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Cairo Flats

Melbourne, Australia
1 of 22
The cantilevered curving staircase

Cairo Flats are a two-storey residential housing complex in Fitzroy, Melbourne, designed by Acheson Best Overend and completed in 1936. The international-style complex features 28 'Bachelor Flats' comprising single room dwellings with a communal dining hall, in-house food and laundry services and a convenience store.

Bringing Minimalist Down-Under

The architect, Acheson Best Overend returned to Australia after working in London with the modernist architect, Wells Coates. Overend's experience with Coates led him to write about the minimum flat concept upon returning to Australia and eventually the design of Cairo Flats, which became one of the first examples of a minimal flat type in Australia.

Overend designed each flat to be a completely functional living unit, all with built-in or fold-down furniture and labour saving devices in order to provide maximum amenity in minimal space for minimum rent. Showing the inherent principle of minimalist architecture.

Cairo Flats were a major break away from traditional housing prevalent in Australia at the time, and are seen to be significant in their introduction of a modernist programme to the changing Australian lifestyle during the inter-war period. Because of this, the Cairo Flats are of architectural and historical significance to the State of Victoria and are Heritage listed.


The building is is a low-rise, U-Shape which is constructed out of blue clinker bricks. The horseshoe faces on to the suburb of Fitzroy overlooking the Carlton Gardens. Each flat features a projected, curved concrete balcony. One of the key features of the complex is the use of concrete, which was again new at the time. This is best expressed in the curved concrete, cantilevered staircase.

In addition, new technologies and lifestyle ideas were implemented such as central heating, lockable garages, a communal flat roof along with the communal dining hall and in-house meal and laundry services. All of which helped to shape the changing 'modern man'. To further accomplish a minimalist design with maximum effect, Overend meticulously designed labour-saving devices with built-in, collapsible and fold out furniture as well as service hatchways, dustbin hatchways and service telephones.

Access to each flat is from external pathways on the west and south. The entry hall of each flat has a telephone. The flat roof was intended to encourage socialising, offering a place for residents and guests to mingle.

As of 2013 the flats have retained the original layout and feature the original polished floors, timber front doors with circular porthole windows and the original 'D' shaped aluminium internal door handles imported from London, possibly the first use of such handles in Australia.


Cairo Flats have undergone some renovations, additionally the roof is no longer in use due to structural problems. The dining hall is no longer used and the shop operates as a milk bar.


Cairo Flats feature as the prominent setting in Australian novelist, Chris Womersley's third book 'Cairo'.

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alicelee, October 17th, 2013
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