Wind back to mid last year and it was announced that The Uniting Church would team with Leighton Properties to deliver a new premium office tower opposite Wesley Church on Lonsdale Street, while also hoping to restore the church's place and identity in the heart of Melbourne. Referred to as the Wesley Upper Lonsdale Street site, a planning application for a premium office tower was submitted during January 2015, and is still under assessment.
The Request for Proposal document made clear to prospective project partners that any development on the site needed to place a high emphasis on building relationships between people and to foster community relationships. It also outlined the need to restore and, where possible, enhance, the historic buildings while respecting the original custodians.Crosslight, Uniting Church
To that end Cox Architecture were engaged to create a development capable of fulfilling the above requirement, while also delivering a high-end office tower encompassing 55,000sqm of premium space.
While the heritage buildings appear to retain their overall integrity from a distance (with the exception of the very dilapidated Princess Mary Club) the situation is one of buildings much in need of maintenance. The site also provides a low level of amenity due to the car parking operations – the present-day setting for the Church is within a poorly arranged at-grade car park. This is inconsistent with the cultural heritage importance of the place.
A key challenge for the site is that the current buildings, and their condition, do not allow for a viable ongoing use of the site. Whilst a number of the current buildings are being used by the Wesley Church, it is far from optimum and would not be able to continue long term. Also the current use cannot fund the prohibitively expensive repair and restoration work required for the existing buildings on site.
Two of the buildings on site have been identified as reaching the point where they cannot be occupied for safety reasons, being the Princess Mary Club and Wesley House.
The nature and condition of the current buildings, and the impact of the existing car park use on the site constrain the activities of the Wesley Church, and have resulted in the Wesley Mission having to move off site.118-148 Lonsdale Street planning report
In line with The Uniting Church's wishes as outlined above, ground level activation plays a pronounced role in the redevelopment, in that the original structures and uses are to be melded with new facilities in order to increase public utilisation of the site.
In this regard the AECOM acting as landscape consultant have created three separate areas within the grounds which carry differing characteristics:
The 'event and meeting place' will see the bulk of foot traffic access the site while the central 'sanctuary' will act as a subdued area either side of Wesley Church. The northern section of the site will be dedicated toward the 'city meeting place' with existing structures adapted into cafes with outdoor seating.
Running north south, Wesley Place will provide a link between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale with 2,262sqm of the site dedicated to open space. Included in this figure is the 190sqm Wesley Park, 920sqm Northern Plaza and 770sqm Southern Church Forecourt area.
The Wesley Church site has over previous decades been subject to differing development schemes, with a number of towers put forward with no great success.
One such scheme was conceived by studio505 who along with project partner Grocon submitted plans for a similarly sized office complex to that of the current design. Under the title ‘Wesley Village’, the development would have also seen the delivery of a new urban space separating new and old structures while also creating "Truly magnificent, sophisticated and elegant architecture that inspires."
While the studio505 design would have brought a visual focal point to Lonsdale Street via its streaky podium, the current Cox Architecture design has taken an opposing path by paring back its initial offering. In perhaps a more respectful nod to the existing church, gone is the diagonal white bracing and crumpled podium features, replaced by more subdued finishes.
With the swirl of speculation surrounding the sale of Leighton Properties in recent months, it remains to be seen if and when the tie-up between Leighton Properties and The Uniting Church will lead to the delivery of this long sought after development.