Keep it small, say locals

By Rhonda Dredge

A new 26-storey office tower is likely to be squeezed into a space less than 10 metres from the windows of apartments from the Quay West residential tower.

According to locals the proposed tower will also block the view of the city from the lower floors of the Eureka tower, while it will also encroach upon the easements of the Langham Hotel to the north-west.

The pressure to keep the new tower within bounds gained momentum last month when councillors called for an amendment to developer ARA’s master plan for the site.

The motion was passed at the City of Melbourne’s Future Melbourne Committee last month with the proviso that “an extra level of advice” address the bulk of the building envelope.

Whatever the amendments, the presence of yet another construction site will force residents to undertake another period of reality testing about their choice of Southbank as a home.

If you walk through from the Herald & Weekly Times building towards Hamer Hall there is a bit of a “dead space” in between them where the new tower will sit.

There is no denying that living in the city’s prime “picture postcard” location comes at a cost. Councillors waxed lyrical at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting about the location and its significance for Melbourne’s identity.

The proposed development by ARA Australia, which will also see half of the Southgate shopping centre demolished, addresses a need to improve this identity by connecting Southgate with the river and with the pure architectural forms of Hamer Hall.

For starters, it’s almost impossible to see the river from this prime terrace because of all of the paraphernalia tacked onto the Southgate building. The timber veranda posts, and spiral staircase make it look like a whorehouse out of a Deadwood movie set.

According to local architects, when Southgate was first conceived back in the ‘90s most large projects were awarded to overseas firms and American architects got the gig.

They say that Southgate is really just a shopping centre that never really worked for retail but did brilliantly in terms of its classy restaurants and riverside location.

“As ugly as it is, it was the first time something was done on the riverbank. It had riverfront, upstairs, downstairs and food,” a leading architect told Southbank News.

“The leasing manager was good. He targeted inner urban shops. Charmaine’s from Fitzroy, Walter’s Wine Bar from the city. Norman Day said that you could have pitched a tent here and it would have been successful.”

The problem was at the upper level, most of it cut off from the river. Wolfgang Puck, a themed bar and grill from the United States, did not last long and was soon replaced by an architect’s office.

This lack of “permeability” is addressed in the new plans. It has never been that easy to get to the river from Hamer Hall. A wide, classical terrace defined by ’60 brutalist architecture butts up against a spiral staircase and the dinghy third level of the shopping complex.

All of these complications will be swept away by a new 2000 square metre north-facing public park, welcomed by the council and architects alike.

There will also be 10,000 square metres of retail beneath it, all with multiple access points to the river. A new staircase will approach the riverbank where Clem Meadmore’s statue now stands.

Architects warn that the interface between restaurants and the river will be crucial and are urging for a more subtle approach than timber balustrading or corporate heaviness.

In Europe awnings protect diners from snow. These can be retracted. But in Melbourne restaurateurs demand their all-weather outdoor dining areas enclosed.

Local architects Fender Kastalidis have landed this important and highly visible Southgate gig and they will be the ones copping the flak if it doesn’t work. The firm is not known for its visual restraint, witness the enormous gold crown on their latest tower Australia 108, the tallest in the country.

Commentators say, however, there is demand for small office space in Southbank and welcome the tower. “We couldn’t find anything under 500 square metres,” one small businessman told Southbank News •



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