Wesley Place seeks to bring new life to Lonsdale Street

Wind back to mid last year and it was announced that The Uniting Church would team with Leighton Properties to deliver a new premium office tower opposite Wesley Church on Lonsdale Street, while also hoping to restore the church's place and identity in the heart of Melbourne. Referred to as the Wesley Upper Lonsdale Street site, a planning application for a premium office tower was submitted during January 2015, and is still under assessment.

The Request for Proposal document made clear to prospective project partners that any development on the site needed to place a high emphasis on building relationships between people and to foster community relationships. It also outlined the need to restore and, where possible, enhance, the historic buildings while respecting the original custodians.

Crosslight, Uniting Church

To that end Cox Architecture were engaged to create a development capable of fulfilling the above requirement, while also delivering a high-end office tower encompassing 55,000sqm of premium space.

118-148 Lonsdale Street application highlights

  • Site area: 7,400sqm
  • Stables, onsite factory and the Princess Mary Club to be demolished; other structures retained
  • 33 level commercial tower at 144.55 to its highest point
  • 55,000sqm of premium commercial space included
  • Concave floor plates ranging between 1,700sqm and 2,100sqm
  • End of trip facilities for 367 bicycle spaces included
  • Level 3-4 car park accommodating 127 vehicles
  • 1,400sqm of retail and food/beverage space over nine ground floor tenancies
  • Series of public realm spaces created around Wesley Place
Artist's impression of the new commercial building. Image courtesy Cox Architecture

The challenge at hand

While the heritage buildings appear to retain their overall integrity from a distance (with the exception of the very dilapidated Princess Mary Club) the situation is one of buildings much in need of maintenance. The site also provides a low level of amenity due to the car parking operations – the present-day setting for the Church is within a poorly arranged at-grade car park. This is inconsistent with the cultural heritage importance of the place.

A key challenge for the site is that the current buildings, and their condition, do not allow for a viable ongoing use of the site. Whilst a number of the current buildings are being used by the Wesley Church, it is far from optimum and would not be able to continue long term. Also the current use cannot fund the prohibitively expensive repair and restoration work required for the existing buildings on site.

Two of the buildings on site have been identified as reaching the point where they cannot be occupied for safety reasons, being the Princess Mary Club and Wesley House.

The nature and condition of the current buildings, and the impact of the existing car park use on the site constrain the activities of the Wesley Church, and have resulted in the Wesley Mission having to move off site.

118-148 Lonsdale Street planning report

Wesley Place: new urban realm

Wesley Park. Image courtesy Cox Architecture

In line with The Uniting Church's wishes as outlined above, ground level activation plays a pronounced role in the redevelopment, in that the original structures and uses are to be melded with new facilities in order to increase public utilisation of the site.

In this regard the AECOM acting as landscape consultant have created three separate areas within the grounds which carry differing characteristics:

  • The event and meeting place, addressing Lonsdale Street and forms the setting for the Church
  • The Sanctuaries at either site of the Church building
  • The city meeting place and retail food courtyard, featuring the cloister yard olive tree.

The 'event and meeting place' will see the bulk of foot traffic access the site while the central 'sanctuary' will act as a subdued area either side of Wesley Church. The northern section of the site will be dedicated toward the 'city meeting place' with existing structures adapted into cafes with outdoor seating.

Running north south, Wesley Place will provide a link between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale with 2,262sqm of the site dedicated to open space. Included in this figure is the 190sqm Wesley Park, 920sqm Northern Plaza and 770sqm Southern Church Forecourt area.

Closer than ever?

Previous incarnations. Images courtesy studio505 and Leighton

The Wesley Church site has over previous decades been subject to differing development schemes, with a number of towers put forward with no great success.

One such scheme was conceived by studio505 who along with project partner Grocon submitted plans for a similarly sized office complex to that of the current design. Under the title ‘Wesley Village’, the development would have also seen the delivery of a new urban space separating new and old structures while also creating "Truly magnificent, sophisticated and elegant architecture that inspires."

While the studio505 design would have brought a visual focal point to Lonsdale Street via its streaky podium, the current Cox Architecture design has taken an opposing path by paring back its initial offering. In perhaps a more respectful nod to the existing church, gone is the diagonal white bracing and crumpled podium features, replaced by more subdued finishes.

With the swirl of speculation surrounding the sale of Leighton Properties in recent months, it remains to be seen if and when the tie-up between Leighton Properties and The Uniting Church will lead to the delivery of this long sought after development.

118-148 Lonsdale Street planning team

  • Developer: Leighton Properties
  • Architect & Urban Context: Cox Architecture
  • Planning: Urbis
  • Heritage Consultant: Lovell Chen
  • Landscape, ESD & Public Realm: AECOM
  • ​Traffic Engineer: Traffix Group
  • Wind Assessment: Mel Consultants
  • Waste: Leigh Design
  • Quantity Surveyor: RLB
  • Building Surveyor: Gardiner Group


Bilby's picture

Mark, this could also be titled, "Wesley seeks to remove a piece of Melbourne's history while building a high-rise office tower". Why fall for the "... brings new life to Lonsdale Street" hype? The "life" of this particular block of the CBD resides in its historical associations and architecture - an office tower and associated "new public realm" is just whitewashing that without paying any reference to the uniqueness the place already possesses.

And before anyone says, "It's too far gone to save" ... it's not. See:

It's just a question of how much value the church and the city place in historic buildings. Heritage restorations are expensive, but well worth the investment if we are to retain and enhance Melbourne's cultural reputation into the future. When we hit 8 million people, no one is going to be saying that we should have knocked down more of our historic buildings.

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Mark Baljak's picture

Indeed it could be titled so, but that would turn it into an editorial rather than purely reporting on what is and what has been stated in the planning docs on this occasion

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Melbourne_Fragments's picture

Mark, when you only use quotes from a biased planning application report, and give no voice whatsoever to any negative effects, or seek a relavant quote from any objector, it automatically makes an article an editorial with an implied bias.
It may not be your own bias, but it certainly gives the developer's opinion free reign rather than neutrality.

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Aussie Steve's picture

I am also not convinced that the overwhelming/looming over the historic manse building is necessary either. And what will the exposed southern facade of the Nicholas Hall look like when the ugly 1970s office building is demolished? Just too many ??? for my liking.

But that isn't to say that I am not for development, because for this historic building and the services Wesley provides are to survive, they need a good steady income, as has been developed at St Michael's Church, Scots' Church, St Francis' Church and the Welsh Church in the CBD.

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Melbourne_Fragments's picture

^ True about the steady income. I wonder why it can't be provided by developing other Uniting Church owned properties? Or is each church property it's own entity?

One thing that annoys me about this besides lost heritage buildings and manse dominated, is the removal of all the greenery that gives the precinct character and replacement with corporate blandless (all the vines and trees surrounding the manse) ,

we saw the same with Scots Church's fern garden demolished for metal fences and grey concrete, taking away so much rustic charm of the church and assembly hall for total blandness

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Simon wxtre's picture


The article is listed under the subsections NEWS/PLANNING.

Does this website have an OPINIONS section that it could be posted under.

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Bilby's picture

Simon, citing the developer's hype as "news" is hardly neutral reporting, is it? Come on. It's also "news" and a "planning" issue that there is a significant level of concern among residents and the wider Melbourne community about this development. The Change petition circulating already has 2500 objections to it - even the fanboys over at skyscrapercity have serious concerns about it on the basis of impact on heritage and poor design standards.

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Paul Anderson's picture

Awful proposal .. Why needlessly destroy what little heritage we have?!

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Just Me's picture

Thanks yet again for another interesting article and for this great website.
I constantly use this as a base to view upcoming projects and architectural impressions and I have no idea how you find the time to update it so regularly! :)

Actually have a question, not exactly relevant to this article, but how do you go about sourcing so many architectural impressions for the projects you list? Surely you don't get the architects permission for every one you upload? I was just always under the impression that you would have to get their permission to copy an image but I can't see how you have the time to do that!?! There's rarely a project you miss and it's always supported by a great image...

Thanks again for keeping us up to date with the latest developments in our great city!

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Mark Baljak's picture

Appreciate the kind words there

In general we gather images from a multitude of sources, guess you just need to know where to look and who to ask. Mind you the forum contributors do a decent job in finding many of them as well.

As for planning apps where the bulk of images are sourced, it's public information so we credit the images to the appropriate firm who created the document/content.

Sometimes the architect is responsible for the renders, sometimes a studio produces the images on their behalf. Ultimately we can only apportion credit to the creator of the document that's gone in for approval.


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Just Me's picture

Thanks Mark!
Appreciate the time you guys put into this site - very valuable tool :)

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