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Southbank street life flourishes under the new Melbourne Conservatorium of Music proposal

The proposed new Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) on Sturt Street is shaping to become much more than a cutting edge venue. While the project has been given coverage to date across a range of mediums, very little has been said regarding the project playing an integral part in the wider push to enliven the Arts Precinct and Southbank as a whole.

With plans for the $105 million complex now on display, it's an apt time to explore the projects intentions for Southbank at large.

Covering a site area of 5,100sqm, project lead John Wardle Architects have been joined by landscape architects ASPECT Studios in conceiving a site-specific response, with the aim of encouraging activity across the site and the wider area. Tying in with initiatives such as City of Melbourne's Transforming Southbank Boulevard project, MCM will create a new active linear axis between Sturt Street and Dodds Street.

Dodds Street has been earmarked by the City Of Melbourne as a prime candidate for conversion to a pedestrian thoroughfare, providing Southbank with additional public space.

Located across from the West Block of the Melbourne University's adjoining campus, this new connector will see the reconfiguration of a number of existing onsite buildings in order to deliver plazas, lawns, more intimate parks and courtyards, set around a common pedestrian pathway. It's expected that when these outdoor spaces (including performance areas) are not utilised by university students, they will be made available to outside organisations.

Exterior perspective. Image: Image: John Wardle

According to the advertised documents, the MCM's design is in part based upon four key themes held within the wider ranging Melbourne Arts Precinct Blueprint. They are:

  • Bring life to the streets
  • Create a ‘Melbourne’ experience
  • More to see and do
  • Make connections

Further, the following design principles have been instilled within the MCM design:

  • Green Spine: Green infrastructure such as semi-advanced tree planting and water sensitive urban design. Rain gardens will tie the open space together as a green spine
  • Landscape Structure: The East and West ends of the open space will be designed as urban anchors. Materials and landscape form will be responsive to the design and/or strategic objectives of Sturt Street and Dodds Street
  • Landscape Character: The open space will be comprised of three segments responding uniquely to their surrounding context such as street and buildings interface
  • Intimate Spaces: Provide a series of small-scale spaces that provide comfortable locations for individual comfortable spaces for day to day use such as lunch, having coffee, studying and reading
  • Performance Fields: The design will incorporate a level of spatial flexibility
  • Pedestrian Movement: The open space will provide a strong connection between Sturt Street and Dodds Street for pedestrians. Secondary linkages into the adjacent VCA campus will provided. The plans for building 877 will provide a future food or beverage outlet and bicycle storage
  • Frontages & Sight Lines: The interfaces with both Sturt Street and Dodds Street will have considered design responds. Critically the interface with Dodds Street will be designed in coordination with the City of Melbourne
Landscape plan for the project. Image: John Wardle/ASPECT Studios

To facilitate the above principles, demolition will be required across two sensitive and historic buildings.

Building 877 fronting Sturt Street will be partly demolished, while building 878 is set for full demolition. This demolition will allow for an expanded public realm and the activation of the site's edges with a cafe and end of trip facilities earmarked for the overhauled spaces. Both buildings are partially included under heritage overlay (HO389).

Heritage aside, the new MCM looks to have squared away both its tertiary and public intentions, while also adding itself to the growing list of remedies designed to bring Southbank's somewhat flailing public realm up to scratch.

Construction expected to commence during 2017.

2 comments

theboynoodle's picture

It would be great to see that area brought to life. Being a splendidly cultural sort, I'm a pretty regular visitor to the recital centre - and it's just sooo dingy down there. As a visitor you leave the light and life of the Swanston Street part of the arts precinct, and it's like being plunged into darkness.. there's a giant wall, a car park, a big wide road... it's one of those places that screams 'you don't belong here' to a pedestrian.

I hope some of the initiatives around this part of town address this problem. There are great venues but they feel like they are 'behind' the arts precinct, not part of it.

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Primal Beauty's picture

Well that is why they are developing that part...it is called 'vision and long term development plan', I believe so!

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