Blockhead Concept - 447 Collins Street / Market Square

Market Square is the first in a series of articles I will be writing for Urban Melbourne that will be looking at the adaptation, regeneration and development of buildings, structures and sites through conceptual interventions in the form of pretty pictures.

The concept for Market Square, located at 447 Collins Street investigates the possibility of redeveloping the former National Mutual Plaza into a bustling urban oasis in the middle of the Melbourne CBD, that in part pays homage to the site's previous life as the Western Market.

The idea came about after a panel on the Godfrey and Spowers designed building came crashing down in January 2012. Following which, owner's ISPT engaged consultants Aurecon to complete an assessment of the structural integrity of the tower and its facade.

A bustling urban oasis in the middle of the Melbourne CBD

The Site

Before I go any further, here is a brief rundown of the site:

  • The current 1960's international style marble facade building replaced the former Western Market following its demolition in 1961.
  • The Western Market, established in 1841 and operating for 90 years before its closure, was Melbourne's first official fresh fruit and vegetable market. Market Street is named after it.
  • The site is zoned as CCZ1 (Capital City Zone 1) meaning a permit is required to:
  1. To construct a building or construct or carry out works which will cast a shadow across the north bank of the Yarra River between 11.00 am and 2.00 pm on 22 June. A permit may only be granted if the responsible authority considers the overshadowing will not prejudice the amenity of the Yarra River corridor.
  2. To construct a building or construct or carry out works which would cast a shadow between 11.00 am and 2.00 pm on 22 March and 22 September over public space, public parks and gardens, public squares, major pedestrian routes including streets and lanes, and privately owned plazas open to the public. A permit may only be granted if the responsible authority considers the overshadowing will not prejudice the amenity of those areas.

While ISPT consider the current building's future following the exit of the final tenants mid-year (there has been talk of retaining it and carrying out remedial works to the facade) I have decided in this instance to knock it down and go tabula rasa on its derriere.

You're probably asking "but why Laurence? what's wrong with the current building?" "have you no architectural conscience?" "Tabula, Rasa? Derriere? Good god man what are you on about?"

All very good questions. Here I see an opportunity to inject some much needed sheltered, green space into the heart of the CBD.

Project Summary

The key elements of the scheme are as follows:

  • A 4,000sqm, sunken (relative to Collins Street), north facing public park, accessed via stairs and bleachers along Collins and featuring a community garden
  • A large timber 'Urbarn' Market (Urban + Barn, gee aren't I clever) paying homage to the site's former life as the Western Market
  • A 45-storey office tower raised above a 12-storey public 'podium' housing your stock standard bars, cafe, restaurants etc. plus a publically accesible, tiered, urban farm stepping up from Collins Street. The tower is topped off with a roof top garden and 80m light shard.
  • A 12-storey high, concrete verandah over the park on a monumental scale akin to the Grande Arche in Paris providing shelter from the weather and framing the view of the significant beaux-arts former Port Authority Building to the south.

Method behind the madness?

I tried to be strategic in orienting the tower to run north-south versus the current building which is sited to run east-west. This was done as a means of reducing the visual bulk from the river and the amount of overshadowing for a tower of its height even is it's not ideal from an ESD point of view.

I have attempted to control the amount solar gain through the faceted triple skinned glazed facade which is also intended to act as a wind mitigator, by reducing the amount of 'flat' surface area.

The provision of an urban park was partly done to offset any loss of amenity to the Northbank as a result of the tower's height, which is taller than the current building due to the amount of site area given over to public programme.

I also liked the idea of inserting a park into Melbourne's main street amongst the corporate towers.

I think I've rambled on enough for now, so until next time when I will be tackling Station Pier in Port Melbourne. Please enjoy the site chronology and images below - let me know what you think. Peace out.

Western Market, courtesy of The Collector's Marvellous Melbourne


Peter Maltezos's picture

Like everything! yes

Hope the current owners of this site take notice of your article.

I collect, therefore I am.

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Dangerous Beans's picture

It's a funky looking beast! Love the "urbarn market" and the enhancement of public space. The facade and verandah are very striking, particularly the way the triangle geometry of each complements the other, nice. Personally I am not a fan of the light beacon, but then I don't think I have ever seen one that I like.
Looking forward to your next effort.

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Andrew Mck's picture

What a sensational concept, ive heard of it but had no idea how fabulous it was.
But who is surprised the CoM rejected it because of its above mandatory height limits, they are so far up each others backsides its not funny.

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Rohan Storey's picture

Certainly the idea that the current plaza should be 'enlivened' with cafe pods, market stalls, shade structures, better landscaping etc. is worth developing.

However I am a fan of the current building. I've been converted over the last few years, from not thinking much of it, to admiring it for the layered qualities of the facade, the use of marble, and the fact that it is a bold free-standing box, and is now one of the few mid-century-modern office blocks that is largely unaltered (except for the unfortunately shedding of marble !). It would also look so much better with the now-tarnished gold coloured grid re-gilded. So would like to see the current square done over, keeping the current building.

I am also a fan of keeping the no over-shadowing of Southbank rule in place, so I don't support a taller building in this location. Also the faceted glass facade is nice, but its been done before, and they never look as good as the renderings.

Also I wonder why you have put the plaza on the east side, rather than keeping it on the north side where it would get sunlight throughout the day ?


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Laurence Dragomir's picture

Hi Rohan,

Thanks for your feedback, always appreciated.

At the time of writing the article and producing the concept, the fate of the current building was still up in the air so I was hoping down the track to do a follow up with the existing building and re-worked plaza.

ISPT have since lodged an application to demolish the building rendering that article pointless

The height of the tower was a byproduct of providing a great deal of public space - acknowledging that the height of the tower would overshadow but making up for it by providing a sunny space in the heart of the city.

The thinking behind providing the open space to the east rather than north was as a result of closing a lane of traffic on Market Steeet while also creating and framing a new view of the former Port Authority Building from Collins Street. This strategy also allows for greater sunlight deeper into the site in winter.



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Rohan Storey's picture

Hi Laurence,

Good point about the current plaza not getting much sunlight in winter. If the current tower does go, a deeper plaza would be a good idea. Sadly the plaza is owned by ISPT, and as you can see in previous proposals, they provide only some open space.

It is worth noting if you or others dont already know, that the provision of the plaza in the first place occurred because the City of Melbourne, who owned the former market, chose the current design (in about 1960) because it provided a large open space, and its provision was part of lease deal; the site was leased for 99 years to National Mutual rather than sold, in order to ensure the design they wanted was the one that was built.

However no-one seems to have ensured that the plaza was anything more than a place to sit and eat lunch - it has little activation, no public art (actually there are two statues installed later, one of Batman, another of Fawkner, though they are lost in the scrappy planting), no grand landscaping, and so the plaza never became something that Melburnians took to heart, though it is clearly an amenity worth having. Thirty years later, in the Kennett years, the city was run by administrators, who sold the freehold of both this site and the old Eastern Market site (then the Southern Cross Hotel) to the then occupiers. This site was sold without any planning controls put in place to protect the open space - I dont know if this was an oversight, or perhaps they simply didnt care about retaining the open space, but now we are faced with losing it almost completely.

I discovered this when I saw a design proposed by National Mutual I think in the late 1990s by DCM that put a very large slab-like building plonked in front of the existing building, covering the entire plaza, but set on tall legs so that there would be some 'open space' underneath. That space would of course have got very little direct sunlight.

Its interesting that proposals lately have always retained some open space, but I think it a great failing that there is no statutory requirement to retain any at all !


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