[+] Crown Group Gears Up for Brisbane Debut

He hired a rockstar architect it seems not to turn the volume up but down.

“What’s powerful is this building is not trying to be loud, it’s not trying to shout at you,” Sydney-based developer Iwan Sunito told The Urban Developer.

After going back to the drawing board, the new plans for the $500-million debut Queensland project by Crown Group—the company Sunito established 25 years ago—are ready to be unveiled.

All the finer details are expected to be revealed by the end of the year.

At this stage, however, what is known for certain is that it will be “100 per cent completely different” to the previous scheme, and that the number of apartments has increased from 455 to 473.

But speaking to The Urban Developer, the Crown Group chief executive has dropped a few extra clues as to what to expect in the revised plans when they are finally lodged with the Brisbane City Council.

The words “subtle” and “gentle” are not what you would expect to hear from a developer who prides himself on pushing the envelope when it comes to innovative design.

Then again, in pursuing his passion to “create amazing architecture”, Sunito has become a master of surprise.

Following a public backlash to the initial scheme for the riverfront project at inner-city Brisbane’s West End, he scrapped the plans and enlisted Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who designed the Japan National Stadium for the Tokyo Olympics, to work his magic.

▲ An aerial of the riverfront development site at Victoria Street, West End.
▲ An aerial of the riverfront development site at Victoria Street, West End.

“What’s amazing is how Kengo has blended it with the surrounding public space by creating this very free-flowing landscaping within the built form, very much in a way like creating a sculpture ... that to me is what is unique about this,” he said.

Sunito described the new design—created in conjunction with local firm Plus Architecture—as “like a pavilion by the river”.

“Just the way Kengo has composed the building, the structure, the timbers and the green within the building is just out of this world,” he said.

“It’s not fancy or gimmicky, and that’s really the beauty of his architecture. Some people who create architecture are just trying to be different for the sake of being different.

“We’re just trying to create amazing architecture and we’re happy where it is now ... it’s subtle, it’s gentle.”

Sunito conceded he had not been completely satisfied with Crown Group’s original concept for the 1.25ha site at 117 Victoria Street.

“I got the approval but I wasn’t happy with the outcome,” he said. “The building did not really address our desire to merge both the private and public realm within the development.

“I don’t really like blocked or gated developments, especially in a location like this so close to the river.

Crown Group West End Large
▲ An artist rendering of the previous scheme for the 117 Victoria Street site. Crown Group will lodge plans for a new scheme in coming weeks.

“I wanted the public to be able to come though part of the development and to be able to enjoy that riverfront promenade, relaxing and enjoying a coffee ... like I’ve seen in Europe.

“So, you’re not turning your development away from the surrounding community but instead bringing the community within your development and that way it creates more diversity.”

Sunito said he was hoping to get council approval for the revised plans by the second quarter of 2022 and launch the project by the end of next year.

Crown Group, meanwhile, is looking to dramatically ramp up its $5-billion pipeline, which currently encompasses 10 projects comprising almost 8000 apartments and 30,000sq m of retail space. Another four developments are already in the early planning stages that will bump up the workbook value by a further $2 billion.

After 25 years, Sunito wants to take the company to “the next level”—with developments that are “no longer just half-a-billion dollars to $1 billion per single job but potentially $3 billion per single job”.

In doing so, he plans to stick with its strengths in delivering large-scale mixed-use projects but look to joint venturing with “one or two institutional groups with the capacity to deploy their funds in long-term strategic partnerships”.

Build-to-rent—albeit “a more hybrid model” that Sunito believes “works better in Australia”—will play a key role in Crown’s future plans, growing its investment in the sector by more than $2 billion over the next seven years.

Sydney will remain the company’s development anchor point but in scaling up the business platform it will increasingly drift into other markets, especially Melbourne and Brisbane. The latter, Sunito said, has “become the hot talk because of the 2032 Olympics”.

His ambitious plans also include charting a course overseas, he is already testing the waters in Indonesia and the US.

▲ Sunito plans to continue Crown Group's expansion globally. The developer's 63-storey residential skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles.
▲ Sunito plans to continue Crown Group's expansion globally. The developer's 63-storey residential skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles.

“My hope is to one day take the company public ... it’s just not there yet, it's not at the scale I want it to be,” he said.

But he insisted his philosophy as a self-confessed “champion of the middle market” and delivering accessible projects that push the envelope would not change.

“I don’t touch anything unless I believe I can make an impact for the community in terms of the architecture, the urban development.

“It’s not about the wine rooms. It’s not about the cigar rooms. It’s more understated and timeless. It’s more about having this beautiful architecture that just engages the mind and the spirit of people.”

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