Quality development begins at street level

We get really obsessed with height - we can have great towers and bad towers, we need to shift the discussion more toward the quality of development.

Leanne Hodyl, IMPA's 'City in Crisis?' forum

This interesting quote appeared in Alastair's article on Monday, which delved into who should maintain planning authority over Melbourne. The notion of shifting focus more toward quality of development rather than height is a noble one, but it's simply not that straight forward.

A counter argument could be found in comments made during the recent Meinhardt tall towers seminar in which Meinhardt's Jon Brock essentially stated that people don't really care how tall a tower is beyond a certain point, tall is tall but what matters most is what occurs at street level. A vibrant, user friendly, interesting and varied street frontage is in fact the key to a development's quality.

A prime example of this has surfaced with PDS Group recently releasing a handful of high resolution images for 380 Lonsdale Street for which they will act as Project Manager and Superintendent.

Artist's perspective from Lonsdale Street. Image courtesy PDS Group

So which is it? Height or quality? 380 Lonsdale Street proves in its most recent version you can have both. The Elenberg Fraser-designed tower may well stand at 217 metres when realised which is approximately 55 metres higher than the initial Spowers design.

Below is a comparison between the two designs highlighting the all-important ground level which shows the current Elenberg Fraser design to hold a higher level of interest, activity and greenery. Active glass frontages and green planters seek to replace uniform composite panels; both shroud above ground car parking yet one does so in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion.

There's no intended slight against Spowers, their version after all gained approval via the State Government, but there's little doubt that Elenberg Fraser's provides a heightened quality to the public domain.

Images courtesy PDS Group and Spowers

380 Lonsdale Street in its current form goes to show that the questions of height and quality aren't bound together in an inverse relationship. They are separate issues and should be treated as such.

Railing against buildings purely for their height serves no purpose to my way of thinking. Asking for alterations and/or rejecting planning applications based more so upon what they deliver or fail to deliver to the streetscape, or indeed what they replace is of more relevance than any question over height.


Craig Skipsey's picture

Interesting article Mark. I do agree that the EF design is more inviting. However, when assessing the design of street level, what often gets missed is what you can't see: the wind. Visually appealing areas quickly become terrible places to hang out if they're windy too many times during the year or more importantly, windy at the wrong times of the year. The current ways of assessing wind can and often do fail resulting in retailers going broke or worse, people not using the space for its intended purpose.

Taller buildings are 'catching' more wind, so I think we need to get smarter about how we consider wind early in the design process.

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Riccardo's picture

Why not be done with it and get Council to design a 'generic' street level for all tall buildings that can be imposed on the developer? I'd rather very minimal touch on what developers are made to do, but this conversation is getting silly.

The developer doesn't care. They want to minimise costs, and the attractiveness to tenants of the ground level is a third-order issue behind a) selling the actual space inside the building (which is governed by broad market indicators) and b) building cost-effectively. Having an attractive street level is probably no more a less a cost issue than council specifying where to put your loading dock, or your underground carpark entrance, or whatever.

If we are stuck with councils micromanaging this stuff, let them micromanage properly. Developer just wants to sell the building, build it and move onto the next one.

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