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Nouvel’s 70-level Melbourne plan

 19 May 2016
Australian Financial Review
by Michael Bleby

Jean Nouvel, the French architect behind Sydney’s world-beating One Central Park development, is making his mark on Melbourne with a $700 million, 70-level mixed use tower in the CBD’s northern edge.

Developer Sterling Global on Wednesday lodged plans for the tower with 488 apartments and a 196-room luxury hotel on the 338 La Trobe Street site it purchased from Investa Office Fund last year for $70.7 million.

The planned building has a plot ratio of 29:1, meaning its 82,000-plus square metres of space will be 29 times the area of the site – currently an Australian Federal Police office. It exceeds both the 18:1 limit Victorian planning Minister Richard Wynne proposed last month and the 24:1 interim ratio set last year, but the developer is hoping for leniency as a result of the design by Mr Nouvel that will create a laneway through an otherwise impenetrable block as well as a public arcade that permits large-scale digital artworks to be shown across its surfaces.

About one-third of the site bordering Melbourne’s historic Mint will be turned into public space by the laneway and arcade, permitting a new pedestrian route towards Flagstaff Gardens on the other side of La Trobe Street and Flagstaff Railway station. It will be activated by retail, an art gallery and a ‘curated bookshelf’ – a type of library.

“We designed this according to the interim guideline control of 24:1,” said Brandon Yeoh, Sterling Global’s development director. “What we’re providing justifies the bonus.”

Each of the four sides of the building will have a different coloured facade, such as the red facing La Trobe St, consistent with the mint’s red brick wall. Sky gardens will be accessible to residents and one, on level six, will be accessible to the public.

Mr Nouvel, winner of the Pritzker Prize – architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel – for work including the 1987 Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, poured scorn on general rules dictating developments. Every site required designers and planning authorities to focus on a unique development that reflected its own context, geography and history, he said.

“General rules are a disaster,” Mr Nouvel told The Australian Financial Review during a visit to Melbourne two weeks ago. “This building for me, it is an attitude, linked to using all the advantages of the site. Here, you have an heritage wall linked to a museum … and you have one of the first garden parks of the City of Melbourne; you have a tower [the Republic Tower at 299 Queen St], like a brother, very close to you. There are so many things – you have [the Queen Victoria] market very close, you have Melbourne Central with all the lanes arriving on the site. You cannot do the same project if you do not have that.”

The project, for which Architectus is the local design firm, is the latest of a number of CBD developments targeting local owner-occupiers, rather than investors. One-third of its dwellings will be one-bedroom apartments ranging from 55 sq m to 60 sq m in area, with the rest larger. The penthouse will cover 480 sq m. Pricing is not yet clear.

At a time when approvals of new apartment developments have topped out in Melbourne and expectations of an oversupply are growing, developers had to compete with better-quality offerings than their rivals, Mr Nouvel said.

“When you have this kind of situation, it’s a fight,” he said. “It’s the epoch to create the most intelligent and attractive apartments and the worst apartment will stay on the tapis – the carpet, as we say in France – but it’s a dangerous situation when you have this.”

The building could be complete in four to five years’ time, said Mark van Miltenburg, Sterling Global’s head of investment and development.

“It’s a neglected part of the city that could do with some residential investment,” he said.