Rothelowman's expansion plans pay dividend

Architecture practice Rothelowman has capped an impressive year by scooping a number of prestigious awards recently. Earlier this month the firm was announced as Consultancy of the Year by UDIA Victoria, in addition to collecting the UDIA Awards for Excellence in both Victoria and Queensland.

The Victorian acknowledgement covers a commendation for Medium Density Development via their Lex Apartments design in South Yarra, as well the Award for Excellence in the Urban Renewal category for the adaptive reuse of Tip Top Brunswick. Regular readers will be aware of Urban Melbourne's coverage of the Tip Top development, both from a urban perspective and also as an onsite guest of Little Projects Managing Director Michael Fox.

Rothelowman's Tip Top Brunswick upon completion

With 2014 the most successful year of Rothelowman's 23-year history in which the firm on average was commissioned to commence a new project every second day, Rothelowman have built upon their success by recently opening a Sydney office. Urban Melbourne spoke with the new Principal of Rothelowman's NSW/ACT branch, Ben Pomroy recently in order to explore what lies ahead for the harbour city and Rothelowman.

Having worked in an architectural practice elsewhere in Sydney Ben Pomroy joined Rothelowman seven months ago with the Melbourne-based firm already enjoying a quasi-Sydney presence by way of a well earned reputation with national clients. It's this national understanding mixed with firsthand knowledge of Sydney's planning and design landscape that Ben believes will propel the Sydney practice forward rapidly.

Questioned on the state of the Sydney residential market Ben suggests that Sydney has been somewhat sluggish in recent years, although 2015 will bring the harbour city back into line with both Melbourne and Brisbane which are both enjoying buoyant markets. B-Point Tower seen below is the maiden Sydney project and features a 22 storey residential apartment building with 146 apartments plus 7,900sqm of Gross Floor Area.

Through innovative design and spatial planning, Rothelowman have created a contemporary and sophisticated building that sits in direct contrast to its older style high rise neighbours. A true mixed use building, the blend of residents across all age groups, and a highly active ground plane provides a look at the future for Burwood CBD.

In a new and evolving context of taller buildings in Sydney, Rothelowmn have designed an iconic tower for Burwood Town Centre. The articulated and active retail podium sits directly adjacent the main train station. The podium responds to the immediate lower scale context, with the tower setback above street level to respond better to the district scale and access expansive views to the Sydney CBD.

B-Point Tower,

The Burwood project in Sydney's inner-west leads a string of projects, predominantly low-rise and mixed-use buildings currently on the drawing board, with Ben Pomroy not venturing forward with a target number of projects/apartments delivered per annum, but pointing out that Sydney has suffered eight years of dwelling supply shortfall relative to demand. Prosperity for both Sydney and Rothelowman appear certain in a rebounding market.

Burwood's B-Point Tower. Image courtesy Rothelowman

Local knowledge also plays a part with the design dynamic naturally differing between cities. Restrictive New South Wales planning controls plays its part as Ben points toward existing laws which were/are very much catered toward multi-unit developments rather than high-rise apartment living. This in turn leads to implications for apartment sizes and configurations, in that they are restrictive in nature. Ben Pomroy does state that changes to planning controls are in motion which would realign New South Wales planning controls for high density living more closely to that of Victoria's; in effect Sydney is "Waking up" to high-rise amenity.

While the ACT operations are also controlled via the Darlinghurst office, Ben Pomroy sees the geographically small yet high quality market yielding results owing to the large number of firms and government departments with national interests present in Canberra. Then again Ben Pomroy explains that travelling to the ACT and regional New South Wales is part and parcel of the job - a task he's only too willing to undertake.


Bilby's picture

If they are such a great architecture firm, why does Melbourne get their dregs? Surely Rothelowman can do better than tearing down some of our last intact CBD heritage shopfronts and replacing them with a street frontage boasting only a substation, fire booster, carpark entry and residential lobby?

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Mark Baljak's picture

A little presumptuous to lay blame solely at the feet of the architect? Could it be the site has no heritage listing and the developer has requested no retention of the facade.

Truth is neither you or I know the details on this particular design...

But yes the frontage of 488 La Trobe is lackluster; I'll be intrigued to see whether CoM have to say in their assessment.

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thistle's picture

Hi Bilby

I agree that heritage should be respected/retained where possible. However without heritage controls this is purely up to the discretion of the developer. The architect rarely has control over this.

Unfortunately both the substation and fire booster must be positioned on the ground floor in a prominent location with direct access. This is dictated by the relevant authorities. Ground floor frontages are often clogged with authority elements (gas meters are another common one). The only thing you can do is try to camouflage them within the design.

I am not a fan of Rothelowman's work but "developer architects" deserve some defense - between cost pressures, time pressures, constrained sites, authority issues, and buyer demand for affordable <small, average quality> stock, there is not much room for quality design in the development world these days.

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Bilby's picture

I am of the view that if an architect believes that a building would be worth retaining under other circumstances, then they should refuse work that compromises those beliefs. Clearly, this is a building that deserves better than outright demolition. The fact that council has not protected it says nothing about its intrinsic value to the community and to Melbourne as a whole. I understand that this means missing out on some jobs, but if the architectural community took a stand on the value of heritage in urban planning, it would send an important message to government as well as developers. Privately, most architects feel that this is not the right approach - I am simply calling on them to stand by their principles and forego work that damages urban heritage. It would then be a lot easier to respect firms like Rothelowman for their progressive work on projects like Tip Top. As it stands, though, it is difficult to see how a firm accepting an award based on certain architectural and planning values at one site, is anything more than hypocrisy when the same values and design principles are actively ignored on so many other projects around the city.

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johnproctor's picture

so will you compensate Rothe Lowman and their staff for the lost value of the commission for them presumptively taking position as chief arbiter of heritage control?

remembering that they probably wouldn't only lose that job but others from the same development company and probably from other companies as well who would see them as a risky and difficult architect to manage.

Rothelowman would not have had a different brief or set of 'architectural and planning values' for Tip Top and 488 La Trobe. In both cases their brief would have been to respond to the planning REQUIREMENTS on site for the betterment of their client.

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thistle's picture

Agree with all of the above.

But like any other free market, those involved will not always make the "right" choice but the choice that serves their interests best. In these cases regulation needs to step in so that a balanced outcome is achieved.

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Bilby's picture

John Proctor and Thistle, we are not really disagreeing here. When someone makes the choice to act according to a set of principles, standards or ethics, then there may be costs associated with that, I agree. Typically,we are not obliged to 'compensate' individuals or companies for acting ethically, and yes, Thistle, regulation is required to avoid these costs being unfairly born by those who do the right thing (morally speaking). Personally, I am not content to live in a society that encourages every individual to act in accordance with what will produce the maximum personal benefit within the confines of the law, but I understand that there are people who feel this way. The fact remains, however, that good architects take their job more seriously than simply following a client brief. Perhaps Rothelowman have no pretensions toward improving the world, but if they do (either as a company or as individual architects within it), then they would be acting in a hypocritical manner by accepting any work that they themselves feel contravenes these values.

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Bilby's picture

By the way, here is the i-heritage listing for 488 La Trobe Street:

1876-99 - Victorian
Integrity Good
Original Building Type Warehouse
History Not Assessed
Description/Notable Features Notable features include intact shop front and high integrity for type/scale in Central Activities District.

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