New vision for student accommodation: revolutionising Brisbane’s housing sector

Scape CEO Anouk Darling and Plus Architecture Principal Chrisney Formosa explore how we can unlock the potential of student accommodation to be a critical part of a long-term housing solution both in Brisbane and across Australia.

Communal space at Scape Toowong. Plus Architecture Principal and Scape's CEO reflect on the potential of PBSA across Australia | PBSA News
Communal space at Scape Toowong. Image: ©Annette O’Brien.

Amid a shortage of affordable and appropriate housing across Australia, well-designed, purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) has the potential to reshape the city of Brisbane and meet a critical need for more housing diversity.

Post-pandemic, Australia has seen an influx of returning international students, with student accommodation in Brisbane already at 100% capacity and an additional 40,000 Chinese students anticipated to arrive in the next 12 months.

According to Anouk Darling, CEO of Scape and Chair of the Student Accommodation Council, Brisbane’s housing system is facing critical issues around housing supply, quality and affordability, but well-designed student accommodation alleviates pressure on the residential rental market by providing an alternative source of accommodation specifically designed for the student cohort.

“With limited vacancies in PBSA in the city, students are also turning to the wider housing market. This not only places additional pressure on the housing system, but means that students are in accommodation that simply doesn’t meet their needs. Compared to overseas markets including the UK and elsewhere in Europe, Australia is relatively new to the PBSA landscape. However rather than playing catch up, we’re accelerating in design and service capability.”

Anouk Darling, CEO, Scape, Chair, Student Accommodation Council
Scape CEO Anouk Darling | PBSA News
Scape CEO Anouk Darling.

Scape has collaborated with leading international architecture practice Plus Architecture on eight student accommodation sites in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Chrisney Formosa, Principal at Plus Architecture, believes that high-quality PBSA plays a critical role in easing pressure on Australia’s housing sector.

“Australia’s major cities urgently need more housing diversity across the board, not just in the student accommodation sector but also asset classes like aged care, Built to Rent, and specialist accessible housing. The key word is ‘purpose-built’ – we don’t just need more housing, we need tailor-made housing that actually serves the needs of Australia’s diverse communities. PBSA is just one important part of a wider puzzle when it comes to tackling widespread housing shortages, and we need to develop exemplary design models to ensure these sites are designed for the needs of students both now and into the future.”

Chrisney Formosa, Principal, Plus Architecture
Plus Architecture Principal Chrisney Formosa | PBSA News
Plus Architecture Principal Chrisney Formosa. Image: ©TylerAlberti

Chrisney adds that celebrating rich cultural diversity and a sense of community through design is key.

“Our varied Scape student accommodation projects are home to students from more than 100 different nationalities collectively.

“It’s crucial to consider how to design these spaces to support students to feel comfortable, safe and connected to their fellow students. Understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for all students, we seek to provide a diverse range of spaces.

“This holistic approach to design means we provide quiet study areas, recreational spaces, indoor and outdoor communal areas, and amenities like multi-purpose landscaped roof terrace and space for yoga and pilates classes.”

Chrisney Formosa, Principal, Plus Architecture

Given its 17-storey height, Plus Architecture’s design for Scape Toowong was centred around the idea of creating vertical communities to facilitate social interactions. Key features include amphitheatre-style steps which connect to all levels of the building, a densely landscaped courtyard close to the main double-height lobby creating a calm oasis for students to connect and unwind, and a communal lounge and coffee shop.

“More than anything, students need fit-for-purpose spaces that support them to succeed, and designers must work hand in hand with student accommodation providers to stay at the forefront of these changing needs.”

Chrisney Formosa, Principal, Plus Architecture

Chrisney believes that there’s great scope for the PBSA sector to be at the forefront of a long-term sustainable design strategy in Brisbane.

“With few vacant inner-city landholdings, there’s an opportunity for the sector to capitalise on and reposition existing commercial assets. Rather than the default knock-down and rebuild approach, we can consider how we can creatively reuse, adapt and extend existing structures in central locations.

“While our Scape sites have been designed to serve as student accommodation, we’ve ensured these buildings can have a life far beyond. Through embedding elements such as larger room sizes, in the future they can be adapted for alternative uses, such as for the Build to Rent sector.”

Chrisney Formosa, Principal, Plus Architecture

Experiencing the strongest growth of all Australian cities, Brisbane currently has 17,251 beds with an additional 2,700 in the pipeline for 2026 and beyond – 400 of which will be built and operated by Scape. The Gold Coast is also fast emerging as a key market with Bond University driving the need for additional housing supply.

Amid the pressing need for more rental housing, Anouk adds that it’s time for the Government to start taking seriously the role student accommodation providers can play.

“PBSA is the un-sung hero supporting Australia’s largest services export: the $40bn international education industry. Yet the sector faces many challenges from attracting capital to regulatory, taxes such as stamp duty, and locally with planning.

“We need the support of governments to be receptive both federally and at a state level, and ensure that policies facilitate the rapid delivery of PBSA to meet the sustained demand for student housing.”

Anouk Darling, CEO, Scape, Chair, Student Accommodation Council