"Forming a bridge between earth and sky": How Fender Katsalidis designed Australia 108, the southern hemisphere's tallest apartment tower

"From the outset, World Class Global and our design team envisaged a distinctive landmark building for Melbourne. The aspiration was always to design a supertall tower in excess of 100 floors."

Australia 108 soaring above the clouds. Image supplied

Australia 108 is one of Melbourne's most well known, and well regarded, buildings.

Having completed construction toward the end of 2020, the striking tower, offering the highest residences in the Southern Hemisphere, was designed by the renowned architecture firm Fender Katsalidis, whose goal was to form a bridge between earth and sky.

Australia 108, on Southbank Boulevard, sits next to Eureka Tower, also talked about as one of Melbourne's best buildings. That too was designed by the team at Fender Katsalidis.

We recently caught up with Nicky Drobis, Director at Fender Ka​tsalidis, to discuss the design process of Australia 108, and how it came to be.

JR: What was the design brief for Australia 108 from World Class Global?
 
ND: For what was their first major project in Melbourne, World Class Global partnered with us to deliver their vision for a landmark residential tower in Southbank. The outcome – the highest residences in the Southern Hemisphere – reflects a seven-year aspiration for a building intended to feel like a close-knit community, forming a bridge between earth and sky.
 
 
JR: What interested you about the project?
 
ND: We were most interested in connecting people through a neighbourhood streetscape – but in a vertical sense. Taking a building-as-precinct approach led to offering new way of living for different sizes of families with residents able to share the beautiful space and luxurious amenities with families and friends.
 
JR: How early in the design process did you know Australia 108 was going to be the tallest apartment tower in the Southern Hemisphere?
 
ND: From the outset, World Class Global and our design team envisaged a distinctive landmark building for Melbourne. The aspiration was always to design a supertall tower in excess of 100 floors. Ultimately soaring to 319 metres in height, Australia 108 became the tallest building in Melbourne and the tallest residences in the Southern Hemisphere.
 
 
JR: What was the most challenging aspect when designing the tower?
 
ND: Whenever approaching something new, especially at such great height, challenges abound. To achieve a build that had never been attempted before in Australia required a lot of innovative thinking and detailed planning. This also presented ample opportunity to develop many new and exciting design and engineering solutions.

One key consideration was how the structure would cope with tremendous wind speeds of up to 140km/h. To overcome this, the structural stability was bolstered by a super-sized damper tank filled by high-pressure pumps in level 100’s subfloor to act as a counterbalance.

Due to local soil conditions, carparking was unable to be placed below ground. We saw an opportunity to create a new typology of open-deck carpark as a series of terraced and interlocking garden beds flanked with large mature palms and cascading foliage.

One of the greatest construction challenges we faced was how to assemble the starburst structure which cantilevers 6 metres from the building on all sides at more than 200 metres in the air. Constructed from 24 prefabricated steel trusses, each piece was transported at night to allow truck drivers to safely manoeuvre them into loading areas where they were hoisted and secured into position. Purpose-built platforms allowed workers to safely install the feature, protecting themselves and those on the streets below.

JR: When was the golden starburst idea thought of, and how?

ND: From the genesis of the supertall investigation, the starburst had always played a role as the centrepiece of the design. Inspired by the Commonwealth Star, our vision for the distinctive golden Starburst was as a central connection point.

The golden starburst expression is fundamental to both the building’s identity and structural composition; the cantilevered structure intervening with the sculptural building’s curvaceous form to create a dramatic exclamation mark in the skyline. Intended as a celebration of community within the building, this civic area was envisaged as the tower’s ‘town hall’ and remote working option above the clouds.

JR: How important were the amenities to the design of the building?

ND: Central to building a residential community within a supertall tower was to provide residents with generous communal spaces and a high quality of internal amenity. Australia 108 offers more than 4,000 sqm of internal communal space, including dining and function spaces, theatrettes, gymnasiums and many other spaces which allow for programmed events and social activities.

The starbust alone accommodates a double-height sky garden and two infinity edge swimming pools.

JR: Where did you draw inspiration from for Australia 108?

ND: Standing in dialogue with its neighbour, Eureka Tower, Australia 108’s material palette shares a golden connection with its fellow Fender Kat​salidis-design supertall tower. However, an entirely different geometry has been expressed in the floorplate of Australia 108.

Horizontal banding up the building’s exterior amplifies the curvilinear shape of the floorplan. The gradient, which intensifies as it works its way up, draws your eyes upward to celebrate the building’s form.

JR: Was there another building, either one you've previously worked on, or just another in the world, that helped in the design idea process?

ND: Instantly recognisable, Australia 108’s elegant silhouette embodies a strong visual relationship with its skyline partner, Eureka Tower. Australia 108 expresses its distinctive identity, while sharing elements of design language and materiality with Eureka, creating a strong, visually symbiotic relationship.

Australia 108 embodies the essence of the city. Its design pays homage to the cultural arts precinct it resides in, connecting masterfully to the Southbank neighbourhood through its deliberately inviting ground-level experience.

JR: What part of the building are you most proud of?

ND: We are most proud of the creation of such a diverse community across more than 100 floors. Despite its enormity, Australia 108 is a building that manages to operate and feel more like close-knit community.

With Australia 108, we have successfully conceived a vertical community in an era when densification of the city is becoming increasingly critical.

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Joel Robinson

Joel Robinson

Joel Robinson is a property journalist based in Sydney. Joel has been writing about the residential real estate market for the last five years, specializing in market trends and new developments across the country

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