A green solution to an unsightly problem

A green solution to an unsightly problem
Mark BaljakMarch 6, 2016

Two inactive walls spanning 100 metres in a highly visible corner of Melbourne's CBD. Is this really the best design outcome all parties involved could conjure? Maybe it is, but it is a blight on Melbourne's skyline.

Notwithstanding the likelihood that the project in question at 560 Flinders Street will receive a serious paint job, the blank edifices to north and west are ghastly and a reflection of a poor design outcome sanctioned by those vested in maintaining Melbourne's design standards. 560 Flinders Street isn't exactly alone either when it comes to creating vast blank spaces in Melbourne's skyline.

109 Clarendon Street on Southbank, for instance, maintains a precast eastern elevation set back from the podium, thus forever remaining exposed - this is sheer planning stupidity!

Granted certain development sites with common boundaries should maintain blank walls with an eye towards future adjoining development, but there are many which will remain exposed indefinitely. 560 Flinders Street, for example, is surrounded by the 1920's Markillies Hotel to both inactive elevations; the prospects of both blank walls remaining visible permanently is very real.

A green solution to an unsightly problem
A blight on our fair city; 560 Flinders and Marco currently under construction

Planning Minister Richard Wynne's move last year to tweak planning laws will go some way to eliminating these poor design outcomes, with minimum tower separations set in place which will encourage active elevations to all sides for future developments. Simultaneously these planning changes will also highly likely lead to existing blank walls remaining so.

So how should this blight be addressed? Logically no inactive precast walls/elevations above the podium levels is a no-brainer!

Yet how to address certain existing projects with retrospective design changes? Setting aside prohibitive cost and engineering issues for a moment and stepping into a utopian outcome, could green walls be fitted to precast elevations which have no prospect of being covered?

A green solution to an unsightly problem
Contemporary and creative but not compulsory. Image: Minimalisti

Seen above is a prime example of what can be achieved on a grand scale regarding greening a large elevation. Various examples exist around Melbourne on a smaller scale, with Triptych Southbank's south-facing podium a premier example; could this just not be extended to cover an entire elevation? The equivalent green wall applied to a Melbourne building would be stunning.

Perhaps this strategy could be jointly adopted by the City of Melbourne and the State Government by contributing to initial costs of implementation, with body corp to assume ongoing costs thereafter. City of Melbourne is already encouraging greening existing roofs, walls or facades. Why not take it a step further?

Like most problems, if enough money is thrown at it an outcome can be found. But can the outcome justify the expense?

Venturing back to the land of reality, such a scheme would be hamstrung by a variety of factors including structural integrity, safety, drainage, wind forces and of course cost. Yes, the logistics of implementing this idea of retrospective green walls to inactive high-rise elevations is verging on impossible, but it's a far more palatable outcome than some of the precast visual pollution Melbourne has and is being subjected to.

Lead image courtesy Minimalisti & Oh-Yes-Melbourne

Mark Baljak

Mark Baljak was a co-founder of Urban.com.au. He passed away on Thursday 8th of November 2018 after a battle with cancer. He was 37. Mark was a keen traveller, having visited all six permanently-inhabited continents and had a love of craft beer. One of his biggest passions was observing the change that has occurred in Melbourne over the past two decades. In that time he built an enormous library of photos, all taken by him, which tracked the progress of construction on building sites from across metropolitan Melbourne.

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