I recall over a decade ago venturing into Docklands with camera, thinking what wondrous experience could those in charge create over time - how times change.
Peddle Thorp recently released a swag of new designs on show for the first time via their website. One of which is a concept for the Docklands Aquatic Centre which sees an integrated facility located between Etihad Stadium and Victoria Harbour.
As a stand alone concept, the sinuous facility looks great although when in situ one thought sprung to mind. Does Docklands really need another large, isolated structure that has little by way of interaction with passers-by? Etihad Stadium, parts of Yarra's Edge and AXA's 750 Collins Street amongst others already take that mantle, serving as Dockland's Achilles heel.
Naturally the question becomes, what does Docklands really need? This question is asked in respect to advancing the precinct in the eyes of the common person who for lack of interest or experience, tend to dismiss the area out of hand.
Up until recently I would have thought community facilities were a must, yet they tend to serve the wants and needs of a vocal, local population - and fair enough. The most recent planning application for Lend Lease's Victoria Harbour is a Boating and Family Services Hub, seen below. Designed by Hayball, this odd duo will meld under the same roof providing services such as consulting rooms, workstations, playgrounds, function areas and boat storage/rigging spaces.
As part of Victoria Harbour's civic precinct, two more development lots have been set aside for human services buildings. These are all great initiatives located in one pocket of Docklands but they won't generate markedly increased foot traffic through the precinct.
What does Docklands really need? Intimacy... pure and simple.
When so many of Docklands' buildings are large, independent and isolated, the result is a rather sterile, disconnected experience. The intimacy of the CBD's laneway network is a success because the average person is confronted with sensory overload. Sights, smells and constantly changing shop fronts stimulate and entice, coaxing the average person into an enjoyable experience. The generic aluminium-framed, street level glazed facades of Docklands simply disappoint.
It's no coincidence that NewQuay's waterfront and Lend Lease's Merchant Street area are the most frequented as the pedestrian experience is dynamic, green (Merchant Street at least) and interesting. Some may say Harbour Town Docklands pursues the model of intimacy and diversity. Yes it tries to, but it also succeeds at being cheap, isolated and dare I say gimmicky - no authenticity there.
Can Docklands generate intimacy? Mmmmm... no.
So much has been spoken about what could and should be done to enhance the Docklands experience, nothing tangible has eventuated. The cost to retrofit massive swathes of inactive street frontage is prohibitive and I just can't help but feel Docklands will retain the feel of a large suburban office park at the foot of the CBD.
The solution - aside from demolishing a few buildings and starting over, better luck with Fishermans Bend!