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Built with purpose

Built with purpose

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Created to give independence to wheelchair-bound residents, the 2024 HIA Australian Specialised Housing project showcases the builder’s technical skills, thoughtful approach, and ability to meet a challenge head-on.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

Gabrielle Chariton

Content Writer

2024 HIA Australian Specialised Housing Award Winner: M+J Builders

2024 HIA Australian Specialised Housing Award Winner: M+J Builders

The HIA Australian Specialised Housing Award recognises excellence in residential projects that meet the specific needs of an individual or group. This year, M+J Builders won the category for a seven-home project completed for Somerville Housing – a Northern Territory-based provider of housing solutions for people with disabilities.

The homes are located at two sites – Palmerston (in Darwin) and Katherine – and are designed to accommodate high-dependency, wheelchair-bound occupants in comfort. The project ‘presented a unique challenge, as such dwellings had never been constructed in the NT before’, says Michael Buckley, Director of M+J Builders.

Founded in 2008 by Michael and Jessica Buckley, M+J Builders specialises in complex commercial and residential projects across the Territory. The business is built on a commitment to safety, quality and innovation. ‘As professionals, we look outside the box and not stick with what we’re used to. I love new building techniques, I love new building materials, I love innovation.’ This approach, together with the company’s desire to give back to the community, made them the perfect partner for Somerville Housing's Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) project.

This project is designed to accommodate high dependency wheelchair bound occupants in comfort.
The homes are located at two sites – Palmerston (in Darwin) and Katherine in the Northern Territory.

‘Part of the reason why we won the tender for this project was our sense of purpose. We put a lot of emphasis on the design intent and a lot of local procurement. We also tried to do some cost engineering for the client, using budget in the right areas,’ Michael says.

The homes were designed by Troppo Architects, and Michael attributes much of the project’s success to the synergistic partnership between Somerville, Troppo and the building team.

‘We all wanted the same outcome. We worked together as a team. Meeting SDA requirements was quite onerous. We’re no strangers to building high-end houses but this project needed some additional expertise to ensure we ticked all the compliance boxes, while also building to cyclone code regulations. There were a lot of things we learned along the way.’

The Palmerston and Katherine houses differ in scale and are adapted to maximise their respective site orientations. Built from steel framing, with blockwork and custom orb cladding, the homes incorporate high-level accessibility features along with a homely ambience: open-plan living areas, private patios to the bedrooms and a central deck and pool area. This holistic approach gives the homes a broad appeal. In addition to picking up the gong for 2024 HIA Australian Specialised Housing, they also won HIA NT Townhouse/Villa of the Year and HIA NT GreenSmart Sustainable Home in 2023.

The homes incorporate high-level accessibility features and open plan living areas.
The Ropox benchtop, which moves up and down at the touch of a button

At both locations, construction ran smoothly, largely thanks to the expertise of M+J’s two site supervisors, Michael Kurt and Ricky Holgate. ‘Michael Kurt actually moved to Katherine for the duration, which is close to 500km away from Darwin,’ Michael says. ‘That was the most challenging part. He was away from his family, but fully dedicated to the project. To be honest, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.’

With raked ceilings, high clerestory windows and polished concrete flooring, the interiors are awash in natural light. Exposed blockwork walls and polished concrete flooring underpin a pleasing neutral palette. To comply with SDA requirements, ‘there were 100 pendulum tests that had to be done in every single section to prove that the polished concrete meets the slip rating.’

Michael adds that the timber used in the houses was sourced from Gumatj timber, an Aboriginal-run mill in the NT. ‘It’s harvested in Groote Eylandt and Nhulunbuy and a few other areas around Arnhem Land.’

Many of the SDA design features enhance the homes’ overall appeal: hallways that allow ample circulation space for wheelchairs; wide door openings, fitted with auto-opening doors. The bathrooms feature slip-resistant floor tiles and a hobless, wall-less shower. However, achieving many of these elements called for specific construction techniques.

The timber used in the houses was sourced from Gumatj timber, an Aboriginal-run mill in the NT.
Breeze corridors with louvres throughout enhance comfort.

‘The entire bathroom had to be what they call ‘robust’ to meet SDA requirements. The walls had to be reinforced in the entire bathroom, not just in the handrail locations.’ The hoist system, which assists with tenants’ mobility, ‘caused a few issues with the structural integrity of the trusses.

In the kitchens, the cooktop and sink are installed on a Ropox benchtop, which moves up and down at the touch of a button. Installing this had the plumbers ‘scratching their heads’, says Michael, laughing. ‘How are we going to make the plumbing come up and down without it leaking, you know? They came up with a slide – a plumbing system that’s been tested down South.’

The homes incorporate private patios to the bedrooms and a central deck and pool area.
For Michael the true reward is the ‘smiles on the faces’ of the tenants.

The Palmerston houses were opened in November 2022, and the Katherine development was ready to welcome tenants in September 2023. When asked what he’s most proud of in the finished project, Michael says it’s the incredible efforts of his staff. ‘Constructing the buildings, you know, everyone can do that. But to put the love and the respect into what we are building is probably the proudest thing that I can say that my staff did.’

While ‘it was a really cool moment’ when the Somerville Housing took out the national HIA award, the true reward is the ‘smiles on the faces’ of the tenants who now live in them.

‘Creating a space where the tenants feel safe and it’s their home, it’s incredible providing that. It’s something I’ll never forget’.
Michael Buckley


Energy-efficient design features

These homes were rated 7.4 in energy efficiency. Here are some of the design features that assisted with this:

  • High-venting ceilings with louvre windows at high levels to allow ventilation
  • Venting roofs
  • Shading wall cladding of masonry over windows around the property
  • Breeze corridor with louvres throughout the hallways
  • Breeze corridor with both homes opening up onto the deck
  • Natural light into the centre of the building
  • Solar/PV Panels with 2hr battery backup power for highly vulnerable tenants’ use in an emergency

Somerville Housing at a glance


M+J Builders


Troppo Architects


2024 HIA Australian Specialised Housing

Partnered by

Merlin Garage Door Openers


  • Flooring: Polished concrete throughout property
  • Timber: Gumatj timber
  • Cabinetry: Laminex
  • Plumbing: DDA fixtures from Reece Plumbing
  • Lysaght Custom Orb: Surfmist
  • Screens: Dabsco security screens
  • Windows: Louvre windows in powder black; Western red cedar timber louvres
  • Doors: Lockwood door hardware; Dormakaba hardware to auto opening doors
  • Walls: Darwin stringybark timber; Dulux paint in finishes in Olive leaf, African Ambush and Blue Quarry; Dulux Whisper White for internals
  • Tiles: Moov Beige slip-resistant tiles; feature tiles in Olive Gloss, Blue Jeans and Cream Gloss in the Devon Range
  • Steel sheet: Bluescope in Cove, Dune and Evening Haze.

First published on 1 July 2024

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