The changing face of Melbourne's northern CBD

It looks to be one of those instances where a single image says it all.

In this case the lead image above illustrates the rapid change engulfing the northern stretch of Melbourne's CBD. During a recent visit to Hickory Group's topping out ceremony for La Trobe Tower, the scale of this change became patently evident.

Given abundant coverage to date on Urban Melbourne, towering individual planning applications and rendered city models fail to adequately convey the emergence of a new crop of tall Melbourne towers. The above image for instance would be greatly augmented should the 210 metre 111 A'Beckett Street rise in the foreground; essentially block out three of the new crop of towers which all weigh in above the 200 metre mark: Vision, Victoria One and Light House.

Assuming that we're currently at a nominal half-way point in the construction of this rash of new residential towers across the north of Melbourne's CBD, what observations can be made at this time?

Welcome to the new Melbourne

On a more intimate level, the street character of Elizabeth Street in particular has been drastically altered.

Minimal setbacks have given the eastern site of Elizabeth an imposing presence from street level; some will argue it as a welcomed change representing Melbourne's progression, while others will note that Elizabeth Street is becoming a cold and uninviting public place. Much will depend upon how readily these new towers interact with the streetscape upon their respective completions.

A previously rundown streetscape or an uninviting wall of towers, for those who value urban design it could be argued neither is a particularly palatable outcome.

Lighthouse on show

On a larger scale though, these new towers have definitely brought a fresh design dynamic to Melbourne's skyline, with Elenberg Fraser the primary firm responsible.

The architecture practice can lay claim to seven current towers in the northern stretch of Melbourne's CBD; five are at construction with the shortest being the 172 metre Avant. Colour and form are coming to the fore, with Light House above a prime example of Elenberg Fraser's progressive design dynamic.

Perhaps though the most stylish tower on the rise anywhere in Melbourne is EQ Tower. It's pinkish-purple facade and inverse flowing lines are particularly attractive and it has rapidly emerged as a beacon of design prowess, owing to its many unique characteristics.

EQ Tower

With many towers under construction now taking on their own unique characteristics, here is an overview of the current status of all major towers within Melbourne's northern CBD zone:

Planning and approved

386 William, 183 A'Beckett, Scape La Trobe, 97 Franklin, 441 Elizabeth, 102 Franklin, 478 Elizabeth, 111 A'Beckett

97 Franklin Street as rendered into the new Melbourne skyline.


Wills Place, Queens Place, 303 La Trobe

303 La Trobe has joined Queens Place at project sales

Early phase construction

229 Franklin, Aurora Melbourne Central, Scape Swanston, Avant

Aurora Melbourne Central on the rise. Image: Adrian

Mid construction

Empire, Light House, Victoria One, EQ Tower

Empire and Light House have progressed rapidly

Topped out

La Trobe Tower, Eporo Tower

A recent shot of La Trobe Tower


Bilby's picture

"A previously rundown streetscape or an uninviting wall of towers, for those who value urban design it could be argued neither is a particularly palatable outcome."

Interesting comments, Mark. The difference between the two "outcomes" though is one would have been reversible through the reinvigoration of the Melbourne CBD and the population boom, while the other is not.

Realistically, how long would a prime CBD streetscape remain "rundown" under current conditions, assuming proper planning controls and effective disincentives for owners to land bank properties?

As it is, we now have an urban scheme that cannot be reimagined - the reality of Elizabeth street's evolution from a fine grain historic typology at street level, to barely setback skycrapers is here. Just a few short years ago we had the perfect storm for a reinvigorated, energetic, fascinating fine grain precinct - just as a "rundown" Brunswick Street lay dormant in the early 1980s before Fitzroy's renaissance.

So, as you imply in the comments above, for Elizabeth Street and the CBD, we've bet the house on a single solution to urban renewal.

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3000's picture

Well it's done. I don't exactly think it's been handled as well as it could've in terms of zero setbacks and cold glass and windy streets. But like Mark said, it really depends on how retailers manage to make their (barely there) spaces work.
I hope we don't have another Vision on our hands repeated over and over, a hive of activity but it's just an entrance.

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