answer is absolutely then we’re doing something right, if the answer is no, then we won’t pursue it.

What are some of the “must-have” exterior and interior inclusions for an apartment project in 2016? What, as developers, do you absolutely include?

Natural light is of paramount importance and on an interior level finishes that look good next year and in 10 years are vital for both style and functionality. We’re not interested in designing things that look good on completion and not care about how they wear or appear in 12 months’ time.
I think exterior trends are very subjective. We are deeply committed to contemporary modernist architecture so what is important to us and our buyers is architecture that contributes to the streetscape and makes a positive contribution to the aesthetics of a community and the person walking down the street, not just the buyer.

On the flipside what are the things you avoid, that consumers would consider “deal breakers” when considering buying an apartment?
This is very subjective but in short; ugly buildings and poor amenities in terms of community infrastructure. There are lots of developers who paint a picture and talk about being design focused in order to sell apartments but by doing so they lack sincerity. It doesn’t take much for a buyer to see-through that. It’s about establishing trust and credibility.

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