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All in good time: The evolution of One Queensbridge

Architecture and the construction industry in general can quite literally take years off your life. Projects often require many years of design, development and coordination, redesign and further refinement before they come to fruition.

From the moment they are first conceived as a sketch to when the the first of the residents or workers begin moving in and occupying these buildings, several years may have lapsed.

The latest skyscraper approved for Melbourne, which also happens to be the biggest of them all - the 90-storey, 323 metre One Queensbridge - is no different. Developed by Crown Resorts and Schiavello, the soaring tower has been designed by Wilkinson Eyre and Architectus, following their success in an invited design competition featuring other international and local firms.

Urban Melbourne's forthcoming interview with Architectus will provide further insight into the specifics of the endorsed design, but today we will focus on its evolution over the last few years.

As a point of reference Melbourne's other 300 metre-plus tower, the now under construction Australia 108 (formerly known by its address 70 Southbank Boulevard) underwent many design iterations before becoming the 319 metre behemoth that has begun its skyward ascent. First mooted in early 2009 at 62-storeys and 208 metres, each subsequent design has superseded its predecessor for height, but not necessarily architecture, over the course of the ensuing eight years.

It will be a further two years before it is finally completed. Curiously during this period the design of the tower's podium has remained largely the same: a framed pergola structure housing a jungle of vegetation.

The design evolution of 70 Southbank Boulevard.

A not so long time ago

For One Queensbridge Street the story begins with Schiavello Group's acquisition of the notorious QBH venue at 1-7 Queensbridge Street in 2010. Sometime in 2011 an image surfaced online of the first concept for the site by Enth Degree Architects (EDA) for a 52-storey residential tower characterised by a podium likened to swiss cheese.

The first concept for One Queensbridge? Image: Enth Degree Architects

Little by little Schiavello's ambitions for the site grew with the further acquisition of 9-15 Queensbridge Street; along with joint venture partners PDG Corporation, the first application for the site was submitted shortly after. Designed by Bates Smart, the proposal sought the demolition of the existing structures onsite including the former Queensbridge Hotel*, with a 71-storey tower including 592 apartments rising to a height of 276 metres, making it the second tallest building (at the time) after Eureka.

The design was characterised by dual semi-cellular forms merging into a trefoil shaped extrusion sheathed in reflective platinum tinted glazing, atop a fine lattice like podium. A permit was issued for the 71-storey tower by then Planning Minister Matthew Guy in April 2012.

The initial 71-storey Queensbridge Tower. Images: Bates Smart

Following Schiavello's further acquisition of 7-23 Queensbridge Street, the site was merged into the development which allowed for a tower with larger floor-plates than its predecessor, and thus a third 'cell' was added to the tower, atop an expanded podium footprint.

It was at this point that debate about density and over development on the site really erupted with the approval of The Falls residential tower at 25 Queensbridge Street, nestled snuggly between QBT and Prima Pearl.

The revised Queensbridge Tower and the nneigbouring The Falls development. Images: Bates Smart and Bruce Henderson Architects

It was not long before 25 Queensbridge Street was added to the portfolio with the site now extending from Freshwater Place all the way to Prima Pearl encompassing 1-25 Queensbridge Street. This allowed the development and design team to address some of the issues relating to overlooking and proximity to surrounding towers via increased setbacks.

Enter Crown

During the course of 2014 Schiavello entered into a joint development agreement with Crown Resorts which would see the site form an extension of the existing Crown Towers and Entertainment Complex, by way of a skybridge over Queensbridge Street. Additionally the design was revised to rise 84-storeys and 308 metres above Southbank, overtaking Eureka and sitting just behind Australia 108.

The proposal included a 400 room five-star hotel in addition to the 626 apartments, along with a glazed lift that extended the full height of the tower's facade. The skybridge, overall size and scale of the development proved to be a sticking point for both Council and planning officers, so it was decided that for the site to be truly considered a project of state significance, which would be exempt from the usual planning process and instead fast tracked, an invited design competition would be held.

Crown Plaza? Crown Resorts joined as a JV partner before running a design competition. Images: Bates Smart

The design competition was eventually won by Wilkinson Eyre and Architectus, with plans proceeding for a 90-storey, 313 metre tower comprising a 388 room six-star hotel and 680 apartments. Almost six months later this was increased to a height of 323 metres.

On 9th February 2017, seven years since Schiavello acquired the QBH, the tower now known simply as One Queensbridge was given conditional approval by Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

One Queensbridge. Image: Wilkinson Eyre and Architectus

* The interior of the Queensbridge Hotel was gutted during the $12 million redevelopment previously undertaken in 1999 before it reopened and was rebranded QBH. As such it is not protected under a heritage overlay and exists in its current form primarily as a facade.

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