CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street
Splash header: BIG, Bates Smart, FKA, Snohetta, SOM, HASSELL, Woods Bagot, SHoP, 447 Collins St

UPDATE 13/11/2015: a new amended design has been unveiled, see the plans here.

It was recently announced that an application to demolish the 27-storey, former National Mutual Plaza at 433-455 Collins Street (aka 447 Collins St) was on the agenda for the Future Melbourne (Planning) Committee.  A decision to issue a permit (subject to certain conditions being met - these can be found in the link provided at the bottom of this article) the likely outcome. 

In December 2013, previous owners ISPT sold the site to CBUS Property, after having carried out facade rectification works to make the site safe for pedestrian traffic. It has since emerged that CBUS had sought Expressions of Interest from 12 architectural practices to partake in a design competition for the site.  In due course these were whittled down to a short list of four consortia comprising some of Australia's biggest and most experienced architectural practices combined with big name internationals. They are as follows:

This calibre of architectural pairings is unprecedented in Melbourne, particularly when it comes to a private sector project. We have seen it more recently with the Flinders Street design competition however that was an open competition but it is quite rare for a developer to go to this length. This site however deserves it. So what can be expected in terms of design outcomes? Well one of the conditions of the planning permit reads as follows:

Prior to the commencement of the demolition or removal of existing buildings or works (excluding demolition or removal of temporary structures) on the land, the owner of the land must enter into an agreement pursuant to Section 173 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987. The agreement must provide the following: 
a. The public has ongoing access to an open area with interconnection to the public realm on Collins Street. The open area must have reasonable solar access, read as public space and achieve comfortable wind conditions to the satisfaction of the City of Melbourne

This means that any future development must include public space to Collins Street, how this is achieved will be of interest.

From a master planning point of view I think we'll see a similar outcome to CBUS's CBW development albeit with significantly more public space. That is two Next Gen commercial towers (a GFA upwards of 80,000sqm is likely) with a north-south laneway bisecting the site in addition to public open space of some description toward the north of the site fronting Collins Street. This open space will probably present as a much softer buffer to the hustle and bustle of Collins Street with stronger connections to adjacent buildings.

I've always been a firm believer that the quality of what is lost must be significantly outweighed by the quality of any future replacement. Now a lot of people will mourn the loss of the current building - I'm somewhat indifferent - but how many could argue that it is a worthy replacement for the Western market that once occupied the site?  I'd wager very few.

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street

That being said, let's take a look at the design credentials of the teams.

The Locals:

With the exception of Fender Katsalidis, all three other local offices have had previous experience on CBUS projects.

Bates Smart have previously been engaged by CBUS for CBW (VIC), 171 Collins St (VIC) and 35 Spring Street (VIC).

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street

Other Bates Smart projects include Queensbridge Tower, 3 Collins Square and 685 LaTrobe Street.

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street


Woods Bagot designed City West Police @ 313 Spencer St (VIC), NAB D2 @ 700 Bourke St (VIC)  and 1 William Street (QLD) for CBUS. 

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street

Additionally Woods Bagot are also responsible for the 80 Collins Street development for QIC and the Southern Cross Development for Brookfield.

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street


Hassell worked on CBUS's new Medibank 'Green' HQ @ 720 Bourke St (VIC).

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street

Other upcoming Hassell-designed commercial projects include KPMG's new HQ @ Collins Square and 710 Collins St. They were also involved in a previous design competition for the site.

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street

Hassell have previously teamed up with Herzog de Meuron to take out the Flinders Street Station design comp and are operating more as a design-driven studio these days as opposed to a large commercial practice.

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street


Fender Katsalidis, while having never been commissioned by CBUS are however renowned for some of Melbourne's best and most prominent residential buildings including Melbourne Terrace, Republic Tower and Eureka Tower - although it has been a long time between drinks since they last produced an office building in Melbourne.

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street

And a couple of FKA's latest offerings in the form of Fulton Lane, 350 William Street and Batman's Hill:

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street


The Internationals:

- Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG), Denmark. Formed in 2005, the office hit the BIG time with their 'The Mountain' residential project in Copenhagen. Projects include The Mountain, West 57th and Marina Lofts. BIG are quite active on the competition circuit having obtained most of their commissions as a result of design competitions.

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street


- Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), USA. One of the largest architectural firms in the world SOM, formed in Chicago in 1936, specialize in designing commercial skyscrapers having designed a long line of world's tallest buildings. They are responsible for One World Trade Centre in New York, Sears (now Willis) Tower in Chicago, Burj Khalifa (Dubai) and 140 William St in Melbourne (in conjunction with Yunckan Freeman).

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street


- SHoP Architects, USA. Perhaps not as well known as the previous two international offices, SHoP has been around since 1996. The New York based architects are behind the super-slim 111 West 57th, a scheme for the Hudson Yards redevelopment and Mulberry House  

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street


- Snøhetta, Norway. Last but no least is the Norwegian firm founded in 1989, with the name that probably make you go "who?".  They are best known for the Oslo Opera House - a project that blurs the boundaries of landscape and building. Other projects include the National September 11th Memorial Museum Pavilion and the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre in Toronto. 

CBUS brings in the BIG guns for 447 Collins Street

The Verdict:

I'm a sucker for design competitions and I can't wait to see what all the teams come up with, in particular HASSELL + BIG and Woods Bagot + SHoP. You could mount a strong argument for any one of those teams to win based on experience alone, however it will ultimately come down to the chemistry of the pairings - whether a harmony and balance of ideas can be achieved.

Bates Smart & Snøhetta's more restrained aesthetics could lead to a very visually beautiful scheme - a marrying of landscape and architecture where public/private thresholds aren't quite so evident.

The pairing of Hassell and BIG will likely result in super-scaled landscape-derived interventions - tapered geometric forms which echo mountains and hills.

FKA + SOM might form the most 'corporate' scheme with a hint of Melbourne. 

Woods Bagot and SHoP could be anything with Woods Bagot's current penchant for more crystalline and imperfect forms vs SHoP's much simpler forms.

Overall I think a lot of glazing and vegetation will be prevalent across all the schemes, with some favouring a leafy park over a plaza - a garden oasis of sorts in the centre of a city.

With the design competition having commenced on the 10th of February and a nominated timeframe of approximately 6 weeks for completion and submission of designs + 2 weeks for design review, an announcement on the winning scheme prior to Easter seems likely.  Demolition however will commence within 2 months of the Demolition Permit being issued, independent of the design competition, with the works to be staged as follows:

Stage 1

- Duration 10 months. 

- Demolition of office building to Collins Street ground level 

- Removal of hoarding and re-opening of the site for interim public use.

Stage 2. 

- Duration 2 months. 

- Demolition of the ground and basement levels will proceed at the commencement of the main development works which is subject to planning consent and adequate revenue pre-commitments.

Once the winning scheme is announced, rest assured Urban.com.au will have it covered.

Peace out.

The full report to the Future Melbourne Committee can be found here.
See my concept for Urban.com.au from last year here

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.

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Bjarke Ingles Group had to pull out and have been replaced by UN Studio.

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