A home to be nude in

249 Darlinghurst Road | SJB | Photographer: Saskia Wilson

My own experiences of living in apartments have all been under very different circumstances – firstly with two housemates in a three-bed and then on my own in a studio apartment. Next in a two-bed with a partner and a dog, and then we added a baby into the mix. I often draw upon these memories when designing apartment buildings and consider the different people that will live in them by asking critical questions of every space. A successful apartment is one that allows many people to make the same spaces feel like their own. These considerations are critical in ensuring apartment buildings become a more desired housing choice for all Australians.

The first question I ask is, how do I make this a home I would like to live in?


The front door holds our first impressions, from the street interface through to the apartment door handle. Each stage of the homecoming journey can bring moments of clarity, comfort and joy. I like to also consider the experience for less frequent visitors – would my nan remember how to visit?


The in-between spaces of an apartment building provide opportunities for developing community among neighbours. Lobbies that invite residents to pause and wait for a friend or centralised fire stairs that are beautiful and entice active movement. Breezeways can provide cross ventilation while also emulating the traditional front porch where residents that are willing can keep their doors open and interact with the goings on of the corridors. I like to consider if I lived here, would I ever see my neighbours?


While apartment living supports community building, it does not have to sacrifice privacy. The nudity test of the internal spaces helps to consider the non-exhibitionist population. Carefully considered window placement, deep facades, appropriate sill heights and balustrade designs all contribute to the privacy of an apartment. Would I be able to move from the shower to the fridge without being seen?


Often corridors are designed out of apartments for optimal efficiency. I have found that the apartments I enjoy most are the ones with circulation – I love hallways to assist with perceived separation and celebrating movement between spaces. I ask myself; when I walk into this apartment will I see everything at once? Leaving some elements to surprise can be a good thing.


Everyday items are ideally stored within or close by, not just in basements. Internally, not all storage requires to be hidden behind doors – open shelves can reduce furniture and allow residents to personalise their home. I like to consider if there are enough blank walls for people to hang photos or art. Laundry also needs a home if apartments are to compete with the amenity of houses – where will I hide my dirty clothes?


Apartments gain identity through their relationship with the outdoors which can make individual experiences and memories of living in the same building very different to one another. One apartment might be practically sitting inside a street tree while the next has an expansive view of the local roofscape, or sky. When planning apartments, I find it helpful to think about them in event mode – how will the balcony doors open, and will they be in the way when the place is full of people?


Animals need homes in the city too, from birds to bees to our domestic pets. Designing for pets in apartment buildings means minimising impact on neighbours through easy-to-clean communal floor finishes and outdoor spaces that support animal play. Providing different types of outdoor spaces provides options for all beings and all activities. Where will my dog pee?


It is easier to live with others in apartments when their layouts are zoned for quiet and noisy activity, supporting various modes at one time. Providing spaces or places that allow the mind to rest or wander is the key to apartments forming a personal oasis in the city. Workspaces can be efficient and still have high amenity – good lighting or a window with a view to somewhere else. Where will I daydream?


Shared spaces contribute to the lives of everyone that lives in or visits a residential building or precinct. Ideally, they can continue to surprise and bring joy despite years of living in a place. Things that we touch or interact with daily deserve to be special or at the very least, well designed. What would my kids remember about living here?

A home to be loved. It’s in the details.

Emily Wombwell is a director at SJB’s Sydney Studio. She has led some of SJB’s most notable projects including Newcastle East End, and Quay Quarter Lanes. Beyond her contributions to the built environment, Emily is a passionate mentor and industry advocate, is the co-founder of the speaker series Perspectives and is a curator for TedX Sydney.

Published online:
26 Apr 2024

Architecture Bulletin
Housing for all: Diversity matters

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