yarralibs, Cairo Flats
Central courtyard in 1948 [photo: City of Yarra Collection]

Site Overview

site name:
Cairo Flats

Taylor Soilleux and Overend
date of commission:
date of completion:
98 Nicholson St, Fitzroy
classification / typology
Residential / Housing (RES)
protection status:
Heritage: VicHeritage, NT


At a time when Melbourne was turning its focus to the suburbs, and city bachelor apartments were contentious for their ‘implied assault on the family circle’, arch-modernist Best Overend concerned himself with the design of such apartments, seeking maximum amenity within the minimum floor area at an affordable price – a concept known as the ‘minimum flat’. Built in urban, poverty-stricken Fitzroy, the Cairo Flats were Overend’s most rigorous realisation of this idea.

The Cairo Flats were to contain all the luxuries of modern life, maximising their diminutive function with the incorporation of built-in and fold-out furniture, modern appliances and labour-saving devices. Communal amenities included a dining room, laundry facilities, generous gardens and a rooftop for sunbathing.

The austerity and modernity of Overend’s vision is evident in the building’s lean, economic forms, clinker brick walls, slender steel posts and steel framed Chicago-style windows. Similarly, the interiors, oriented to enjoy the garden aspect, are largely unadorned; even the cornices are absent, instead a simple coved junction where wall meets ceiling. Details borrowed from ocean liners, including porthole windows, pipe handrails along with the dramatic sweep of the concrete staircase enliven the composition. Today the apartments are highly sought after. Bearing lessons of quality, amenity and density, the Cairo Flats have proved an enduring exemplar of daring and high influence.

Text adapted from an entry by Philip Goad in Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape and Design 1925-1975, Hannah Lewi and Philip Goad (2019, Thames and Hudson).

Heritage Listing:
– Victorian Heritage Register (H1005)
– National Trust of Australia Heritage Register Victoria (B6298)