Fins and folly > 529-541 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne

City of Melbourne are presented with a good design, verging on a very good design, but one particular aspect of a new planning application involving 529-541 Elizabeth Street is worth questioning. While the Elizabeth Street frontage is transparent and welcoming, the O'Connell Street perspective is anything but.

The proposed development will provide an engaging response to the Elizabeth Street frontage, as well as the O'Connell Street frontage

I tend to disagree with this quote from the planning application, as my favoured hobby horse of inactive street frontage rears its head once more with a less than overwhelming scenario depicted below, which fronts O'Connell Street. With services, car park entry and loading fronting O'Connell Street, it is understandable that such a finish has been applied, but highly undesirable at the same time.

This becomes a test for City of Melbourne as much as anything else. More than occasionally they have been known to posture and voice disapproval over tall towers/proposals within the CBD and surrounds, but it is the finer grain public experience that should be paramount and it will be fascinating to see if the council request changes in any form to O'Connell Street's frontage.

Perhaps a static glass-walled art display - similar to the Tacoma Museum of Glass - would be a simple solution addressing O'Connell Street that highlights the site and site proponent's history. Which brings us to the obligatory details.

529-541 Elizabeth Street is proposed to be the new headquarters for the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF). Designed by Crone Partners, the 46.5 metre tower falls within the City North Precinct and provides ten levels of mixed-use activities. Externally the tower element to both frontages features vertical fins that form a cascading feature which funnels down to the respective entrances.

Internally the building will have office space totalling 7,314 square metres with the three upper levels reserved for the ANMF and the remaining four tower levels are to be leased externally. The podium carries a variety of uses, ranging from education and training facilities (classrooms, labs, meeting rooms and library) with the ability to cater for 200 students.

Ground floor facilities are divided by a pedestrian passage running from Elizabeth to O'Connell and features a 400 seat auditorium which is available to both ANMF and external groups. A retail space of 114 square metres fronts Elizabeth Street while 66 cars and 30 bicycle spaces are accommodated within the basement.

Having recently been submitted, final approval for 529-541 Elizabeth Street is some time away, as tends to be the norm. Urban Melbourne waits with interest to see if the O'Connell Street frontage and overall design proceeds unfettered.

  • Context and Design Report and Architectural Plans: Crone Partners
  • Transport Impact Assessment: GTA Consultants
  • Environmental Wind Assessment: Mel Consultants
  • Environmentally Sustainable Design: Crone Partners
  • Waste Management Plan: Wastech Services Pty Ltd
  • Heritage Advice: Bryce Raworth


Melbourne_Fragments's picture

like retaining the heritage listed facades on both Elizabeth st and O'connell?

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Aussie Steve's picture

Yes, losing the small row of Victorian shops with their 1920s brass shop fronts is a bad outcome.

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Bilby's picture

This is an astonishingly bad proposal in terms of the highly intact and rather magnificent heritage buildings at this site. Why was this fact not drawn to readers attention in the article, I wonder? This row contains some of the last copper shop fronts in the city, within a stunning rendered Victorian building, with an Art Deco warehouse behind. This is uneducated, uncultured, backward looking, weak planning and design. Surely we can do better than this as a city in 2014? And shame on the architects for even trying this one on - Melbourne deserves much better.

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Bilby's picture

Here's a link to the witness statement about the existing heritage buildings for the Panel on the C198 amendment (City North Review).

Is anyone able to post a photograph of the original Victorian shops, copper shop fronts and rear elevations?

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piratemilk's picture

Another dull, generic-looking glass box. Really ugly.
The current buildings, especially the shopfronts on Elizabeth, are great and demolishing these to build an ugly box like that described above would be a scandal.
Any decent design should meaningfully preserve the most impressive heritage features of the current buildings.

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

The applicants own heritage consultant found that:

The building at 535-541 Elizabeth Street is more readily understood to be a building of interest that might warrant the proposed upgrading to C grade.

In addition to the Victorian facade, with its intricate and handsome interwar shopfront, it also has the interest associated with the red brick and render building to the rear, on O’Connell Street, which does not appear to have been graded separately because it stands on a single lot with the Elizabeth Street building. In my opinion, both parts of the building at 535-541 Elizabeth Street are of sufficient significance to warrant a C grading.

After reading the report they commissioned I cannot understand how ow the owners of the site think it will be OK to demolish these buildings.

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