What began as a super-skinny office tower lodged for assessment during March 2014 recently progressed to a VCAT hearing in order to determine its worth. Designed to replace Queen Street's former Ironworkers Building, the commercial tower recently fell foul of City of Melbourne with notices of refusal posted both on September 17th and October 10th according to their online platform.
Last week Fairfax reported on the VCAT hearing in which City of Melbourne was shown to have concerns regarding the proposals lack of setbacks and excessive height.
Given the tight dimensions of the tower floor plate, essential design requirements such as lift, stair and service core are located along the eastern boundary in order to maximise leasable/sellable space. Even so the tight dimensions suggest the tower if approved would be pitched toward strata owner/occupiers, as larger corporations have drifted toward larger open-plan office layouts in years gone by.
A tree motif has been designed into the eastern facade which predominantly consists of concrete. The tall, thin perimeter boundary is not the first design to employ such a method in order to provide a degree interest to a non-active wall; Most recently 168 Lonsdale Street and Swanston Square have received similar treatments to their exterior.
Of most interest are the comments reported on by The Age last week quoting David Lock Associates Principal Mark Sheppard during his presentation to VCAT. "This is an office building, not a residential building. I think it is really important that we don't expect it to look like the Republic Tower."
The clear inference of the article was suggesting that CBD office towers don't have to be as attractive as residential developments. Without being at the hearing it's hard to determine the exact context in which Mark Sheppard's comments were delivered, but it's hard to swallow these comments as they were presented in The Age.
When in doubt I assume the truth always lies in the middle: a highly experienced urban design expert using every trick to gain ascendancy on behalf of his client and a media outlet doing what they do best, maximising the most out of a non-issue to garner an emotional response.
Does anyone actually think 338 Queen Street is aesthetically a terrible design? The design carries enough articulation to place it on par with many other Melbourne office projects such as 405 Bourke Street, 727 Collins Street and 150 Collins Street; or are we just conditioned to the office tower being a glass box?
If there is an issue it's not 338 Queen Street or Mark Sheppard's comments per se, but the overall quality of all office towers within the city centre. And just like residential towers there are varying degrees of what individuals consider to be poor, good or excellent design.
One person's Republic Tower is another's concrete jungle.