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The Fox to “rival Tate and Met”, but how will transformed Arts Precinct intersect with Southbank?

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David Schout

Speaking at a Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) forum in April, Melbourne Arts Precinct director Michael Parry answered questions as to how the $1.7 billion project will impact Southbank directly to the west of the site.

How Melbourne’s transformed Arts Precinct intersects with Southbank has been a “key consideration” for design teams working on the huge project, according to the precinct’s director.

Addressing early amenity concerns with the project, Michael Parry believed its overall contribution “significantly outweighs some of those downsides.”

Described as the “elephant in the room” at an April luncheon hosted by the YRBA, locals have been concerned with how the project’s elevated deck above Sturt St would impact lower pedestrian areas directly to the west.

YRBA executive officer Tim Bracher said that “at the moment, we just foresee all those undercroft areas as being dark, dank and possibly unsafe.”

Mr Parry said two design teams, Hassell and SO - IL, had partnered to work on the public realm aspect of the project.

“It’s been a key consideration of the work around the public realm,” he said.

“Those connectivity points and the pedestrian links, and how that feels and connects across the two levels, have been very much a pre-occupation of that team. And we’re very, very keen to make sure that we’ve got welcoming connections, to and from all the different touchpoints around the outside of the public realm.”

Mr Parry said early visualisations revealed the “level of density of planting” with “green edges softening the transitions between some of those areas.”

He added however that the areas below served a crucial role for the large cultural institutions above.

“There are still loading docks down there — I’m not going to try and shy away from that. There is the reality of keeping these scales of galleries and theatres operating requires truck movements and those kinds of things. That’s just the reality of running those facilities … but we are conscious of getting that balance right between having the pedestrian connectivity and these amazing public spaces we want to create and creating really great functional cultural spaces as well.”

As part of upcoming works, Sturt St (to the north of Southbank Boulevard) will no longer be a public road, and will became a private access pathway for loading facilities at the back of the Arts Centre.

There were also questions from the floor about the height of the new NGV Contemporary, recently renamed “The Fox” after a $100 million donation from Lindsay and Paula Fox to the project.

The preferred building height on Southbank Boulevard was 24 metres, however early plans proposed a height of up to 60 metres.

Concerns have arisen from residents opposite the new facility — with designs indicating some in the Triptych Apartments building opposite will be faced with a blank wall — an issue Mr Parry addressed.

 

These are still concepts, so there is still work to be done on these designs and we expect them to evolve and adapt as we go. That said, it’s not going to radically change — it will be an evolution of this design rather than a significant step change.

 

He said that while he would not speak on behalf of the architects, the interface with Kavanagh St was deliberate.

“The intention of that face of the building was to not have too many windows or too many other activations there in order to provide some privacy for residents on that side. It also goes to the fact that gallery spaces generally don’t have windows in them to protect artwork, so that’s part of the reason why there’s not a lot of other windows on that side.”

Mr Parry signed off public questions about the project’s intersection with Southbank by arguing that issues should be viewed within the wider context of the project’s contribution.

“The overall question about amenity I’d probably answer a different way, which is probably trying to look at it as the whole of what we’re providing here, which is a very significant new cultural facility for Melbourne, a very large change in what the gallery can achieve, the 18,000sqm of new public space. So, there is a series of trade-offs here, obviously, but we believe the contribution the project is making significantly outweighs some of those downsides.”

“The Fox” will be located at 77 Southbank Boulevard, a site bound by Sturt St, Kavanagh St and Southbank Boulevard.

The current six-storey commercial office building was purchased for $95.5 million by the state government from Carlton and United Breweries in 2018, and will be demolished as part of the phase one works for the Arts Precinct transformation, at the beginning of 2023.

There is a significant space inside the CUB building that is currently used by Orchestra Victoria as its rehearsal space, where it is based right now, and Mr Parry said relocation discussions were ongoing.

“We are now working with Orchestra Victoria and with Creative Victoria to find spaces for the orchestra to continue to be able to rehearse, play and work once they have to leave that building. Orchestra Victoria has been working from a whole series of different spaces around Melbourne for some time. It was opportunistic that when the government acquired the 77 Southbank Boulevard building it was a great opportunity to use that space and provide it for Orchestra Victoria. We remain committed to finding a space for them going forward.”

 

L-R: Michael Parry, YRBA president Jeremy Vincent, Vic Tourism Industry Council CEO Felicia Mariani and Cr Kevin Louey.

 

Michael Parry, director Melbourne Arts Precinct Corporation, on…

The Arts Centre: “It’s an incredible facility, but it is getting very much to the end of its life for many parts of the building.”

The Fox: NGV Contemporary: “It’s going to be a complete gamechanger. NGV is already one of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest galleries; this will now take NGV to being one of the largest galleries anywhere in the world. We are rivalling the Tate (in London), we are rivalling the Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City) — it’s going to be a significant shift on the global playing field, and we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity.”

Australian architect Angelo Candalepas and Associates: “Having heard Angelo speak about his design a number of times now, he has a very deep appreciation for both what this gallery means for Melbourne and how it fits into the precinct.”

The proposed completion date of 2028: “Part of the reason it’s going to take quite an extended period of time is that we are keeping a lot of the existing facilities operational throughout this time. The NGV International will remain operational right throughout this development. The Theatres building — despite all the incredible amount of work we’re doing behind the scenes underground and the complexity there — will continue operating throughout that period. So, the Fairfax and the Playhouse will continue operating right through this period.” •

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