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Does this look like it's a 'landmark' building?

Whenever I see a proposal like this one (first exhibit), I have to remind myself that architectural taste is a very subjective matter. People like different things. One man’s meat

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Proposed development of 545 Station St (developer's render)

Whenever I see a proposal like this one (first exhibit), I have to remind myself that architectural taste is a very subjective matter. People like different things. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, etc etc.

But if I were the developer, this is not the look I’d be going for. Residents and Councillors in Australia tend to have mainstream taste and this looks like it’s bound to provoke opposition. I’m not sure what it evokes but I have an image in my mind’s eye of Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer or maybe Mukesh Ambani’s new house .

The proposal is from the Barton Group & AXF Group. It’s for a 109 metre high, 33 storey tower in suburban Box Hill, Melbourne. It comprises 275 apartments with 238 parking spaces, plus shops, restaurants and a function centre with 53 shared parking spaces (more detail here).

Like the proposal in Bundoora I discussed last week, it seems like a perfect and obvious fit with the location. It’s in one of Melbourne’s six suburban Central Activities Areas, which sit at the top of the activity centres hierarchy and aspire to be mini CBDS.

The site is large (2,417 sq m) and currently used as a car park. It’s zoned for intensive development and has a valid planning permit, issued in 2004, for a 23 storey building with an additional seven levels of basement car parking.

Box Hill is served by a tram line and the Melbourne to Lilydale-Belgrave rail line. The site is right beside the existing public transport interchange. The number of parking spaces averages just under one per apartment.

A major development on this site could improve pedestrian linkages, help “activate” dead street frontages (see the Centro centre next door to the site!) and help establish Box Hill as a major centre.

Efficient use of a premium location like Box Hill demands that appropriate sites be developed at high density. I don’t have an in-principle problem with the proposed height of the building, provided traditional planning concerns like over-shadowing, wind and local traffic can be addressed satisfactorily.

Some argue that high-rise isn’t necessary – similar densities, they say, can be achieved with lower buildings configured differently. That could work with a very large development area such as Fishermans Bend, but it overlooks the fact there’s a multiplicity of sites and owners in a place like Box Hill. Moreover, each prospective site has a peculiar history – there are differing planning obligations and expectations associated with each one.

The proponents work hard in their submission to Council to emphasise the building will not be as visually prominent from a distance as most would assume. Surprisingly, they make a good case, but I’d quite like to see a prominent building in Box Hill, or two, or three!

Melbourne’s suburban sprawl lacks much in the way of visual interst – it’s boring and monotonous. That’s because it’s flat, because the major roads lack a sense of containment, because the key intersections don’t have a sense of occasion, and more.

In the absence of a mountain or two, a visible cluster of well-designed buildings would be a very welcome addition to an otherwise boring skyline. Melburnians are suspicious of tall buildings though, so it’s vital any building that breaks the mould of flatland has wide appeal.

That’s where I’m not convinced by this proposal. It looks awfully heavy and squat to my taste. It’s also overly fussy. It’s like a painting the artist knows isn’t quite there, so he keeps adding bits and pieces in the hope it’ll serendipitously all come together.

There are some interesting ideas and parts to the building but to my eye they don’t all come together as a whole. I feel the tower should be slimmer, more elegant, more urbane and less of a pastiche of materials and forms. Above all, it should feel lighter, not so much like a medieval castle.

But that’s just how I feel – my subjective opinion. What worries me more is I fear this design won’t garner the sort of widespread acceptance the Eureka Tower acquired in spite of its visiblity.

I can’t find anything in the documentation to suggest the proponents or their architects have tested the external look of the building on either potential buyers or the sorts of people who typify the neighbours.

If that’s right I’m astonished – apart from minimising the risk associated with an investment of hundreds of millions, if you’re going to be this obvious in the suburbs of Melbourne, you need to look very, very good. And I don’t mean by the standards of the architectural community. You need to look extraordinarily good to buyers and the wider community, because they’re the ones who’ll decide if this building gets up.

Postscript: It’s interesting to note the proponents say in their planning assessment report that under Clause 52.06 of the Planning Scheme, their proposal requires more than a thousand parking spaces: 550 for the dwellings; 443 for restaurants; and 93 for shops. They are therefore seeking a reduction in the rate of required parking.

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

The Urbanist is edited by Dr Alan Davies, a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Consulting.

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22 comments

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22 thoughts on “Does this look like it’s a ‘landmark’ building?

  1. Alan Davies

    Another building this proposal puts me in mind of: Qld’s Parliamentary Annexe in Brisbane. Then there’s any number of buildings from the 60s and70s in the ‘brutalist’ style.

  2. michael r james

    When I first glanced at it, I too thought it was the Ambani building–though not as dramatic with its odd counterlevered floors etc. Of course “pastiche” is de rigueur these days, and there are definitely too many straight lines in this local design for it to measure up; look at all those horizontal balconies–they really need to be at whacky angles! (Of course those angles add a lot of cost in engineering etc. as anyone who has commissioned a showcase building from Frank Gehry knows.)

    I also agree that there is something reminiscent of the Qld Parliamentary Annex, and that should be a major red flag since that thing was an eyesore the day it was completed and even worse today. It has the wonderful rotting concrete ascetic because it has that 70s pebble-dash preformed concrete walls. (Aside: one wonders and shudders in anticipation, of what Campbell Newman will allow/encourage his developer buddies to do now that he is going to sell of whatever buildings in George Street the government owns. More shades of Bjelke every day!)

    Like AD I am not against bold designs that do not necessarily immediately appeal. Witness the Brisbane Square redevelopment with its pod-like podium-level parts and decidedly uninspired rainbow colours (sheesh that was all played out in the 70s, no?). A lot of Brisbanites don’t like the building–either the low podium structures (nice library inside though) or the hi-rise above it all. However with time I think it does ok for the site and the area is lively enough at ground level (those open plazas are a real risk of dead zones; seems to have been avoided here). It will probably age ok too.

    But, as usual in contrast to AD, I do object to the height. As MDMConnell (at 10:37 pm) says, it is completely out of scale with the area. And if fs (at 7.57pm) says about the area is correct, this kind of building will not improve the ambience. Now, I suppose you can say that the area is about to change and eventually there will be a lot of similar size buildings. Well, I would still object and for the same reasons AD knows well. One does not need hi-rise to achieve the objective of density. It is simply NOT needed. And low-rise, up to about 8 floors, has proven nice features in a dozen great cities around the world.

    But Australians and Australian city planners do not get it. Or more likely the developers do not like the concept–they can make much more profit from a project by going high. To create a successful TOD the city and planners need to designate a zone around the T (transport hub)–from a few hundred m up to about 500m or more, all depending on exact context (and political art of the possible). This zone needs to have strict design rules which in my perfect world would be a height limit of 8 floors (but it can be built to the property line, unlike hi-rise which must have set-backs) and a MINIMUM of 8 floors, with ground floor of 1.5 normal height. This will create the desired density AND eventually a pleasing harmonious cityscape. And of course the aforementioned nice living environment with lots of small local shops, cafes, restos, markets and enough ground floor space for commercial stuff like doctors, offices etc.

    But Australians are a weird mob. They should do one of those SBS type docos (Go back to where you came from) with a bunch of people and take them to live in, oh say Paris, Barcelona, Upper West Side NYC (which is mostly low-rise, Friends/Seinfeld territory), versus say, Melbourne Docklands, some outer-HK New Town hi-rise cluster or the medium-rise cluster in Lower East Side NYC (slum projects but pretty good on location!). I am pretty confident of their final preference–despite those ritzy Dockland apartments.

  3. Dudley Horscroft

    “Wilful” asks what style it is. Bill Parker (and AD) has the answer – it is LEGO BRUTAL. To be preferred to NCDC brutal, I suppose.

    Karl is definitely wrong re the saying, and so is Alan. “Man”, “he”, “him”, and “his” are all both masculine and generic nouns/pronouns/adhjectives. So whenever you are referring to a large number of people, or even one person of whom you don’t know the sex, the correct words to use are the generics “Man”, “he”, “him”, and “his”. Remember “words have gender, people have sex” – so when you come across a badly worded form asking for your gender, cross that word out and write “sex”. The alternative version of the saying is “One man’s fish is another man’s poisson.”

    Back to topic – the tower is ideally sited, and if anything it is too small, at only 33 stories. Here on the Gold Coast the Q1 residential tower is, IIRC, 81 stories, and it does not look excessively high or overpowering or absurd. Looks far better than the Lego Brutal look of the Box Hill tower.

    My big beef is in the final paragraph: “their proposal requires more than a thousand parking spaces: 550 for the dwellings; 443 for restaurants; and 93 for shops. They are therefore seeking a reduction in the rate of required parking.” The reduction proposed is to 226 car spaces for the 275 residential apartments (including 4 share car spaces) and 12 motorbike spaces, with 53 car spaces for the shops and restaurants. This is considered to be “appropriate” in the Planning Assessment Report from SJB Planning P/L. The number of bicycle spaces for residents is more than trebled, from 55 required to 179. Given these massive changes from the ‘statutory requirements’, one must question if the “requirements” are reasonable.

    Perhaps developers should be allowed to make up their own minds as to the number of car spaces they should provide. Will Whitehorse Council accept the Planning Assessment Report? Would other Councils be willing to be completely flexible? If so, why bother with ‘requirements’?

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