Planning Application > Hotel Forum @ 150-162 Flinders Street

Today's article centres once again on the Forum Hotel development at 150-162 Flinders Street, effectively the sequel to Mark's write up on the impact of the development on Hosier Lane. The focus however shifts from street to sky, namely the design response of the tower element which would rise 107m above Russell Street.

Primarily the proposed hotel's function is to fund (or offset) the cost of restoration works on the Forum Theatre itself, at the expense of the Melbourne CBD's last remaining Robin Boyd designed buildings. Some may paint the building as a martyr but with the exception of perhaps the Black Dolphin Motel and Domain flats, Boyd's most highly regarded works are his houses.

The Bates Smart-designed proposal continues the recent trend of towers on culturally significant sites or within historically sensitive streetscapes or precincts. Additionally the Hotel Forum proposal represents yet another attempt at inserting a 'backdrop' in the form of a glazed tower element - the idea of receding into the sky. Other examples of this nearby are 171 Collins Street, the Windsor Redevelopment and to a lesser extent the rejected W Hotel proposal on the Palace site which employed a vastly different architectural expression.

171 Collin St - Bates Smart; Windsor Redevelopment - DCM; Forum Hotel - Bates Smart; W Hotel Proposal - Bates Smart

It's also worth noting three of the four aforementioned projects were designed by Bates Smart - their strike rate currently stands at 1 built, 1 proposed and 1 rejected - with DCM's Windsor development slated to begin construction later this year. Rightly or wrongly and despite some objections, the Windsor set a precedent for this type of development and unless a project has a direct (or perceived) impact on Parliament House as was the case with W Hotel, it will likely be approved irrespective of the discretionary height limits.

The crystalline tower presents as two distinct 'slipping' volumes of varying height - one planar, the other faceted - with a sliver of glazing separating them. The southern element draws on the diamond detailing of the Forum theatre whilst the northern element employs a fritted glazing - becoming a chameleon during the course of the day.

Designed to respond to the varying conditions of its immediate context, the proposal rests in an area blanketed by a 40m height limit, once again pushing the boundaries of the planning scheme. Ultimately however it is likely to be approved by the Minister for Planning and would join an existing suite of towers of similar height in the neighbourhood - refer height study diagram below.

Height Study © Bates Smart

Set to house 220 rooms across 17 floors, the balance of programme at the proposal's summit consists of a single residential level with (quite peculiarly) an office level and two floors of plant above. Call me a cynic but I question the necessity of those two upper habitable levels in particular - chop them off and you have a 93m tower. Perhaps they will come into play in any possible negotiations re: height, becoming sacrificial lambs of sorts or handy bargaining bait.

The tower sits above a podium comprising two floors of retail with 5 floors of commercial space above. A 50m internal laneway cuts across the site linking Russell Street to Hosier Lane. Now I personally like the articulation of the podium to Russell Street and the way the two tower volumes have been expressed, with a shadowline 'break' in-between 'tower' and 'podium' a design strategy more commonly used these days as a design response on smaller sites where deep setbacks are unviable.

In saying that I do however find the junction between the various components a tad awkward and lacking resolution - particularly the area highlighted below:

Junction of elements. Original image © Bates Smart

The above illustrates an area where multiple geometries and materials converge hesitantly - a number along the same plane - detracting somewhat from what should otherwise be a beautifully proportioned object. A greater definition of hierarchy to these distinct elements wouldn't hurt.

Finally, I know Mark touched on Hosier Lane in his previous article but I will briefly say that I think brick would be a much more suitable material than corten panels. I understand the rationale behind why corten was employed - the oxidising over time giving it that worn or 'aged' appearance that would otherwise take a couple of decades but it is a material that is largely alien to Hosier Lane. I have rather crudely photoshopped Bates Smart's image from the planning application to give an indication of what I mean:

Hosier Lane - brick blades. Original image © Bates Smart

I believe brick would respond much better to the laneway environment both visually but also from a historic point of view.

Despite a couple of reservations I may have, overall Bates Smart have conceived a solid scheme which based on their previous line of work will no doubt boast high quality finishes. On a more macro level it also has the ability to really inject some more life into that corner of the city and I look forward to viewing a revitalised Forum Theatre.


Melbourne_Fragments's picture

I imagine the hotel exists much more to get David Marriner out of some trouble rather than any benevolence towards to the forum?

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Bilby's picture

They now do not plan to "revitalise" or restore the Forum Theatre. The proposal in the current scheme is simply a restoration of the exterior of the theatre. The interior is to remain untouched and unrestored.

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Rohan Storey's picture

OK thats a nice assessment of the design on its own terms, but should it be there at all ? There is a 40m (discretionary height limit, only broken by the BHP tower (hidden from main streets views), and its a heritage precinct / streetscape, sandwiched between two notable heritage buildings.

All that is because this site is part of the low rise, heritage rich, central retail area, one thats full of old buildings, laneways, funny basements shops, laneway bars, and grand older main street buildings. In that context, something this big and glassy stands out like the proverbial sore thumb !

Its slick and shiny but totally dominates the forum itself and its landmark tower, and the Russell street streetscape of Forum, Cavendish House, and teh T&G building. There are some parts of Melbourne that just arnt suitable for tall buildings, or rather would be better off without them, and this is one of them. Even the planning scheme says so !

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Bilby's picture

It is incredibly ironic that the same Planning Minister who desperately tried to stop the Windsor "curtain" tower from being built in a sensitive low-rise heritage area is proudly approving an almost identical design for another of our sensitive low-rise heritage areas, rising up directly behind an equally iconic Melbourne building. What gives?

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