ROTHELOWMAN’s innovative vision for Fishermans Bend

Having secured planning permits for towers within Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend, architects at ROTHELOWMAN forecast significant potential for the area to host Melbourne’s rapidly growing population.

Urban Melbourne recently spoke with ROTHELOWMAN’s Managing principal Nigel Hobart regarding Fishermans Bend and its projected progress in the coming five to ten years, with Hobart emphasising the opportunity the area presents for the people of Melbourne.

According to Hobart, parallels which have been drawn between the Urban Renewal Area and Docklands are largely unjustified. The vast majority of land in Fishermans Bend is privately owned, unlike Docklands which started its life as large tracts of government owned land that was subdivided and sold to developers.

Despite Fishermans Bend’s already evident potential, Hobart notes what the area requires is more engagement between the community and industry to strike the right balance and deliver a quality outcome for Melbourne.

Nigel Hobart believes the area calls for is a set of planning rules which aren't overly prescriptive, in order not to result in a contrived outcome. While there is a place for planning rules and regulations, he remarks it’s ultimately communities that create these various housing typologies, not legislation.

"Communities create variety, legislation doesn’t," Hobart says.

The area’s reasonably established street network and urban fabric will provide an organic framework for diversity of scale.

It is fundamental however that transport becomes a priority for authorities as the area begins to develop and take shape. Alternates to mass transit should be considered and explored, factoring in how new infrastructure will tie into the existing infrastructure, particularly Melbourne's tram network.

60-82 Johnson Street, South Melbourne. Image courtesy ROTHELOWMAN

Discussing the practice's experience in consulting with the Melbourne Planning Authority and City of Port Phillip on their Johnson Street project, Hobart considers the creation of active, vibrant streetscapes being a greater concern for authorities than density and height.

The practice sought to address this desire on their Johnson Street scheme via the introduction of a through block link (street level lighting to the building perimeters allows for a sense of security and creates a more comfortable and welcoming pedestrian environment). Additionally, resident amenity is provided for the development through the podium rooftop that’s shared across the four towers to create a sense of community.

A proportion of the three-bedroom apartments designed with families in mind are focused towards the podium levels to provide a sense of being more grounded and closer to the street than apartments within the towers. Each tower has an overly large lobby space and each will have a unique identity, providing each building with its own distinct character resulting in a legible wayfinding experience for residents and visitors.

The podium also contains a mix of retail outlets, supplemented by bicycle parking, car parking and other service and ancillary requirements.

At one stage during the design process, a community hall was proposed within the development that would have been managed by the City of Port Phillip. However, the complexities around the provision of public and community infrastructure within a privately owned development saw that idea scrapped from the final submission.

In terms of community infrastructure and the need for schools, Hobart believes there is an opportunity for the delivery of schools and parks, if a compromise is struck with authorities to allow more height to buildings.

ROTHELOWMAN's Thistlethwaite Street design.

Discussions between the office and the relevant authorities implied that height wasn't as sensitive as it is in established residential suburbs. There is no river, shrine or other sensitive areas in close proximity to the site to overshadow or have influence on the height. The interim height controls as applied require a 40-storey maximum for Montague Precinct and 18-storey maximum for Sandridge Precinct.

While there should be an overarching plan in place, Hobart believes there should still be provisions for innovative ideas and design outcomes to emerge. He makes the point that Melbourne developed and evolved organically, with no overarching masterplan for the city.


Bilby's picture

"... it’s ultimately communities that create these various housing typologies."

Really? In the absence of a robust planning scheme, how exactly can the community shape the urban typology for a large site in Fishermen's Bend, Nigel?

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

I think that is just a classical libertarian approach that market forces, with little or no no interference, will ultimately result in the best mix of housing typologies due to supply and demand.

Unfortunately a pure supply and demand situation already does not exist as distortions in the market such as negative gearing and international investment mean that buildings are designed with the needs of investors in mind rather than the community or eventual residents of the developments.

The role of planning controls in our capitalist system is to balance these market distortions to prevent outcomes that will not benefit the community as a whole. The extent of intervention required is a continuous debate as these systems are so complex that nobody will ever come up with a perfect balance.

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gobillino's picture

I've often heard the 'privately owned/fine grained' argument in support of why Fishermans Bend won't be another Docklands, and it's a valid point as to a fundamental difference between the two.

But it's exactly the same situation that Southbank was in, pre-redevelopment, and for mine Southbank away from the river is a much worse urban redevelopment outcome than Docklands, and much more difficult to redeem.

For mine the argument is an interesting fact, but certainly not the recipe for organic fabulous urbanity that it's presented as being.

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Bilby's picture


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