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A Southbank luminary

05 May 2016

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Feature by Sean Car

When our country’s tallest residential skyscraper Australia 108 tops out in 2019 across the road from Melbourne’s biggest existing beacon Eureka Tower, Karl Fender says it will create the gateway to our city.

As a founding director of Fender Katsalidis – the internationally renowned architecture firm responsible for designing both towers – the Southbank resident has certainly left a lasting mark on our suburb.

And with Australia’s soon-to-be tallest building having only just begun poking its head out of the ground, his grand vision for Southbank and our city will soon be evident for all to see.

“There’s a strong physical relationship between 108 and Eureka so we did take into account their neighbourliness and we certainly took into account that they’d be read as a pair,” he said.

“Cities are judged by their exemplary architecture to a great extent so when we design buildings like this we try to make them interesting from many aspects.”

“It’s the idea of contributing to the skyline in a sculptural way and reading it in different ways to make something that’s compelling.”

While the nature of his work makes him a frequent flyer, Karl still calls Southbank home having lived at Eureka Tower with wife Sarah since 2007.

The Harvard University-educated architect established his practice along with fellow founding director Nonda Katsalidis in the early 1990s.

In his role as design director, he has been involved with many major projects, including, most notably, Eureka Tower, which at 88 stories was the tallest residential tower in the world when completed in 2006.  

He described Eureka as a “catalyst” for Southbank’s growth as a suburb, and said the ambition for Australia 108 to give back to the community in a similar way was a key influence behind its design.  

“These buildings have a lot of heart and presence and, therefore, quite a strong responsibility to be interesting in the cityscape rather than just another boring extrusion,” he said.

“Australia 108 very much complements the future transformation of Southbank Boulevard. By putting notches into the outside façade you’re allowing trees to grow two stories so it’s going to be a very amazing sky garden, which will help soften City Rd.”

Once completed, Australia 108 will have 1105 apartments over 100 floors and will be crowned with “The Starburst”, which is inspired by the Commonwealth Star on our national flag.

When we caught up with Karl, he’d only recently arrived home from helping launch his latest project KL 118 in Malaysia – a tower that, when complete, will be the height of Australia 108 and Eureka combined.

While rising density in Southbank and the CBD is the subject of growing concern for planners, Karl believes that, compared with cities like Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne has little to panic about.

“Cities around the world have densities that we haven’t achieved, so why all of a sudden is achieving density a huge problem? Because we have the divine right to get into a car and drive without anybody else on the road?” he said.

Having sat on a number of government design advisory panels in his time, Karl said that planning for growing density was something that would continue to occur gradually over time.

And as a local resident, he said he didn’t buy into the argument that Southbank had a shortage of local services and community amenities.

“I actually have a very short shrift for people who say Southbank lacks amenity. I don’t know what they’re thinking,” he said. “I very much enjoy living in Southbank.”

“In one minute I’m in the botanical gardens. In one minute I can be at 50 restaurants, I can cross the bridge and I’m in the city. My doctor is literally two minutes away. My health food store is around the corner.”

With other projects in Southbank including the currently under construction Riverside Quay commercial development and an approved tower at 65-71 Haig St, his company continues to have a profound impact on our suburb.  

When quizzed about whether he felt a sense of pride whenever he looked back on a completed project, he said the one thing he was truly proud of was his team.

“When you were a student you thought you would be proud but it’s not about pride it actually just sort of becomes part of you,” he said. “It makes you feel good that you made a contribution.”

“There’s a lot of people that invest huge amounts of time and skill beyond mine believe me, that make these things happen so I never feel good if Nonda or I are targeted as the great causation.”

“We’ve got a team that we’re proud of. That’s what we’re proud of.”

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