Star(chitect) Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?

Laurence DragomirJune 1, 20160 min read

Primarily intended as a tongue in cheek reference to George Lucas' 1977 sc-fi classic, the subject matter of this piece is as the title suggests the (somewhat) recent trend towards engaging starchitects to design high-rise apartment buildings in Melbourne. While Sydney has engaged a number of starchitects such as Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster to name a few, Melbourne has instead relied on home grown talent to deliver its major projects.

Although international firms appear to be more active in the Sydney market, largely as a result of the two stage design competitions for large projects in the central city, Melbourne has also seen international firms ply their trade in the city, with some even establishing permanent bases here. The prestige surrounding these international practices is a large part of the selling point and offering a point of difference to the market, whether it's for an apartment building or an office tower.

Melbourne has previously seen the likes of IM Pei and Kisho Kurokawa working with local firms to deliver significant commercial projects such as Collins Place and Melbourne Central respectively in the late 80's to early 90's. While another significant project in 140 William Street, by Yuncken Freeman was heavily influenced by the skyscrapers in Chicago, with the architects seeking the expertise of Skidmore Owings & Merrill to deliver the timeless design.

Star(chitect) Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?
Melbourne Central and Collins Place

The involvement of international big name firms has been more pronounced in the delivery of public building with Grimshaw Architects in association with Daryl Jackson Architects delivering Southern Cross Station before establishing a permanent Melbourne base and working on a number of projects locally from Melbourne Metro to 477 Collins Street.

Likewise LAB Architecture who won the design competition for Federation Square set up shop in Melbourne working together with Bates Smart to deliver one of Melbourne's most popular public gathering spaces. The office's local work post Fed Square has been largely in the realms of master planning and urban design, with the firm being most prolific in China.

The Flinders Street Station design competition of 2012-13 generated a lot of interest from both local and international firms with the role call of shortlisted six design teams out of the 117 entrants making for impressive reading:

  • ARM Architecture (Melbourne)
  • Eduardo Velasquez, Manuel Pineda and Santiago Medina (Colombia via University of Melbourne)
  • Hassell and Herzog & de Meuron (Melbourne and Switzerland)
  • John Wardle Architects and Grimshaw (Melbourne and UK)
  • NH Architecture (Melbourne)
  • Zaha Hadid Architecture and BVN Donovan Hill (UK and Melbourne)

Ultimately it was Hassell and Herzog & de Meuron's scheme that won the competition, with the People's Choice Award going to Colombian ex-pats and now Melbourne locals Eduardo Velasquez and Manuel Pineda.

The winning scheme has yet to be realised and the chances of it coming to fruition are at this point in time slim but remains a personal favourite of mine, nonetheless.

The Flinders Street Station competition was also Zaha Hadid's second attempt at realising a building in Melbourne, with the late architect's practice being engaged by Dubai-based SAMA in 2008 to conceive a $1.5 billion multi-tower high rise development on what is now Lend Lease's Melbourne Quarter Development in Docklands.

ZHA was later shunned in favour of Norman Foster on the basis that the scheme, as proposed was too costly to build.

Star(chitect) Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?
Zaha Hadid's unrealised scheme for Batmans Hill, Docklands. Image courtesy of ZHA

More recently CBUS's design competition for the 447 Collins Street site saw a host of big name Melbourne architects team up with big name internationals.

  • HASSELL and UN Studio
  • Fender Katsalidis and Skidmore Owings & Merrill
  • Woods Bagot and ShoP Architects
  • Bates Smart and Snøhetta

Each team developed two schemes as part of the design competition process: a singular tower approach of around 300 metres and a more restrained dual tower scheme. In the end, the Woods Bagot and SHoP schemes proved successful with a revised dual tower scheme of 143 metres now supported by Planning Minister Richard Wynne, replacing a 90-storey 295 metre version which was rejected by former Planning Minister Matthew Guy.

The mixed-use building features over 2,000sqm of public parkland in addition to ground level retail, an amphitheatre and a mix of offices, hotel suites and apartments across two buildings linked by a sky bridge.

Star(chitect) Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?
447 Collins Street by SHoP and Woods Bagot.

Despite not winning the 447 Collins Street competition, Melbourne may still see a Snøhetta building yet, with the Norway and US based firm set to be involved in Melbourne's Arts Centre Precinct as part of the master plan redevelopment of the precinct.

And finally, the most recent proposals in Melbourne come from starchitects and Pritzker winning firms Zaha Hadid Architects and Atelier Jean Nouvel. ZHA working with Plus Architecture have designed a 54-storey tower at 600 Collins Street which looks set to receive approval, following support from the City of Melbourne.

Developer Landream submitted the 185 metre tower proposal at 582-606 Collins Street for planning approval in December 2015 with the design comprising a series of stacked volumes, which resemble vases, establishing uniformity between the podium and the tower.

Apart from a plot ratio of 29.2:1. the proposed tower otherwise meets all the other requirements of the interim planning controls under Amendment C262. The final decision rests with Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

Star(chitect) Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?
582-606 Collins Street. Image courtesy Plus Architecture

Jean Nouvel was in Melbourne recently as part of the Melbourne School of Design’s speaker series. His firm's 70-storey, $700 million tower is earmarked for a site at 383 La Trobe Street for developer Sterling Global.

The 243 metre proposal also exceeds the 24:1 plot ratio and the soon to be introduced 18:1 plot ratio but the development team argue this is justified due to the provision of a laneway through the site in addition to a public arcade featuring large-scale digital artworks across its surfaces.

Dubbed "The Tower of Seven Colors" the name refers to the building's response to its context, adopting the visual characteristics of its neighbours via different colours to its four primary elevations: gold to the east, red to the north, green to the west and silver to the south.

The Tower of seven colors has roots. It knows where it is. It is a friendly tower that likes and respects its neighbors: the Hellenic Museum in the Royal Mint, Flagstaff Park, the Republic Tower. It is part of this family. One doesn’t choose one’s parents or one’s cousins, but there they are. Is it because the tower was born right next door to the wall of the museum that it is dressed in this warm mat brick color through which white, green and blue highlights shine? Yes. Because of hereditary rules, the exceptional pleasures of contamination? Both, probably. Is it to better view Flagstaff Park that the tower climbs so high? Yes. Is it out of desire to belong to the park that it shows a dense green planted face to it, lined and underlined by sky gardens forming 3 or 4 bands around it? Yes, for these reasons and these desires. Is it out of friendship with the Republic Tower that the tower adopts and shelters between its great feet giant screens that are permanently inhabited by dynamic images, an ideal complement to its neighbor’s own art space? Of course. That is how complicity and attractiveness are created. Is it to touch the sky, or marry it, that the tower’s summit develops reflections and transparencies in a crystalline and deliberate ambiguity? Yes. These things do not happen by chance!

The tower wants to be welcoming and alive. Behind its great urban gate, passageways branch out and connect to the main streets of the neighborhood, creating a mini-neighborhood of laneways and covered porches, all under laid by a bluestone floor that extends outward into different variations of ceramic brick through all the spaces it crosses including the lobby bar of the hotel, which faces the heritage wall, and the grand entrances to the apartments and the restaurant. This urbanity is particularly made to measure in the long, tall video space that terminates in a street library that reads as an extension of the heritage wall. The urban attraction of this place is linked to its singularity, to its magnetic charm that will be as important for the residents of the tower as for the Melbournians who will come here again and again.

Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Star(chitect) Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?
383 La Trobe Street. Image courtesy Atelier Jean Nouvel

Topping off the impressive roll call is the biggest of them all: Wilkinson Eyre's 90-storey, 323 metre, $1.7 billion 6-star hotel and residential behemoth for Crown and Schiavello on Queensbridge Street in Southbank.

Having already won the design competition for Crown Towers at Barangaroo in Sydney, Wilkinson Eyre has conceived a design which the firm describes as “three interlocking sculptural forms providing a graceful and unique addition to the Melbourne skyline”.

The British firm's entry was selected ahead of local firms Bates Smart and Hassell, as well as international entries from Foster + Partners and Jean Nouvel. All up the new tower will feature 388 hotel rooms and 708 residences; and pending approval will be the tallest tower in Australia eclipsing Eureka (297 metres), Australia 108 (319 metres) and Q1 (322 metres) on the Gold Coast.

Star(chitect) Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?
Wilkinson Eyre's 90-storey 323 metre Crown Hotel & Residences. Image courtesy Crown Resorts

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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