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Melbourne Open House 2014 – The Quays, NAB Bourke St_____

Melbourne Open House 2014 – The Quays, NAB Bourke St

If you didn't make it along to Melbourne Open House 2014, here’s a short review of two new buildings recently opened in Docklands, which, despite criticism from some quarters, contains some of Melbourne’s most well-conceived contemporary buildings– McBride Charles Ryan’s Yardmasters Building, Hayball’s Docklands Library and BVN’s Penguin-Pearson Headquarters being among my personal favourites.

The Quays: My first stop for the day was at ‘The Quays’, Docklands, designed by McBride Charles Ryan and developed by MAB. I was fortunate to meet Debbie Ryan, who was on hand to answer questions and lead tours. She was full of joy! And that permeated throughout the building, which contains a riot of vibrant colours - the firm’s iconic use of purple foremost, mossy green, rich red, vivid aqua, black and white, and extensive use of pearlescent tile in varying tones. Contrasted against the more austere warm greys and whites of the original New Quay towers nearby, The Quays holds its own and celebrates a fun-loving urban lifestyle with good humour. Ryan explained a core objective was to create a mixed-use building that brings a sense of vitality to the area and bridges the gap between the hubs of activity within the old CBD and Docklands. As the tenancies are gradually occupied and given the development’s prime location, this could very well be realised. Visually, the complex is already arresting attention from both near and afar; its sensual elliptical tower forms roll back towards the promenade and transition into bold rectilinear extrusions.

The Building contains many apartments (over 600, including the Sebel Hotel rooms) and shared common areas between residents and hotel guests. Whilst this assists in keeping Owners’ Corporation fees low (reportedly $1500-$2000 per annum at the lower end), it will be interesting to see if this limits the permanent residents’ sense of ownership and private retreat. Common facilities include: gym, pool and spa (visible from the hotel lobby but obscured by a water wall), boardroom, poker room, cinema, dining room, library (with free wifi), and a lounge fronting the street.

Apparently residents have been adding to the library, and no books or decorations have gone missing. The MAB tour guide suggested that as apartments get smaller, a personal library may be foregone in favour of a shared one, and the same for a large dining table. Although this trend has been around for some time, I still have some reservations – I enjoy living with many books in my one bedroom apartment, which can comfortably accommodate several bookshelves though only a little over 50m2. Though I'm not sure I personally would be compelled to go sit in a common area to read a book (when one’s new apartment should be comfortable and quiet), it could be interesting to have access to a well-cultivated collection selected by others. I also appreciate that the space could be very useful for resident groups to run a book club, hold garden meetings in, etc. Time will tell if the common areas will assist in building a community, or if they slip into being merely incidental and too hotel-like.

The rooftop garden (by TCL Landscape Architects) was very well conceived and looked like it would be well-used on a sunny day. Whilst there is a small internal bar/kitchen at one end of the garden that can be booked by residents, it was surprising to see that the other aforementioned common areas were tucked away on a lower floor. Co-location to the garden would allow activity to spill out when the weather is appropriate and provide attractive outlooks from within. The kitchen and dining rooms could still be arranged to serve as an adjunct to the cinema and boardrooms.
Back down at ground level, The Quays presents excellent street frontages. The podiums at the west entry are well-scaled, and the driveway entrance is very discreet and almost domestic (not a cavernous hole punched through a plain grey blockwork wall). Extruded forms carry through to the outside to form seating nooks and benches, allowing one to sit and wait whilst sheltered from the wind. ‘The Beachball’ forms another windblock, playfully wedged between the podiums on the north side.

Artwork by Adrian Doyle has been incorporated into the carpark (and by the external bike racks), celebrating the entry point when arriving by car (an opportunity often missed). The work inside the car park explores how much his parents (and by extension, our own) have sacrificed to allow him to live the ‘great Australian dream’ of home ownership, and the shifting desires from suburban house to Docklands apartment. After an outcry from several vocal members of the Owners’ Corporation, Doyle painted a Ned Kelly helmet over the depiction of his father on a crucifix, and recently blacked out the cross altogether. Doyle has painted another wall in his trademarked ‘Empty Nursery Blue’, with was recently, and not without controversy, splashed all over Hosier Lane as part of a Council commissioned work. The building’s blue recycle bins sit in front of this wall, in humorous juxtaposition.

NAB at 700 Bourke Street (Woods Bagot): The next stop on my tour was a short walk south to the new NAB Headquarters at 700 Bourke Street. The bank’s corporate philosophy revolves around hot-desking for all, including the CEO. Every morning, employees retrieve laptops and other belongings from lockers, and may set up at a desk, on a lounge chair, in the internal cafe, or wherever else their hearts desire. Suburban office branches allow employees working from home access to a quiet space with essential facilities, negating unnecessary commuting into town.

Woods Bagot’s architecture contains many moments of delight, including the slits in the eastern façade that map heat zones, timber-clad meeting room pods, recycled brick in the café sourced from demolished commission housing, and at its core, a slick, vast atrium with sky bridges criss-crossing in dramatic fashion. This is the office of the future, and vaguely conjures images of the 1997 film Gattica, which deftly utilised Frank Lloyd Wright’s mid-century Marin County Center to present a vision of how we would be working in a high-tech society.

Whilst NAB’s hot-desking philosophy had the potential to be uncomfortable (I can’t help but associate lockers with high school!), it was interesting to see how the large banking corporations are embracing different ways of working. This was first explored at their earlier Docklands building at 800 Bourke Street (BVN Architecture), and then taken to dazzling new heights at the ANZ Headquarters on Collins Street (Hassell). In contrast, Westpac selected an allotment behind Scots Church for their new headquarters, at the traditional east end of Collins Street (and that address is only gained by the creation of a walkway along the side of the church, similar to the way 80 Collins gains its frontage to the famed street). This is an interesting move, given their competitors have been building immense, experimental headquarters in the newly-minted powerhouse of banking that is the Docklands, and leads one to reflect on how corporate values can be subtly or unambiguously expressed through location and architecture.

Mark is senior Landscape Architect in Tract’s Melbourne studio. Complementing his practice at Tract, Mark tutors in Landscape Architecture at The University of Melbourne, and on weekends runs ‘Melbourne Architours’, a small local business co-founded with fellow Melburnian designers as a way of sharing knowledge and generating discussion about our built environment.
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