The Case for Sensitive Development in Fitzroy


Fitzroy is a suburb that’s close to my heart. Not only is it one of Australia’s most culturally diverse locales with its thriving and inclusive culture, great restaurants and proximity to the CBD, its mix of stunning terraces and contemporary architecture means it’s one of Melbourne’s most in-demand places to live.

Its Foy and Gibson-era buildings are reflective of the individuality of the residents who inhabit them. A haven for foodies, artists, musicians and students alike, Fitzroy has given rise to the lifestyle buyer.

Fitzroy’s deeply-cemented history stems from its establishment as Melbourne’s first suburb, separating from the City of Melbourne in 1858.

Originally a home for Melbourne’s working class, the last 20 years have seen increasing gentrification of the suburb with the latest census data showing a 21 per cent growth in residents from 2006 to 2016.

Residential prices are a different story, with the median sale price for houses increasing by 56.6 per cent from 2013 to 2017.

With many now priced out of this housing market but still eager to purchase in Fitzroy there is a knee-jerk reaction to development.

As developers, this presents an interesting challenge for the industry as on the one hand, new dwellings are a necessity in order to provide enough new housing to meet the demand, in a price bracket that most can afford.

On the other hand, we have a responsibility to ensure that suburbs like Fitzroy evolve and diversify without losing those elements that make it what it is.

Related: Scaled Back North Fitzroy Project Wins Permit

An artist impression of SMA Project’s Fitzroy Ltd apartments. Supplied.

In a sense, we have become custodians, if you will, of these suburbs, and therefore there is a difference between preserving and enhancing, or stripping away the cultural, social and environmental characteristics that make these inner suburban areas so well-liked in the first place.

Homogenisation is one of the biggest risks to suburbs like Fitzroy; buyers here are seeking properties that speak to a modern lifestyle but also celebrate the romanticism of eras past.

What might appeal to buyers in Port Melbourne or the CBD can read as inauthentic in a suburb like Fitzroy.

Instead of running from the difficulties that developing in Fitzroy present we should consider, as a priority, what is best for the suburb.

This includes investing in thoughtful design that complements the history and context of Fitzroy.

It means embracing Fitzroy’s industrial roots and designing new buildings that are sympathetic to, or even mimic the form of, the old warehouse conversions that are in such high demand.

At our recent Fitzroy Ltd project on Gore Street we sought to reference this context, using an architectural style and natural materials like bluestone and brick that mirror the past.

The project won local buyers over with sympathetic design, blending a welcoming, tree-lined streetscape with Fitzroy’s immediate urban context.

This can be achieved by using architectural styles and natural materials like bluestone and bricks, that mirror the past rather than develop contemporary forms that seek to ignore it.

This approach means development costs are higher, the materials used are more challenging, and let’s not even start with the soaring costs of heritage restorations.

The cultural benefits and returns on investment far outweigh the financial returns of building a box that does nothing for the area, or for those who inhabit it.

Despite Fitzroy’s contemporary gentrification and increasing popularity, new development needs to be carefully considered, and we as developers need to protect Fitzroy’s legacy just as much as we need to build on it.

Investing in those challenging sites will ensure we continue to create homes that are as culturally relevant as Fitzroy itself.


Robert Murphy is development manager at boutique developer SMA Projects. Robert joined SMA Projects more than 14 years ago working across the development team. Robert was instrumental in the development of SMA Projects innovative Yorkshire Brewery development and The Lyric in Fitzroy.

The Urban Developer will occasionally publish opinion pieces written by outside contributors representing a wide range of viewpoints.

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