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19th of July 2018

Australia News



Building boom: 'We have allowed far too much crap to be built'

Melbourne cannot afford any more featureless glass towers that are nothing more than a spreadsheet in the sky.

That is why the new Central Melbourne Design Guide has been released for public consultation by the City of Melbourne. It is about drawing a line and saying we must do better. We want to provide clarity and certainty about what we expect and what we will not support.

The guide is the biggest rewrite of the city’s urban design policies since the 1990s – it even includes a pictorial guide to make it easy to follow.

We want to see more buildings that give back to the public realm, with the highest standards of architecture and design, more fine-grain detail and quality materials especially on the street at eye level.

The guide encourages some types of design and provides a list of directions about what to avoid. These include:

Excessive building services at ground level that dominate street frontages rendering blank, inactive and unattractive interfaces with streets and lanes.Above-ground parking in the central city, which has impacted on safety, quality and activation of our streets.Street walls or podiums that present a continuous monotonous facade, usually glass, to the street without articulation or depth.The use of finishes and surfaces which are cheap and will deteriorate over time.Insufficient design investment in the critical lower 20 metres of buildings where they interface with pedestrians, with a new requirement for detailed 1:20 architectural drawings to be included in the planning application.Use of high reflectivity glass that obscures views between the public realm and building interior particularly at the lower levels of the building.

We want more:

Well-designed ground floors that have identity and ground the building and contribute to rich street experiences.A higher standard at visually prominent and iconic “gateway sites” that are so important to the vistas on arrival to the central city and at key locations.Buildings with responsive contextual design and quality materials.Depth and detail to facades, and canopy heights to suit pedestrian scale.

A new building should be a good citizen. It should give back to the city more than it takes.

Melbourne was famous for its beautiful shop fronts, especially along Collins and Bourke streets. We want to extend that experience to other quarters of the city.

This century has seen the biggest building boom central Melbourne has ever known.

This century has seen the biggest building boom central Melbourne has ever known.

Photo: Craig Abraham

But more than anything we want to change the culture in Melbourne. Average is no longer good enough when it comes to architecture, design and urban amenity. Average does not cut it in the world’s most liveable city.

We also want to inspire and encourage investment in new directions in architecture and design.

We need to be more sophisticated than thinking everything built before 1900 was beautiful and everything since 1960 is ugly.

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We all love Town Hall, the Royal Exhibition Building and Manchester Unity Building. But there have also been some outstanding buildings built this millennium that we should acknowledge and celebrate.

Look at the former BHP House on the corner of William and Bourke streets. It was completed 46 years ago and yet is so elegant and cool it could have been built last year. It is a great example of how good design holds up and continues to shine over time.

I acknowledge that there will be some concern in the design profession that rules may stifle creativity and innovation and lead to a cookie-cutter approach.

But the parameters being set will raise the bar while continuing to support a diversity of design approaches.

To help deliver high-quality buildings and spaces, the City of Melbourne is investing in design professionals to support expert design review, and potentially competitive design processes.

Illustration: Matt Davidson

Illustration: Matt Davidson

Photo: md

With the central city of Melbourne now home to almost a million visitors a day, it makes more economic sense than ever to create great streets and city at the eye level.

The global knowledge economy demands high-quality public environments. Lucky for us, Melbourne’s built form is very special and allows us to compete on the national and global stage. Now we need to take it to the next level.

Councillor Nicholas Reece is chairman of the City of Melbourne’s planning portfolio. The City of Melbourne is taking submissions at participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au about what you like and don't like in Melbourne's built form. 

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