Urban Melbourne recently highlighted two projects within Docklands that have strong design credentials which stand to add to the ever-evolving precinct's body of architecture. One project in particular, Escala - MAB's latest offering at its NewQuay development - has sought a different approach to previous residential buildings in the area, with the aim of introducing some Melbourne CBD fine grain and character to the eastern precinct.
To that end, MAB Corporation tasked architects Six Degrees - synonymous with the rebirth of Melbourne's laneway culture - to design a set of buildings which not only meet rigorous design criteria for apartments but also provide a unique mixed-use development which capitalises on its location and changing context.
Urban Melbourne recently asked David Allt-Graham, General Manager Residential at MAB to provide a bit of background on the approach and process for conceiving Escala, and what it will add to the precinct. This will be followed by a piece with Six Degree's Mark Healy who will discuss the design in greater detail.
Urban Melbourne: NewQuay has continued to evolve over nearly 20 years, with greater diversity in the architecture and product offering, with buildings by Plus Architecture, McBride Charles Ryan, DKO Architecture, Woods Bagot and now Six Degrees making their mark on the precinct. How has MAB's vision for the precinct evolved and have you had to revisit it over the course of 20 years?
David Allt-Graham: In 1997, MAB saw the opportunity to bring NewQuay to life, with a vision of creating a 24-hour city for Melburnians to live, play, work and stay on the shores of Victoria Harbour. This was extremely bold thinking, as, at the time, the Harbour was surrounded by dilapidated sheds and the Docklands looked very different. Now, more than twenty years later, MAB’s vision is realising its full potential. The important elements are falling into place, with a new primary school, supermarket, cinema complex and two hotels being only some of the new additions due to be built in NewQuay over the next few years.
Our vision for NewQuay remains unchanged, however our approach has become more sophisticated as we respond to a maturing suburb and an evolving housing market. Escala is arguably the best example of MAB’s adaptability as it includes a proprietary, split-level internal design which was developed to offer affordable, double height living spaces within apartments.
UM: What was it about Six Degrees' work that attracted MAB to engage the practice for Escala?
DA-G: MAB’s open-minded approach to art and design has produced some remarkable collaborations. An example of this is the creation of ‘Monument Park’ and the multi award-winning ‘The Quays’.
Escala is the result of a new collaboration between MAB and Six Degrees. Six Degrees is a practice that, like MAB, has over 20 years’ experience in the industry as well as a passion for city living in Melbourne. Six Degrees are undoubtedly the pioneers of transforming Melbourne’s city into a liveable place. Their work is synonymous with Melbourne’s laneway culture and it is exciting to see their ideas being translated into a tower development. Working with Six Degrees has inclined our team to think more about scale and has also helped us to further understand how people use and enjoy different spaces.
Six Degrees’ work is timeless and it aligns with our mission for integrity over fashion in the final product.
UM: The approach to Escala differs slightly from some of the previous buildings in NewQuay particularly with multiple buildings which form the podium - what was the brief to Six Degrees?
DA-G: The intention of designing Escala as a collection of buildings was so to deliver a development which presents variety, as well as one that presents an idea of spaces being built over time. This approach saw Six Degrees prioritise materiality, scale, and to embrace diversity. This concept is clearly expressed in the uniqueness of each streetscape of Escala, with buildings of different character.
Simple, robust materials, including brick and bluestone are integral to each streetscape. These materials are carried into the interiors of the building, with concrete ceilings in the apartment living areas and corridors lit from stain glass feature windows. We also expressed to Six Degrees that we wanted to offer some relief from plasterboard and carpet at Escala.
UM: Will Escala be the final residential development completing NewQuay East?
DA-G: Escala is MAB’s thirteenth boutique project in NewQuay and we have subsequently learnt a great deal about apartment living over this journey.
Escala is the final stage of development in the Eastern precinct and it will be a ‘keystone’ project that unifies the neighbouring developments in the area. Escala will deliver a new piazza on Docklands Drive, which will become a focal point for street life and provide a sunny and restful space to simply hang out in or to have lunch at. There is a great buzz around Escala and the feedback from everyone who has seen it, including Council planners, has been fantastic and positive. We look forward to completing it!
UM: What impact do you think the proposed Docklands Primary School, the overhaul of the former Harbour Town retail and entertainment precinct which will include a Fresh Food Market, Supermarket and cinemas, will have on the attractiveness of not only Escala but NewQuay?
DA-G: These amenities have been in planning for a long time and NewQuay is currently experiencing a major ‘step change’ as they each come through construction over the next few years. We’re not selling the dream anymore, it is now happening.
NewQuay is becoming increasingly diverse, with expanding retail in the District Docklands (including a new H&M store), entertainment areas, a modern school, and sophisticated new residences like Escala and Banksia. This means that we can cater to a much broader cohort of residents and businesses. This further expands our markets and makes the whole precinct more vibrant – it is a virtuous circle.