Planning Application > 15-35 Thistlethwaite Street, South Melbourne

2014 promises to be a fascinating year with the influx of remarkable large-scale projects earmarked for Melbourne showing no signs of abating.  The year's first planning application in focus concerns 15-35 Thistlethwaite Street, South Melbourne, one of a plethora of residential projects jockeying for approval (and potential disappointment) within the Fishermans Bend urban renewal area.  Immediately drawing parallels to sinuous beauties such as Yve on Melbourne's St Kilda Road or Chicago's masterful Lake Point Tower, the planning application was submitted to State planning body DTPLI during September 2013.

Expanding property developer Circa Property Group has enlisted prolific Melbourne firm Rothe Lowman to create a standalone 38 level residential tower, yet 15-35 Thistlethwaite Street does carry similar DNA to a number of other Rothe Lowman proposals with Fishermans Bend such as 228-238 Normanby Road, 6-78 Buckhurst Street and 60-82 Johnston Street; best summarised by dark curtain glazed towers above light precast podiums.  The end result is a clutch of visually pleasing towers, of which 15-35 Thistlethwaite Street is but one.

As with all areas of Fishermans Bend, there's little to no existing large-scale built form fabric upon which to draw inspiration or a lead when creating a tower such as 15-35 Thistlethwaite Street.  As a result the design process is seemingly at the whim of the architect, with Rothe Lowman providing the above examples. 

Having split the design into two sections, the tower represents "An expression of new life" and aims to evoke notions of renewal and new growth, whilst exuding clarity, simplicity, purity and singularity.  Balconies over the tower are set within the concave shape of each aspect, which along with the towers curved corners seek to mitigate the effects of wind.  All floors above 31 feature an enhanced 3.5 metre radial curve to corers which as seen below is highlighted by the inset fins over upper levels.  Furthermore the concave shape is designed to maximise sight lines from apartments whilst the towers massing allows for adjoining sites if developed, to maintain a separation of between five and six metres.

The podium on the other hand mimics a broken husk, where textured precast panels backed with dark metalclad or glazing provides a strong contrast to the tower above.  This contrast according to the planning application provides visual support and expresses grounded elements to an area with interactions at street level.  The end result is a stunning interface fronting Thistlethwaite Street defined by contrasting colours, contrasting soft and sharp lines and a highly defined entrance that's expected to be adorned with artwork.

Podium and tower together can essentially be read as new life sprouting from the seed, symbolic of Fishermans Bend in general.

Externals aside the development is expected to hold 291 apartments in total, split between 187 single bed, 91 double bed and 13 triple bed dwellings, although provisions have been made to alter the apartment mix should the scheme proceed to sales eventually.  Provisional plans call for single bedroom apartments to to start at 41 m² of internal space while three bedroom apartments will max out at 98 m² of internal living, with a variety of floor plans in between.  Continuing an emerging trend of elevating single bedroom apartments, the highest habitable floor will feature dual single bedroom apartments for the buyer/renter determined to gain imperious views.

These apartments are supported by 173 car parking spaces located within the six level podium which in turn are shrouded by two retail tenancies and twelve apartments. Vehicular access to the building will be via an expanded Shamrock Place which subsumes some of the development site, and which is expected to be offset by an overhung podium that still reaches the site boundary above 5.3 metres.  This represents a car parking ratio of 0.59% whilst bicycle provisions at 96 (including 12 kerbside bays) is even lower at 0.33% bicycles per apartment; this may be due to both Trams 109 and 96 being no more than a two minute walk from the development.  

Other noteworthy additions within the development include two ground floor mezzanine retail spaces totaling 284 m², an independent commercial yoga studio at 89 m², residents dining room, lounge and gymnasium all atop the podium.  In addition to these facilities is an expansive open terrace of 286 m² which fronts Thistlethwaite Street, at a height where the buzz of street activity is still audible, giving a sense of place.

Level 31 carries further residential amenity with 262 m² of communal facilities featuring an external terrace, private dining room, residents club and cinema.

As pleasing as the design may be, based upon current guidelines that are available 15-35 Thistlethwaitse Street seems doomed in its present form as the site falls within an area where a four level height limit has been proposed.  An article entitled 'Fishermans towers face chop' carried by the Australian Financial Review (AFR) during September quoted Circa Property Group director Luke Stokie as stating the following, "Circa had been consistently encouraged by state planners to make its initial proposal of about 30 storeys higher...based on their advice I kept putting it up.  Now it's four levels [the height limit]...It will never get off the ground.  You can't build basements in that area because of the soil.  By the time we build two levels of car parking there is nothing left for apartments."

According to the same article Mr Stokie said that Circa Property Group had conducted thorough due diligence for the site and liaised with the State officials heavily prior to buying the site.  Although a very public display of discontent via the AFR, it is symptomatic of the rumblings of both individuals and large property development entities seeking approval for their development schemes within Fishermans Bend.  

As these are interim height guidelines, there's been no doubt much discussion [read lobbying] between affected parties and state planning officials prior to Planning Minister Matthew Guy formalising height controls for the urban renewal area, most likely prior to the upcoming 2014 State election.  Whether 15-35 Thistlethwaite Street survives in its current form or meets another fate is unknown, yet once these finals height limits are tabled, the situation will become much more transparent.


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