There has been a considerable amount of commentary recently revolving around tall towers, overshadowing and the subsequent impact on amenity in the public domain. With this in mind, Urban Melbourne takes a look at a proposed 25-storey mixed-use tower at 1-5 Queen Street.
Rising a height of 90.75 metres behind the retained facade of the 1872-dated Fletcher Jones building, the applicant is seeking a permit to overshadow Northbank between the hours of 11am and 2pm on the winter solstice. It is worth noting that unlike overshadowing of Southbank during that same time period, it is not strictly prohibited to overshadow Northbank.
The proposal also raises issues as how to best integrate a new architectural intervention with the fabric of a heritage structure. It can be argued that a number of recent high-rise proposals have failed to address this accordingly, with some very ordinary design responses being put forward.
Located on the corner of Queen Street and Flinders Street opposite the Banana Alley vaults, the existing building is covered by Heritage Overlay H01037. The existing building had initially being identified as a C-graded structure in a level 3 streetscape during the Central Activities District Conservation Study of 1984. This grading was confirmed in subsequent reviews and studies undertaken in 1993, 2002 and finally in the Central City Heritage Review of 2011 which resulted in the introduction of heritage controls.
The site heritage impact statement prepared by Lovell Chen goes on to describe why the Cobden Buildings are significant both historically and aesthetically to the Melbourne Capital City Zone:
The Cobden Buildings are significant historically for their key role in early maritime commerce and governance of Melbourne's ports, with links via the James Jackson family ownership to the very beginnings of Melbourne town and Queens Wharf which once stood opposite these buildings.
Architecturally, although modified, the upper level Is a good and early Italianate Renaissance revival style as applied to an office building, then an uncommon building type in a City of warehouses, residences and shops.Graeme Butler and Associates, Central City Heritage Review
DD01-A2 (Active Street Frontages) also applies to the site with a particular focus to the Flinders Street frontage the intent of which is outlined below:
The design objectives of this overlay are:
- To ensure ground floor frontages are pedestrian oriented and add interest and vitality to city streets.
- To provide continuity of ground floor shops along streets and lanes within the retail core.
- To ensure ground floor frontages contribute to city safety by providing lighting and activity.
The requirements of this overlay are:
Buildings with ground-level street frontages to major pedestrian areas must present an attractive pedestrian oriented frontage to the satisfaction of the responsible authority, by providing:
Heritage Overlay H01037
- At least 5 metres or 80% of the street frontage (whichever is the greater) as an entry or display window to a shop and/or a food and drink premises, or
- At least 5 metres or 80% of the street frontage (whichever is the greater) as other uses, customer service areas and activities, which provide pedestrian interest and interaction.
- Built scale appropriate to the street and pedestrians.
- Clear glazing (security grilles must be transparent).
To this end the application attempts to address these considerations by providing a 207 square metre double height retail space which also acts as a buffer to the substation located at ground level. The main entrance for residents is via a new Queen Street lobby with a permeable lobby interface introduced.
Included within the planning application is the intended construction of a new two-storey facade along Queen Street which will include angled metal framed glazing to the ground level, with the upper level divided into bays to match those on the Flinders Street elevation. Additionally the elevation will involve a combination of reconstruction, references to window forms and contemporary interpretations of some of the original elements such as parapets.
The modified two storey building will act as a base or 'plinth' for the tower which like other proposals dealing with historically sensitive buildings has employed the strategy of a reflective veil which acts to give the tower a recessive quality by reflecting the immediate context and sky. The intent seems to be to produce the effect of an invisible building with the visually dominant element being the existing 2-storey building.
The crystalline, sculpted form is encased in a transparent grey glazing that also features operable louvres which interrupt the otherwise smooth finish of the facade and provide natural ventilation to create winter garden spaces. The form is derived as a formal and metaphorical translation of the site's address at 1 Queen Street; "One Queen" evoking connotations of jewellery and in this specific instance a diamond form.
In response to contextual analysis of nearby buildings and the historical base building, the architects have employed setbacks to all three street frontages ranging from between 3.5 to 6 metres from Queen Street, 3 to 5 metres from Flinders Street and 2.7 metres from Tavistock Place. These setbacks all gradually taper out to the property boundaries at the upper levels.
The tower takes advantage of its location in a relatively low-rise area of the city adjacent to the rail lines and river, offering primary views along an expansive east-west axis.
From a pedestrian amenity perspective (as was mentioned earlier) towers are not prohibited from overshadow Northbank. While a permit may be required to do so, the shadow analysis studiy below illustrates the impact that the proposal's shadow will have on the public domain between 11am & 2pm on (curiously) the 22nd June. The winter solstice actually falls on the 21st June.
From 11am onwards the shadows moves from Enterprize Park along the promenade adjacent to the Banana Alley vaults, which themselves are not the most inviting and pleasant of spaces. Should the Banana Alley vaults eventually receive significant improvements, 1-5 Queen Street may well have a detrimental effect on pedestrian comfort and amenity, although this is a moot point for now.
Arguably the most impact is caused just before 2pm when a shadow is cast over Sandridge Bridge which while not ideal, although the bridge is more of a transient space than a space someone would dwell in for any extended period of time. Having been lodged for consideration with City of Melbourne during early July, a final decision is some time off.