Early last year I wrote an article which investigated a possible development scenario for 447 Collins Street, on the basis that the existing 1960's structure were to be demolished.
Fast forward to last week and we were afforded our first glimpse of Woods Bagot + ShOp's schemes for the site, each with varying provisions of public space. The scheme titled 'Bridge' would consist of dual towers of 160 + 190m with a north south laneway bisecting the site and a small pocket of public space to the north-east corner. The alternative scheme title 'Spire' (architecture notwithstanding) bares a strong resemblance, in particular from an urban master planning point of view, to what I had considered a year earlier.
While two schemes were investigated in my initial piece, ultimately I was convinced that ISPT (now CBUS) and their architects would favour a dual tower scheme with a north-south laneway similar to the their previous CBW project. The sort of scheme I was looking at, while not without substance was more pie in the sky stuff (300m to be exact). It was intended to generate debate as to just what we value as Melburnians from a public domain point of view.
Would we accept overshadowing of Southbank promenade in exchange for a large public space in the heart of the city? Many people have raised the fact that such a space currently exists on site as we speak. My questions to them are: Is it actually a quality public space? Does it make a positive contribution to the street and city? Is it a desirable space to dwell in or a memorable space?
I would answer most of those questions in the negative. The most positive aspect of the current site configuration is its northerly aspect, meaning it should be afforded a generous amount of natural sunlight during the day. Additionally CBUS are only required to provide/retain 480sqm of public space, so to provide close to five times that requirement for public benefit while not eroding the commercial programme is quite the challenge.
On face value the 300m Spire scheme provides the greater benefit to the public domain: there are far more people living, working and visiting the traditional CBD grid. Obviously further interrogation and detailed design is required before an educated judgment can be made with any degree of certainty and confidence but the positives for mine, far outweigh the negatives.
By locating the public space to the eastern side of the site and consuming part of Market Street this allows for solar penetration to Flinders Lane while also creating a new vista to the historically significant beaux-arts former Port Authority building to the south. Planning scheme controls aside the big question that needs to be asked is what does Melbourne really need? Another 21st century quasi-laneway experience? Or perhaps a public space with a bit more substance?
Now I don't for a second doubt the combined capabilities of Woods Bagot and ShOp in delivering a quality public space, whether it takes the form of a 4,000sqm public square or a more intimate laneway experience.
The other point that needs to be raised is the Yarra itself with the exception a few nodes here and there is a largely transient body of water, it is not intended for static activities. It is overshadowed everyday of the year by the numerous networks of bridges which connect north and south. The Southbank promenade on the other hand is itself a largely homogenous experience, overshadowing part of its 1.2km length will not destroy the area and send people running away in droves.
The detriment to the south of the Yarra is more than balanced out by the gain to the north.
There's an argument that supporting such a proposal would set a precedent. Now if that precedent happened to be a tower with +2,000sqm of public space at ground level in exchange for some overshadowing of Southbank promenade in winter, I would take it every day of the week. Realistically sites like 447 Collins don't really exist anymore and the likelihood of a developer consolidating multiple sites is highly unlikely.
My opinion on the matter will likely prove unpopular but while the provisions of the planning scheme exist to protect the amenity of our streets, parks and public domain in general, these should not be at the expense of innovation. Rather than discouraging the development of alternative solutions which may not fully comply with requirements, the planning scheme should encourage more creative responses and design solutions to the issues which we are faced with today. We have previously seen the City of Melbourne commend another project in 97 Franklin Street for thinking outside the square (literally).
In finishing, I have never been one to see the world in strictly black and white terms. There are plenty of shades of grey out there and I believe these have the potential to offer the most interesting outcomes.