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Très Bien! Atelier Jean Nouvel/Architectus and Sterling Global on 383 La Trobe Street (part one)

The recent approval of Sterling Global's mixed-use tower at 383 La Trobe Street adds to the influx of towers with international influence leaving their mark not only on Melbourne's skyline, but the city's streetscapes.

The $700 million mixed-use tower, a collaboration between French design architect Ateliers Jean Nouvel and local Australian executive architect Architectus, has been designed with people at its core. One third of the site's footprint is earmarked for public space.

The colourful tower will feature an internal arcade wrapped in digital art installations, activated by galleries, a bar, restaurants, retail spaces and a public book exchange. Despite its 29:1 plot ratio exceeding the city’s planning controls, the building has been approved due to its public benefit and amenity.

Digital Art Arcade. Image courtesy Stirling Global

Designed to maximise connections to its neighbouring context, both visual and physical, via its internal public laneway and expressive facade, the 70-storey tower will also accommodate 488 one, two and three bedroom residences and a 196-room hotel. With planning approval in hand, Sterling Global will now engage with international hoteliers to operate the hotel component of the 242 metre tower.

The design team have conceived a tower which seeks to contribute to the city, its neighbours, residents and visitors, helping fill a lack of accommodation for tourists to the city, while providing new spaces to engage and socialise, including a rooftop bar. People are at the heart of the tower, and for its neighbours, the philosophy is to ensure every aspect will be beautiful, blanketed in landscaped vertical gardens and external finishes that complement the light as it shifts throughout the day.

383 La Trobe Street offers one third of its land back to the public, creating a new laneway dotted with a gallery space, cafes, bars, art spaces and a huge digital art installation that covers the roof and walls of the arcade.

It’s a significant artistic contribution to Melbourne, and we’re thrilled to be working with Architectus and Ateliers Jean Nouvel on such an innovative project.

Brandon Yeoh, Development Director, Sterling Global
The tower's distinct facades respond to its context and the environment. Image courtesy Stirling Global

Urban Melbourne recently met with Matthew Smith, Managing Principal for Architectus Melbourne, and Mark van Miltenburg, Head of Investment and Development at Sterling Global to discuss the finer details of the project.

Urban Melbourne: Recent media reports suggest the project was approved under the Amendment C270 planning controls (Plot Ratio 18:1) and not the interim C262 controls (24:1). Can you clarify this?

Matthew Smith: We lodged under C262 and so it was approved on the basis of those planning controls because up until (last week) C270 was just a draft set of guidelines.

Mark van Miltenburg: It was unofficially assessed under C270 as well and we were asked to use the tool to measure the floor area uplift and then the value of the public benefit and that was done under the context for both plot ratios and we were in the green for both.

MS: I think it's an interesting discussion. If you look at a number that says 18:1 or 29:1 you might ask "well how could you possibly allow that?" and I'm hoping that the more that's written about this project and others in the media, that there's some clarity given because it's not just about a number. This project was never really considered as a number, it's a contextual response that formed a building.

Obviously there were some mandatory components of the guidelines and we certainly mapped those out early on so we knew we had to sit within those but beyond that it was a contextual response to the site.

I think within a city, as long as you can do that then planning controls are okay but it will mean that some sites unfortunately simply can't be developed, where even a contextual response may not even cut it.

UM: There should be flexibility in the controls to allow sites to be considered on their individual merits and circumstances on a site to site basis, whilst still adhering to a set of requirements and it appears that may be the case moving forward.

MS: You look back and obviously Republic Tower has featured quite prominently in and around this discussion and if memory serves me correctly, Republic Tower came to fruition at around the same time the previous set of plot ratio guidelines were being watered down. That process enabled Republic Tower to occur.

UM: There's also precedent for resident backlash occurring with the likes of Southbank Towers and Prima, Freshwater Place and 1 Queensbridge Street. No doubt at some stage in the future a tower of similar scale will be proposed in proximity to 383 La Trobe.

MS: It's an interesting block with a lot of development potential. I don't think there's many blocks in the city in their current state that have that embodied opportunity within them and that's something that we took quite seriously. The fact that the actions that are taken at 383 will have a significant impact on Victoria University, the Royal Mint and their relationship with the building, all of which are already established on that block.

MvM: And those that are coming too. That was one of the most exciting aspects about the opportunity of developing in the block is that in many respects it was a bit of a blank canvas, we could do what we wanted to do with our site and then try and integrate that with our neighbours.

UM: But to also provide opportunities for future development to then tie into your site?

MvM: Absolutely.

MS: That was given a lot of consideration in terms of how the public space was articulated. You're obviously aware that there's quite a generous public space offering here but there were a lot of discussions as to how that might manifest itself and part of that is the story about what comes after 383? We were in discussions with Victoria University throughout the process as well because some of the access, easements and other bits and pieces which will interact between the two sites needed to be sorted out.

383 La Trobe's network of public spaces sew the block together. Image courtesy: Sterling Global

MvM: And they've been terrific through this whole process and I think one of the nice things about engaging with them is that they absolutely bought into the aspirations of the project; their ideas are very complimentary to the ideas of our site and so they get more public space for the people using their building.

They get the through-site link which connects through to Flagstaff Gardens and the station and it helps us create that openness as well.

MS: And I think importantly, a formalisation of the link through to Queen Street because at the moment that's private land so it was the impetus for some sort of arrangement to be struck that enables an easement across it and while it doesn't physically link to Guildford Lane there's certainly a visual marker and reference. Obviously that Guildford Lane precinct is in a state of flux at the moment and there's a number of other initiatives that are going to occur in that area.

Urban Melbourne's discussion with Matthew and Mark will continue in an upcoming article.

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