Places Victoria moves ahead with Harbour Esplanade

Hassell Studio in conjunction with Places Victoria and City of Melbourne have devised a master plan for what many observers would consider the 'missing tooth' of Docklands. Harbour Esplanade was in years gone by expected to be an urban showcase for the area, but has stuttered and stumbled to the point where it is now akin to a patchwork of attempts to enhance the central waterfront area.

With wheels set in motion during 2014, the Harbour Esplanade Master Plan Report was put before Council for consideration during late March.

The ambition of this master plan is to establish a vision of great aspiration; a vision conceived unmistakably for, and about this place, Melbourne’s primary urban waterfront. A vision that is underpinned by a number of clearly articulated and achievable design principles which will guide the realisation of a very special public place for all Melburnian’s.

A place for us to engage with our somehow yet undiscovered and wonderful harbour, place for us to invite the world to visit and be entertained. The role of the master plan is to define a clear physical structure or ‘zoning plan’ for the Harbour Esplanade waterfront promenade, that will facilitate a staged delivery of the precinct over time.

Harbour Esplanade Master Plan Report
A hotchpotch Harbour Esplanade to date. Image courtesy Hassell / Places Victoria

Key to the master plan is a set of urban design principles conceived to ensure that future works are consistent with the overall intent of the site as defined by the vested parties. The seven principles are:

  • Embrace the water
  • Provide a diverse range of experiences
  • Integrate public spaces within the built form
  • Take a restorative design approach
  • Make it unique, reinforce its heritage character
  • Re-prioritise pedestrian movement at key
  • Program the space for day and night activation
The area subject to the master plan. Image courtesy Hassell

Expected within the redevelopment is the construction of a continuous wharf edge to Victoria Harbour which would see the delivery of four new decks and increased landscaping and pedestrian accessibility to both the harbour edge and adjacent the Capital City Trail. Split into north and south basins, as divided by the historic goods sheds, there is scope within the proposed master plan to allow buildings ranging between 1-3 levels atop parts of Harbour Esplanade.

Slated as a staged redevelopment by Places Victoria, the Master Plan is designed to reflect the "Scale and complexity" of the site, while providing clarity for issues such as "Location, form and design intent of any future buildings and public realm spaces within the site."


Unfortunately there's no great imagery within the Master Plan to provide any indication as to what can be expected. Factoring in the decade it's taken to arrive at this point, and granted all but the very few are on the outside looking in, it seems to be a painfully slow process to deliver Docklands with a viable urban showpiece.

Truthfully parallels can be drawn with the St Kilda Triangle flop.

Nonetheless a Master Plan is coming. What better way to provide Docklands with something truly unique then to open the Harbour Esplanade redevelopment to a design competition. Federation Square and Flinders Street Station provided excellent outcomes, Harbour Esplanade should be afforded an equally as impressive outcome.

The Master Plan documents can be viewed at City of Melbourne's website.

Lead image courtesy The University of Melbourne.

1 comment

motleets's picture

Any attempt to rehabilitate this precinct must include substantial high quality development in front of the stadium to completely conceal it- the harbour desperately needs active edges and definition and the stadium is the antithesis of this. There is space for this - look at Circular Quay, measure it, analyse it and better it.


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