“Most of the carbon emissions from buildings are in construction and waste, so how do you design a
building that you don’t need to tear down? How do you make it flexible? We conceived these
apartments as like a chest of drawers with a simple infill façade that could be interchanged over time."
17 Union Street

17 Union Street

Grown from a public realm

17 Union Street is a leading character in an urban transformation story for the inner-Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. The site borders Jewell Station, 5 km north of the CBD.

Outside, the Upfield Shared Path cuts through our public realm between building and railway line. It’s one of Melbourne’s busiest cycling routes, with up to 1000 bikes per hour hurtling through at peak times. Yet the building isn’t a refuge: it embraces the bikes and public realm with boundaries that are respectful and implied.

Our architectural attitude was the antithesis of object-led design: this site was not a canvas for a civic statement. Instead, the building’s identity grew from the precinct’s characteristics and usages and from our public realm.

Its zigzag columns create a contemporary-styled loggia buffering the tenancies from the fast-paced bike and train zones. Vines growing up the columns soften the boundary further. At the building’s south end, concrete seating and different-coloured pathways politely demarcate the territories of bikes and pedestrians.

In a significant sustainability move, the entire building is designed for future adaptation. Its frame, a concrete grid, is built to last for many decades, while the apartments and tenancies could easily be replaced. To facilitate this, the primary structural frame is kept prominent and simple. Items could be fixed to the concrete to reinvent the building multiple times throughout its lifespan.

17 Union St is conceived as part of a bold placemaking exercise: a catalyst for transforming a run-down area into a thriving urban village where architecture offers positive hope for the future.




MAArchitects, Clare Cousins, Glas Urban and Neometro






2014 – 2021


Brunswick, Victoria, Australia


Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation


Derek Swalwell