Oh what a feeling: 611-681 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne

The wraps are off Toyota Australia's ambitious plans to capitalise upon Melbourne's insatiable desire for inner-city apartment and student accommodation. As had been reported earlier during 2015, the car manufacturer has turned its hand to converting a large majority of its Elizabeth Street site into a residential enclave capable of holding in excess of 1000 apartments.

Sydney-based property advisory firm LEFTA has been nominated as the developer within the planning documents, acting in effect as a proxy for Toyota Australia. Not recognised as a developer, Toyota Australia will wait upon a planning decision before revealing its intentions; a likely outcome being the sale of the expansive site to a recognised developer while maintaining its Melbourne showroom within the retained Melford Motors building onsite.

611-681 Elizabeth Street application summary

Development perspective from Elizabeth Street. Image courtesy SJB
  • Application lodged December 2014
  • Current use: Melbourne City Toyota
  • Site area: 7,051sqm
  • Proposed: 4 towers between 47-68 metres in height
  • 1,090 apartments split between two residential and two student accommodation towers
  • Student studio apartments from 24sqm
  • 3,956.8sqm of commercial space
  • 367 car parking and 1,372 bicycle spaces
  • Total GFA: 61,462.6sqm
  • 1,413sqm showroom (likely for Toyota)
  • 732sqm gym included as are communal areas and rooftop terraces

All in the family

Exterior of 'The Father'. Image courtesy SJB

Project architect SJB has gone to unusual lengths to distinguish the quartet of towers envisaged as part of the development. Father, mother, son and daughter have been allocated to describe the towers, reflecting the differing design responses associated with each building. A summary description of each tower sees:

  • The Mother - 200 apartments located within the site's southernmost tower, also referred to as Tower 1.

A clean and sophisticated feminine form that echoes the corner of the existing ‘Melford Motors’ building. The existing façade, which will be retained, has a curved and angular corner that is projected and set back to give the impression of a true extension of the heritage building.

Soft curtain walls will allow the tower to reflect its context and compliment the Heritage building below.

SJB Architects, Town planning presentation
  • The Son - otherwise known as Tower 2, the tower will see matte, satin, gloss and metal finishes applied, allowing for a shadow play over the exterior. 288 studio apartments of generally 24sqm are found within Tower 2, as are 15 single bedroom apartments for an elevated student living experience.
  • The Daughter - highest yielding in terms of dwelling numbers, Tower 3 will see 388 studio apartments, 24 single bedroom and 7 dual bedroom dwellings within the 19 level tower. Reflecting the design of 'The Mother', Tower 3 will feature flowing lines and a black/white exterior.
  • The Father - the site's northernmost and tallest building at 22 levels features a masculine exterior "With larger expressed concrete frames that wrap the tower in a rigid exoskeleton arrangement." 218 one, two and three-bedroom apartments are within Tower 4

Street level overlead

Elizabeth Street looking down an internal laneway. Image courtesy SJB

With three street frontages including 185 metres to Elizabeth Street and a site area in excess of 7,00sqm, the Inner City Toyota site lends itself to quite an extensive street level interface. Dual East West laneways will feature within 611-681 Elizabeth Street, connecting Elizabeth Street with O'Connell Street to the west.

All frontages are split between retail and residential activation, with only the existing Melford Motors building to be left as is. Lower Ground will feature a public gym, bike park, 589sqm supermarket, dual showrooms (likely for Toyota Australia) and four tenancies ranging between 81-149sqm.

Ground floor encompassing the northern portion of the site (owing to the site gradient) will see limited dwellings fronting O'Connell Street while a further seven tenancies of between 51-300sqm are located either side of an additional laneway/plaza.


611-681 Elizabeth Street's ground level plane looks particularly well resolved with masses of active frontage and solid site permeability. Should the project be realised it would bring a motherload of street level activity to the otherwise underutilised area on the CBD's doorstep.

The student living towers follow a well worm path in Melbourne of design repetition both internally and externally for tertiary accommodation, but what will be made of the 626 studio dwellings with only 24sqm of living space. As the current debate over apartment standards and sizes continues, are student living spaces simply disregarded as 'transient' dwellings and not included within the Better Apartments debate?

Quite simply student dwellings are altogether different to residential apartments, but nonetheless it will be interesting to read the wider media commentary to this planning application if and when it gains approval.

611-681 Elizabeth Street development team

  • Developer: LEFTA on behalf of Toyota Australia
  • Architect and urban planning: SJB
  • Town planning: Urbis
  • Services and ESD: Simpson Kotzman Engineering
  • Structural: Webber Design
  • Building Surveyor: McKenzie Group
  • Traffic: GTA Consultants
  • Heritage: Lovell Chen
  • Waste: Leigh Design
  • Wind: MEL Consultants


Melbourne_Fragments's picture

remove the tower completely dominating the heritage listed corner building and it might be better,

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Bilby's picture

In what sense are student apartments "transient accommodation"? That sort of description sounds like temporary / emergency housing. Most tertiary courses last between 18 months and 3 years - that's long enough to be considered housing - not "transient" housing. Whatever standards apply to other people living in the community should also apply to (adult) students.

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Bilby's picture

And yes, the corner tower completely dominates and distorts the reading of the streamline modern corner building. The massing of the elements with the heritage building is all over the shop here - what is the architect trying to achieve with regard to the heritage structures on site, exactly?

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Alastair Taylor's picture

Have updated the article with a link to the renders in the forum.

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johnproctor's picture

The architect is trying to achieve what the planning scheme allows on this site. A large building in a designated structure plan zone while retaining the facade of the heritage building. It's not rocket science.

Most student accomodation is not lived in for the duration of the course... It is still often used in the same way the melbiurne uni colleges were 100 years ago with students not based in the City living in student accomodation from February to November during term and heading home for summer... In the past it was country students and rich city ones staying in queens and kings college now it's largely international students but also interstate and country students doing the same thing. So it is transient and a completely different model to a typical unrestricted apartment living.

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Sar's picture

Overlooking appears to be a major problem, especially for towers 3 & 4

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Rohan Storey's picture

The planning scheme specifically discourages facadism. Also the building is on the Victorian Heritage Register, the highest form of protection, so obviously retaining just the facade of a building whose importance is its use as much as its architecture is not sufficient. But now looking at the renders, the implication is that the tower is on legs above the building, fully retained, though probably it is facadism, with the roofs rebuilt (need to see demolition plan to be sure). So the issue is about new dominating original on the corner portion of the site. If the lower section of tower 1 were removed, then the whole tower would be far more setback, which would allow the original building to at least appear not to have a large tower plonked right on top.

Apart from that, its a nice array of curved facades with similar but different treatment, and more space between the towers than most central city examples. Interesting to see what looks like a walk-through and driveway complete with trees cutting through, though they would have to be fern tree to have any chance of growing is a space thats going to be in the shade nearly all the time.

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johnproctor's picture

The scheme may discourage facadism but it doesn't often avoid it.

Didn't realise it was on the vhr.

Btw. I agree with you both that it is dominating and not a great design Above the heritage listed building. Just pointing out it doesn't mean it wouldn't be approved.

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Rohan Storey's picture

Seen the detailed plans now I was exactly right, demolish all except facades and reconstruct.

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