Influence of Star Wars princess lives on

Princess Leia has had an impact on a St Kilda apartment block, writes Stephen Crafti.

Princess Leia has had an impact on a St Kilda apartment block, writes Stephen Crafti.

The Star Wars series of the 1970s, staring Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, would seem to be a world away from apartment living in Melbourne. However, Princess Leia's influence on architect Callum Fraser, a director of Elenberg Fraser, played a major role in the design of the Luna apartments, in Barkly Street, St Kilda.

"As a teenager I grew up looking at Princess Leia on my wall. I loved the series, but how could you forget her attire," Fraser says.

In Return of the Jedi, Leia was either dressed in flowing white robes for formal occasions, or for her action scenes, she wore gold mesh bikinis. So when the developers of Luna, the Buxton Group, called for "apartments with character", Fraser was inspired by Leia's mesh, her white robes and her distinctive bronze skin. "I didn't see the design as emulating global pop culture. It was about taking a fictional character and exploring her identity through architectural forms and materials," he adds.

As Luna occupies an irregular-shaped site (about 1000 square metres), on a busy thoroughfare, using mesh as one of the building's skins seemed appropriate.

And with two street frontages, the second to Belford Street, privacy, as well as noise reduction, was paramount. "Many apartments suffer from the 'goldfish' syndrome, where people can see right into your bedroom or living room. We didn't want to have this situation here," Fraser says.

As well as creating an outer skin of bronze mesh screens, some of which retract, Elenberg Fraser developed a system of external lighting that eliminates transparency at night.

Brighter fluorescent lighting on each balcony blocks internal views into the apartments at night. "We wanted residents to control their own lighting. If they don't mind a little intrusion from outside, the fluorescents can be switched off," he adds. And to reduce traffic noise, the architects used fine gold-coloured glass, with "directional oxide". This glass also animates the facade (when the screens are left open) with the glass performing differently under various light conditions.

While the exterior includes gold mesh, complete with a splash of red (the colour of Darth Vader's light sabre), the interior palette of the 72 apartments is completely white. Spread across four levels, above ground-floor shops and lobby, the Luna apartments vary from 46 square metres for a one-bedroom abode to 75 square metres for two bedrooms.

Each apartment features white MDF joinery, stone splashbacks and benchtops in the kitchens, and timber floors in the open-plan kitchen and living areas. Integral to Elenberg Fraser's design are generous storage areas, which extend from the kitchen into the bedrooms, often forming a continuous wall. "One of the important issues of apartment living is a lack of storage," Fraser says. Other features in the Luna apartments include pivotal bronzed mirror and steel doors leading to bedrooms, which extend spaces, as well as reflecting light.

In contrast to the light-filled apartments, the lobby is moody and cavernous. Featuring a "forest" of LED lighting, it has a space-age feel. A similar effect was used as signage for each apartment, as well as for corridors.

"The market for Luna is sophisticated professionals. They may have grown up watching Princess Leia, and it might trigger a memory when they're closing that mesh screen at night," Fraser says.

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