Batman's Hill Collins Street - The missing piece of the Docklands jigsaw?

Recently, Urban Melbourne wandered down to Lend Lease's Public Information Session at 838 Collins Street for their latest Docklands project, dubbed (for the time being at least) Batman's Hill Collins Street. It was a good opportunity to provide our two bob's worth and get an insight into the development and some of the key ideas which make up the scheme, from Lend Lease's project team, led by project director Brian Herlihy.

The 2.5ha site at 701 Collins Street is located at a critical juncture where the Melbourne CBD and Docklands meet - diagonally across from Southern Cross Station includes frontages to Flinders Street and partial air rights over Wurundjeri Way. The $1.6 billion precinct will go some way to completing Collins Street and strengthening the connection between Docklands and the CBD, with the introduction of commercial buildings, apartments, two significant public spaces and a network of pedestrian and cycling paths. 

A brief history of the site:

The 2.5ha site formed part of what was to be the 560m Grollo Tower project and has also seen schemes developed over the years by 'starchitects' Zaha Hadid (in partnership with local firm ARM) and Norman Foster, for clients SAMA Dubai, whom had entered into exclusive negotiations for the site with VicUrban. These eventually fell through when SAMA couldn't  guarantee work would commence on site within 2 years, due to financial pressures which arose as a result of the Global Financial Crisis and in 2011 the site was put out to tender once more, attracting competition from property heavy weights Grocon+Mirvac, Equiset + Australand, Lend Lease and Leightons.

After a solid year of rumours circulating around the industry that Lend Lease had won development rights to Parcels 5b, 6 & 6a, it was finally made official on August 1st 2013. Lend Lease's project team consists of Master Plan Architects DCM (Commercial), FKA (Residential) with landscape architecture by Aspect Studios.

The plans for the precinct include the following:

  • Approx.110,000sqm of NLA distributed across 4 commercial buildings to Collins Street providing space for approx. 10,000 workers, and targeting a 6-Star Green Star rating, ranging in height from 93-160m
  • Approx. 600 apartments to Flinders Street housing 1,000 residents with the potential for a hotel in-lieu of one of the apartment towers and targeting a 5-Star Green Star rating, ranging in height from 53-137m
  • 2 strata office buildings ranging in height from 20-45m
  • 1,000sqm of community space throughout the site
  • Approximately 4,000sqm of retail 
  • Minor relocation of Bruce Armstrong's  'Bunjil' sculpture
  • 'The City Room', a major new public space, protected from the elements and flanked by a new 600sqm community building and the commercial towers offering views of 'Bunjil'
  • Batman's Square a new pocket park nestled amongst the residential towers
  • A new CBD-style north-south laneway connecting Collins and Flinders Streets 
  • The introduction of Flinders Lane into Docklands along with other minor laneways
  • Wurundjeri Steps connecting the lower public realm to the upper ground plane
  • New public art which responds to and reinterprets the history of the site
  • 1,000 parking spaces below Collins Street.

Taking into account the difficulties the site presents in that is required to 'bridge' over a portion of Wurundjeri Way (but not completely) and negotiating the changes in level between 'upper' Docklands and 'lower' Docklands plus the commercial realities of realising such a project, the master plan is a generally solid and competent response and Lend Lease should be commended for the strong focus on the public realm and creating activated spaces via a good mix of surrounding uses but as always there's some room for improvement, in my opinion. For example:

  • Batman's Square while generally protected from traffic and rail by buildings doesn't look like it will receive very much sunlight particularly around lunch time but unfortunately there aren't too many alternatives.
  • The development rights for the site should have included air rights above the full extent of Wurundjeri Way allowing for a reconfiguration of the Wurundjri Way/Flinders Street intersection to improve pedestrian access and amenity. I believe this would free-up the site much more for development, while also potentially addressing the point above re: Batman's Square - it could then be located on top of the deck south of 'The City Room' with 'Bunjil' as its centrepiece. 
  • Some more variation in building height's by redistributing it towards the east so the site steps down in height from the CBD to Collins Square (With Collins Square Tower 4D sitting at 145m there's the risk for the two developments to appear as a big blob). I'd like to see C4 & at least 200m tall, making it Docklands' tallest building which might mean that C3 is perhaps reduced to 120m.  
  • Similarly I believe R1 should be the taller of the residential buildings (perhaps combine with a hotel component - the plan allows for hotel) and aim for about 180m. Reduce the height of R3 to improve solar access to Batman's Square.
  • The site should aim for a high quality architectural response. The engagement of DCM and FKA should go someway to achieving this however I think some (if not all) buildings should be the result of design competitions, particularly for such an important and visible site.

Lend Lease intends to submit a Development Plan, following completion of the community consultation process, for approval this year before proceeding with Planning Applications for individual towers. Construction is due to begin on Building C1 in 2015 with completion of the entire project forecast for 2025. 

See below further images of the proposed plan plus various unrealised schemes for the site.

Until next time... Peace out.

For further information and to have your say on how Batmans Hill should be developed please visit:

Batman's Hill sketch perspective overview. © Lend Lease


Nicholas Harrison's picture

One of the design objectives of the Batman's Hill precinct in the planning scheme is:

To provide for a major landmark tower development that integrates with the CBD and
surrounding Docklands precincts and recognises the presence of historic buildings.

The proposed plan does not achieve this objective.

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Laurence Dragomir's picture

And that right there is the biggest problem with the planning scheme - the use of vague terms such as 'major' and 'landmark' - these are not a very explicit set of guiding objectives particularly when it comes to design which being as subjective as it is, requires A greater level of certainty. Those terms mean different things to different people across the industry.

A development can be a 'major landmark tower development' without 300m towers - the project proposes 5 towers over 90m in height (the tallest of which at this stage is 160m) that could be classified as 'major' that sit at the highest point of the Collins Street extension - a very prominent location. I say 'could' because the definition doesn't go into greater detail.

You need only look at each apartment building that is released with excessive claims of being a 'new landmark' for Melbourne and a quick assessment of the building's design leaves everyone scratching their heads.

I'm in no way defending Lend Lease but none of the designs are finalized so it's difficult for me to be critical of the architecture when it doesn't exist. LL's use of sketches over photorealistic renders at a master planning stage.

There were a set of criteria on which the merits of all the competing schemes were judged - Lend Lease seem to have ticked all the right boxes and I would say their ability to deliver with Victoria Harbour would have gone someway to delivering them the gig.

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

Well the government was pretty specific when they removed the height controls form the site in 2011:

The removal of the height and overshadowing controls will allow this prime site within the Central City/ Docklands to accommodate a tall and iconic building.

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Laurence Dragomir's picture

True but in the end you have to balance the 'want' of the Planning Minister vs the commercial realities of developing such a site. It's no coincidence SAMA's grand plans fell through.

It's one thing to remove controls to help facilitate the provision of a tall landmark tower but nowhere in the schedule does it specifically state the site 'must' be developed with a tall and iconic tower - and that's part of the problem with the planning scheme!

The other thing to consider is that it is also not specific in reference to height. The controls were removed so that buildings on this site would be exempt from overshadowing Southbank between 11am & 2pm on the winter solstice - Collins Square tower 4D casts a shadow during this time period and it's a 145m tower.

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