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West Melbourne the new Southbank?

Correct me if I'm wrong but I do recall that as far back as a decade ago under the tenure of then Planning Minister Mary Delahunty, West Melbourne was slated to become another high density extension of the CBD. It was said at the time West Melbourne would generally mimic Southbank in that an increase in height and density was considered appropriate for the suburb adjoining Melbourne's CBD.

The subsequent ten years have seen dribs and drabs of development, including a handful of towers generally about the 15 level mark; and some of questionable quality! Only in the recent year or so has West Melbourne fallen under the gaze of developers seeking genuine high-rise developments with the increased number of apartments to match.

Elenberg Fraser in their recent Urban Context Report for 385-405 King Street described West Melbourne as follows:

The West Melbourne precinct is separated from the Capital City Zone by Flagstaff Gardens. There is a distinct increase in building heights and intensification of built form on the eastern and southern sides of the gardens, including a number of high rise developments currently under construction.

The West Melbourne area presents a visual transition in building heights from the intensive CBD tower developments to the low rise development further north of the site

Elenberg Fraser

Indeed there has been a delineation of sorts between high-rise and medium to lower-density developments proposed for West Melbourne. Dudley Street has shaped as the unofficial border where high-rise proposals taper off to buildings of far fewer levels.

The current crop

Seen below are images of 15-31 Batman Street and 385-405 King Street (second and fourth) which are the first public glimpses of those projects. The four towers below constitute the tallest four projects within West Melbourne currently; 420 Spencer Street sets the high benchmark with approval at 131 metres in height.

371 Spencer Street seen third below also sets the pace for total apartments approved within a single project, capable of adding 704 dwellings to inner city stock.

The West Melbourne foursome. Images courtesy FK, Inhabit, Bruce Henderson & EF

Overall a snapshot of the Urban Melbourne Project Database sees 13 separate apartment projects listed for West Melbourne, with a combined total of 2944 apartments on offer. While some are still at planning, others such as Duo Apartments and Alessi are into the construction phase.

The next project due for launch is GURNER's Ikebana located at 130 Dudley Street. With a display onsite, the development of 241 apartments looks likely to launch by years end.

Comment - avoiding the errors of Southbank

Batman Street with 385-405 King Street. Image © Elenberg Fraser

While there'll be an intensely developed pocket of West Melbourne containing up to 40 levels, it's hard to envisage West Melbourne matching Southbank for scale. A smattering of already converted low-rise buildings and new developments built at lower heights will translate to a lack of wall to wall skyscrapers which for mine is a good thing.

Ultimately West Melbourne's street level as vastly different to Southbank's, with or without the expected surge of tall towers. Variable heights allowing for greater sunlight penetration and and generally different street level dynamic has West Melbourne holding a few aces over Southbank.

One critical difference between West Melbourne and Southbank is that a greater number of proposals for West Melbourne have included retail and cafe spaces away from major thoroughfares, thereby intending to inject life to street level - something which Southbank fails miserably to do.

So West Melbourne is due for fundamental change, how much remains to be seen.

2 comments

Aussie Steve's picture

West Melbourne also wins because of its wider street and clear grid layout. And as you point out, the mix of low-rise, conversion of existing warehouses, a smattering of older housing stock and taller towers is a great outcome for this part of inner Melbourne.

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Riccardo's picture

Southbank's problem is City Rd and the freeway. Two traffic sewers that make street life difficult to activate. So many other opportunities lost, to make Sturt St a jewel, and Kavanagh.

I disagree with the idea of hard edges. I'd rather see Melbourne's famous parks, the Domain, Albert Park, Fitzroy Gdns, Flagstaff etc to be Central Park like 'oases' or Islands in a strongly built up area that doesn't really stop.

Of course the biggest lost opportunity in West Melbourne was to get rid of the railway land, would have opened up decades of capacity for growth.

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