With the population of Victoria projected to grow significantly in coming decades, the pressure on housing is likely to remain a key challenge for the State.

While Melbourne’s major activity centres have seen dramatic increases in density over the last two decades, and outer suburban growth remains a part of the housing mix, it is increasingly clear that the middle suburbs have an important part to play in housing our growing population. This, however, must be done carefully. We must ensure that any changes to established residential areas result in increased public and residential amenity. This is where design fits in.

IBA Melbourne, in partnership with The Department of Environment Land Water and Planning, the Office of the Victorian Government Architect and 5 key higher education partners (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Monash University, Swinburne University, Deakin University and The University of Melbourne),  announced the Future Homes Student Competition in 2020. This Competition was the Student iteration of the two phase Future Homes Project currently being undertaken by DELWP and OVGA, with the industry competition culminating in October.

The Student Competition invited our future designers to prepare exemplar designs for apartment buildings that will be replicable in middle suburban Melbourne environments. With less constraints than the industry competition, students were encouraged to demonstrate how to rethink the way we live in our established suburbs.


The brief for the student competition was intentionally loosened-up from the professional architects’ competition, to provoke interrogation and foster innovation. Challenging current planning provisions was encouraged, if well justified in order to encourage broader thinking about the future of living in apartment buildings in established suburbs and identify constraints to better outcomes.

Accordingly, the jury saw a wide range of approaches and building typologies and had to compare schemes with very different parameters, focus areas and site configurations. In considering the competition entries, the jury was interested in not just how well a particular approach had been developed, but also how relevant the approach was in informing innovation in established suburbs housing. Where projects challenged the brief and planning provisions, the solutions had to be flexible and adaptable and the benefits significant.

Three prize winners and three commendations were chosen. While each proposition was judged on its merits, the prize winners and commendations represent very different approaches to the brief, site and context.

Key issues explored in the competition include the potential for developments to build flexibly to the site boundary, communal aspects of living, adaptability of dwellings and embracing landscape as outdoor living spaces. The jury noted that each winning or commended scheme explored the role of communal space to supplement the amenity of private dwellings.

Overall, the jury is impressed with the high standard of the competition entries and the level of students’ exploration of new suburban living.