Globally there are many buildings that are considered ‘mixed-use’ however amongst them 447 Collins Street, also known as Collins Arch, is truly unique.
Encompassing a combination of commercial, residential, retail and public realm, it’s a development that’s illustrative of the direction many cities are heading.
As populations and in turn cities grow, we’ll begin to see more of these types of developments. Radiant super-blocks within cities that act as suburbs within themselves. A concept that lives up to a prophecy that was proposed roughly 100 years ago by architect Le Corbusier.
Corbusier talked of ‘unites’, they were glass boxes in the sky. Structures that had daycare, schools and food stores on the ground level, a full scale gymnasium in the middle and on the roof were tennis courts, swimming pools and sand beaches.
The only reason people would need to leave their building was to travel to work or see the world, he said. Be mindful that this comment was made well before the first skyscraper ever existed and is a scarily accurate premonition.
447 Collins doesn’t exactly fit the model of the ‘unite’ however it is a modern day adaptation of challenging the term ‘mixed-use’.
As a project, it has faced several complexities with a process that has been indicative of, and equally as, interesting as the final design outcome.
In recent interviews with Kate Frear (Principal Architect and Regional Executive Chair at Woods Bagot Melbourne), Chris Kakoufas (General Manager of Development at Cbus Property) and William Sharples (Co-founder and Principal at SHoP Architects PC), The Urban Developer investigated a series of considerable factors that have shaped the evolution of this project.
Forming A Strong Bond Before Taking A Seat At The Drawing Board
Creating strong architecture at the scale of 447 Collins is a process that requires extreme consideration as the key stakeholders are not just the client or consumer, however also the greater public.
In order to achieve a successful outcome that improves a city, a team dynamic is imperative. Each party will come to the drawing board with their own vested interests however with clear communication and good relationships successful architecture that’s fuelled by integrity can stand and breath. A sentiment shared by both Sharples and Kakoufas.
“The biggest success with any design project is the relationship you have with your design partners and your clients.”says Sharples.
“Cbus Property values the importance of design and recognise that the developments we undertake are a reflection of our values and will stand testament for generations. The key criteria in our selection of the architectural team was for an aspirational design and achieving that objective was a collaboration between all parties.” says Kakoufas.
This can become an over complicated process yet is made much easier when the lines between client and designer are clear and defined.
“Cbus Property allow the architects do their job but equally are engaged with communicating their values for the project. At no time were we unsure what values our client held around the vision for the final outcome.” says Frear
A vision that from the outset was driven strongly by the intent of maintaining public space. The emphasis was on giving back to the city as much as possible through public realm and this would in turn influence the final form.
“Cbus Property, SHoP and Woods Bagot all identified the project was a civil gesture as much as a commercial development. With that design premise we started broadening our perspectives further than the site itself. We really considered how we could connect the Collins Street experience through to the river, also accounting for the east-west connection,” she said.
How An International Influence Can Freshen The Perspective
Australia is not short of great architects yet developers appear to be gravitating towards international influences for many of our major developments.
SHoP Architecture is a truly global firm having worked in USA, China, Korea and are currently completing projects in Mexico and Botwswana, Southern Africa to name a few. 447 Collins in Melbourne stands to be their largest project outside of North America.
With this pedigree for international experience it brings particular qualities that can benefit the Australian firms they consult with.
“Whilst international architects demonstrably initiated fresh ideas, we saw great value in the collaboration between the architectural teams, leveraging innovative concepts, unrestrained by normal processes and constraints into workable and creative solutions.” says Kakoufas.
For the culture of Woods Bagot, Frear explains that SHoP illustrated and reinforced the value of the architect. Sometimes in Australia we are a little apologetic about our profession and the way we work. SHoP are very confident on communicating with the client and pushing back on developers to make sure the design idea is held from inception to completion, she said.
This external influence inspired Woods Bagot to be more daring with the building form and have confidence in their design outcomes.
“There’s nothing like this building in Melbourne and it’s because of the way SHoP influenced the project. It would have been a very different outcome if it was just Woods Bagot or Woods Bagot with another local architect.”
“Using an international architect generally pushes a developer much harder on ideas they’d normally not consider. Mostly due to the client actively making the decision of using an international architect, with that comes a sense they really need to take advice and push themselves differently to dealing with a local architect.” says Frear.
Understanding The Political Framework
Every city in the world is unique and has different political and cultural frameworks. A factor that could impact on an international architects ability to create meaningful architecture outside of their local context.
The keys to overcoming these obstacles are the quality of consultation and guidance between international and local firms.
“We put a particular focus on helping SHoP understand Melbourne’s political and cultural framework. From there they were able to overlay that international design sense. We set out together to take that and see what was possible in Melbourne and how we could push the boundaries for the greater city.” said Frear.
The inclusion of international architects into an Australian context also has the added benefit of our cities being exposed to successful overseas political framework, as well as the opportunity of sharing our own.
“Melbourne, I would say, is of all the cities we’ve worked in, somewhat even more unique. In a very good way in terms of the benefits of the review process given to the citizens of Melbourne. But in terms of architects and designers, the landscape was somewhat always in play. What do I mean by that? In New York, it’s a very prescriptive code when working with general development unless you’re working in a landmark district or special district.
With Australia’s common law, it was more a lot of interpretations and some of it, I would say, was the sensitivity of addressing the streetscape, the historic fabric of this part of the city – in particular, its relationship to Collins Street- and the river. Also factoring in were certain players within government who really had strong opinions about what the architecture should be.” says Sharples.
Three Times Re-Designed
447 Collins has been subject to three complete numerations of design in total.
Initially Cbus Property held a paid competition whereby three or four competitors participated in design workshops for approximately eight to twelve weeks. Despite winning the competition the design team still significantly revised the winning proposal before re-approaching the city.
“In that period of time, the regulations during the current minister and the various government agencies required us to re-think it.” says Sharples.
Sharples recounts that during that process of formulating the architecture, building form and program, the city took a very strong position in terms of materiality and the public realm at the ground plane.
This inspired the second iteration of the design which was one tall tower that was later deemed to overshadow the Yarra River, hence a third design was conceived, which is the current Collins Arch.
This open dialogue between client, design team and city created conversations that would continually challenge the design and push the best outcomes for all parties.
One of those discussions opened the possibility for the design team to negotiate the closure of one half of Market Street. A solution that came about from having to reimagine a building form that occupied more of the land than first intended.
The relationships Cbus Property have and their pedigree helped as they had a great reputation from previous developments. Another key factor was the vision of the project being maintained throughout the entire design process, says Frear on negotiating the closure of Market Street with the city.
Valuing The Importance Of Public Realm
Public realm plays such an integral part in how the development of 447 Collins evolves and lends value to Melbourne’s landscape.
The notion of ‘public realm’ is an aspect of development that’s being very proactively pushed by governments globally.
“Public spaces become postcard moments. In cities today, we’re finding not only in New York but across Europe in particular and Australia the public domain is something that city officials are looking to expand upon. And so, instead of looking at that as a liability, we said that’s an asset and the client absolutely agreed.” says Sharples.
As Sharples explains, it’s the concept of getting ‘air rights’, in order to build taller you must maximise the public realm at the ground level and give back. He suggests that amongst many things this can sometimes be done through creating parks, incorporating schools or the use of art.
“We’re finding on the large scale developments that the public realm is really what begins organising, how the developments sells and how it starts to formulate itself.” he says.
Cbus Property took a very strong approach to making the ground plane a 24/7 experience, which then organised the building as it raised out of the site.
“We appreciate the need for the ground plane to successfully enable a mixed use development, encouraging activation, security and place-making as being the foundation of a great development.” says Kakoufas.
Creating Form From A Unique Program
The fundamentals of the building form were derived from the requirements set around the public realm. With the city’s position on maximising public experience and the various axis’s of connection throughout the site, this very much initiated the response to form.
A key design concept was the notion of creating a truly mixed-use experience that acted as a ‘product’ and increased the value of 447 Collins . Achieving this was about addressing how people approached and engaged with the site before entering and utilising the towers.
“I hate using the term “product” but those basically are the elements that people will pay more to have. In this case, is a public realm that really celebrates all the good things, all along Collins Street, having a prominent address, and really delineates itself when you arrive there.” says Sharples.
A strategy to achieve this was to align the function of the public realm with the experiences around building entrances.
Residential entry points are placed off to centre court with trees, parks, green lawns and places for people to gather.
The commercial lobby, which is just off the corner of Williams and Collins, has huge exposure walking from the northbound, southbound William Street.
The hotel lobby, which is on the corner of Flinders and Market, will have huge prominence relevant to the Market Street Park, which the city is proposing.
Programmatic requirements played a major part in the final form of the building and not just from a functional sense yet the aesthetic value of its unique exterior.
As residential floor plates stacked on top of commercial floor plates feathering occurred due to the differing depth of floor plates. A result that Sharples identifies as a ‘beautiful feathering‘ effect on the facade, that wouldn’t have occurred without the programmatic relationship between residential and commercial.
Another example of program defining form occurred on the Market Street, Flinder side. Terracing has been implemented as a result of site line issues and ensuring there were no views blocked or a creation of overlooking issues from residential into commercial.
Having four mixed-use functions within the same design resulted in the augmentation of such a unique concept, that grew in size between design iterations as a response to structuring of program, maximising floor plates and necessity for public realm.
With the third outcome covering more site than first anticipated it had become imperative the design team ensure 447 Collins didn’t dwarf its surround context. This was addressed through the use of texture to lighten the building so not to overbear the public spaces and neighbouring context. Otherwise these public spaces would be uninviting and then in turn redundant.
“That was something the city looked into very carefully. How do you break down scale through texture?” says Sharples.
Culture Will Drive The Site
Designing a development that integrates with Melbourne’s strong cultural identity will be the defining factor towards the success of 447 Collins. Not only is Melbourne recognised globally for being ‘liveable’ and its cultural diversity, it’s important that architecture supports this.
One of the fundamental concepts of this site is that it has 24/7 experiential life and becomes as mentioned earlier, like a suburb within itself.
Public spaces have been designed in such a way that they’ll inherently have very different meanings from morning to lunch, to sunset to evening. The idea is that the site is always animated and never dead.
A concept that’s made possible mostly due to the diversely mixed-use nature of the building.
“That’s something we’ve seen in Lower Manhattan after 9/11 with the re-development of a lot of our commercial buildings into a combination of residential and cultural institutions. So suddenly an area of the city which was really a nine-to-five environment is now a 24/7 environment where property values are going up.” says Sharples.
Melbourne has most of the ingredients already for this ideology to be successful. With a strong laneway culture, which is great for pedestrian experience and a notable food culture; it’s a city that can facilitate such a bold concept and own it.
“The development and public realm will reinforce the successful aspects of Melbourne’s framework. It adopts active laneways, vibrant users such as the W Hotel, with day and night time uses in an iconic setting that mimic what makes Melbourne the world’s most liveable city.” says Kakoufas.
Kate Frear- Principal Architect and Regional Executive Chair at Woods Bagot Melbourne
Chris Kakoufas- General Manager of Development at Cbus Property
William Sharples- Co-founder and Principal at SHoP Architects PC