What Australia’s tallest tower means for Southbank

What Australia’s tallest tower means for Southbank

By Sean Car

Last month’s approval of developer Beulah International’s project to build Australia’s tallest building in Southbank has generated plenty of enthusiasm from community level right through to government. Southbank News unpacks why.

Southbank is Melbourne’s home of high-rise. As Lord Mayor Sally Capp referred to us last month, “Cloudbank” is synonymous with the fact that this community is no stranger to a tall building. Vertical living defines our identity.

So, why, when other “tallest” towers such as Eureka and Australia 108 before it, has Beulah International’s 365-metre project at 118 City Rd been met with a particular degree of excitement never before seen in Southbank?

A $2 billion project that is expected to generate more than 4700 construction jobs via the provision of $1 billion additional investment stimulus to the Melbourne construction market, it’s no wonder such projects are favourable with local and state governments. Particularly during a once-in-a-generation pandemic.

But from the outset, Beulah International has recorded a number of “firsts” for a high-rise developer never-before-seen in Southbank, as well as the property industry more broadly.

From its design symposium, which brought the world’s best architects together to put forward their competing visions for achieving the best outcome for the site, to the independent judging panel of experts assembled to select the best proposal, Beulah has kept Southbank front of mind in its ambitions.

And the chosen winner, UNStudio and Cox Architecture’s Green Spine, now known as Southbank by Beulah, was testament to the developer’s desire to respond to the local context. The building feeds into the City of Melbourne’s new linear park along Southbank Boulevard up to the Royal Botanic Gardens, paying homage to Melbourne’s old title, The Garden City.

It also speaks true to transparency and engagement when the Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) is right behind Beulah’s vision for the site, having embarked on a “rare” community engagement process.

“SRA was pleased this developer took the unprecedented step of engaging with our residents’ association prior to approval for their application,” SRA president Tony Penna said.

“While we have reservations with the height, we acknowledge this is not a blight on the developer as they are only required to comply with the scope of the planning scheme, which surprising they have.”

“It is rare for us to see a developer that isn’t trying to negotiate special dispensation outside of the planning scheme. We are particularly impressed with the sustainability efforts and the degree of street level activation.”

“We believe this development has the potential to be a local’s meeting point possibly transforming into Southbank resident’s social centre of gravity, offering a great mix of reasons for us to be there.”

Speaking at the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting in March, where all councillors provided unanimous endorsement of Beulah’s plans, chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece spoke to the project’s significant community benefits.

“We sometimes hear people in this city say, ‘Melbourne has never seen anything like it’. That is often said with a little bit of exaggeration but I think we can confidently say ‘Melbourne has never seen anything like Beulah’,” he said.

“It’s not just about the height - so much thought and effort has gone into the design and the green space. The apartments will provide a high level of amenity for residents along with services such as bike and car parking, a childcare centre, retail, hotel and office space.”

The City of Melbourne should be excited by the project when it looks at what it will deliver to the overall vision of Southbank. As well as contributing directly to Southbank Boulevard upgrades, the development will also benefit a number of the council’s other plans to upgrade the “harsh” City Rd streetscape, as well as Southbank Promenade.

Strategically, the project helps tie a number of central components of the council’s 2010 Southbank Structure Plan together by contributing to the public realm, and providing a sustainable design complete with an abundance of public amenities onsite.

Southbank News spoke with Beulah International executive director Adelene Teh following the state government’s announcement on April 24, which included the establishment of a dedicated building and development taskforce to help the industry through COVID-19.

She said that from the beginning, Beulah International wanted to use its opportunity to address a number of shortcomings in Southbank. And having previously worked for renowned locally-based architect Fender Katsalidis as a student, she knows the area well.

“When we received the leaflet from CBRE when the site was on sale, there were some team members who said Southbank was not that great at the moment. I worked in that area myself and one of the key things I really thought was lacking in the area was public amenities,” she said.

“As I looked into the site in further detail you recognise that it’s a huge site for the city, it’s in such a central, strategic location and we could really do something special here.”

With this project, it has sought to do just that. Described as a “vertical mini-metropolis”, it will comprise apartments, public and green spaces throughout the building, rooftop gardens, a town hall, offices, a five-star urban resort, childcare centre, health and wellness precinct, arts and cultural facilities and extensive retail.

Adelene Teh said the outcome, drawn through its architecture competition, had reinforced important lessons in collaboration in urban planning.

“I think just being open and transparent and collaborative with all stakeholders is such a key part of doing such a good project,” she said. “We engaged the public, we did a lot of documentation to bring the public on a journey.”

“Even the symposium wasn’t about presenting a design but it was about having a conversation with people who are passionate about their city. Even when we put the pavilion at Queensbridge Square we had Beulah team members rotating and being there talking to people asking their thoughts. Those insights are really valuable for what we deliver, it actually informs our brief.”

While many were shocked at the speed in which Minister for Planning Richard Wynne issued his approval last month, Ms Teh said that the project was “90 per cent unchanged” from what was originally submitted. A decision had been pending, and the assessment was already complete.

Fencing is already up around the site as geotechnical investigations are conducted to understand soil conditions, while height is still subject to Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) clearance.

Adelene Teh said Beulah hoped to commence construction next year, subject to market conditions •

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