How do you solve a problem like 464?

Laurence DragomirSeptember 12, 20130 min read

Following on from Mark's comprehensive article on the development at 464 Collins Street yesterday, I have the privilege of providing you all with a follow up article aptly named "How do you solve a problem like 464?" More specifically I am referring to the sheer concrete wall abutting the western boundary of the site, broken up only by two slivers of glazing; a pet hate of the crew.

464 Collins Street is not alone in this regard and this article should in no way be construed as an attack on the building or project architect Bates Smart for that matter, whose work I generally admire. Rather the intent is to highlight what we consider to be a problem that is becoming more prevalent with new buildings along shared boundaries - the dreaded blank wall.

This commonly occurs on smaller city sites housing residential towers designed to achieve the maximum yield or commercial towers with a side core arrangement hoping to maximise floor plate efficiency. As a result of this insatiable need for more and more apartments/office space in the city coupled with Floor Space Ratios unofficially going out the window (pun definitely intended) some time ago, means setbacks from boundaries are becoming somewhat of an endangered species. This basically limits the possibility of any windows to habitable rooms along the site's boundary and you guessed it we're left with a blank wall.

How do you solve a problem like 464?
Melbourne Star & Sky as seen from Elizabeth Street. Image credit Ryan Seychell.

The most recent crop of buildings to be adorned with this must have architectural accessory are Melbourne's answer to Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen (better known as Melbourne Star and Melbourne Sky above), developed by Brady Group and designed by Peddle Thorp Architects. Both buildings' service cores are located to the east and west boundaries of the greater site, the towers only being separated (just) by Sutherland Lane.

Consequently a pedestrian walking along Elizabeth Street is presented with a great big blank wall making up about 50% of the eastern elevation, a sliver of glass, and a facade nominal setback consisting of a series of windows and balconies which will lose any amenity that they may currently have once the adjoining site is redeveloped.

Melbourne Star & Sky highlight the problem developers and architects on tight sites have to contend with perfectly; you either build all the way to the boundary and have no windows or you setback a minimal distance (usually 1.5m) and risk the loss of what natural light and means of ventilation those apartments possess to any future development.

How do you solve a problem like 464?
464 Collins with a kinetic energy facade applied

So just what can be done with a blank concrete wall along a shared boundary considering there's the possibility that at some point in the not-too-distant future another building will cover cover the precast facade. Using 464 Collins Street as my subject I had a crack at some potential treatments for the blank concrete wall to the west. While the urban art and embossed precast make grand visual statements that may fall foul of planning authorities, the kinetic energy facade strikes a balance between subtle visual interest and intense facade activation.

Consisting of small aluminum tiles bound by lengths of wire, the facade treatment seems fluid, reacting to wind movement in a constantly changing manner providing an interface between built form and the natural environment. Current examples include Brisbane Airport's car park and Marina Bay Sands Singapore. The beauty of such a facade application is that when required it could be easily removed utilising 464 Collins Street's building mechanical unit with minimal fuss.

Ultimately though once again it's a matter of heightened planning policy and enforcement; I wouldn't be holding my breathe...

Click for a larger view and enjoy the renders including some context shots!

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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