Melbourne becomes the city of soaring skyscrapers – and the envy of Sydney developers

September 15, 2014 – 7:36AM

Shane Green

Associate Editor of The Age


Melbourne is being transformed into a city of giants, with more than 20 new skyscrapers taller than 200 metres being constructed or planned.

In a breathtaking transformation of the city’s landscape, developers are taking Melbourne to new heights, with the latest addition the bronze Prima Pearl tower at Southbank, which has now reached its full height of 256 metres.

Prima Pearl is only second in height among apartment towers to Melbourne’s tallest building, Eureka Tower, standing at 297 metres. But among the new towers set to emerge, two skyscrapers are aiming to be even higher than Eureka.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

The skyscraper boom is creating envy among Sydney’s developers, but it’s also generating concern that Melbourne’s amenity is suffering, with problems including a lack of open space, and the creation of wind tunnels and overshadowing.

The Urban Melbourne website, which tracks developments, recently counted 23 towers above 200 metres being proposed or under construction. It cited a “gobsmacking” figure: since the Rialto became the city’s first 200-metre-plus tower in 1986, only six more 200-metre-plus towers were built in the next 28 years.

A top 10 list of the new giants in order of height shows Southbank is the favoured location, with six of the projects in the precinct, which is home to Eureka Tower and Prime Pearl.

It is also the location of what will be the city’s tallest building, Australia 108, on Southbank Boulevard, at 319 metres. Construction is due to start next year.

Apart from Southbank, development of the 200-metre-plus towers is largely concentrated on the city’s western and northern edges.

The push skywards is being encouraged by the Napthine government and Planning Minister Matthew Guy, who approves or rejects projects of more than 25,000 square metres.

Developers in Sydney are envious of Melbourne’s skyscraper activity.

“We’re somewhat jealous that Melbourne has really taken off,” said Chris Johnson, chief executive officer of Urban Taskforce, a developers’ group. “The tall projects that are happening are quite inspirational, I think.”

Mr Johnson, a former NSW government architect and planning department head, said both Melbourne and Brisbane were getting a jump on Sydney, which has a height limit of 235 metres. His group is campaigning over the issue.

There was “very little” happening in Sydney, apart from the 270-metre Crown hotel being planned by James Packer for his casino and resort at Barangaroo, he said.

But Alan March, associate professor in urban planning at the University of Melbourne, said he was not in favour of continuing to have very high buildings.

“I think the transformation we sought to achieve in the city of Melbourne to introduce more residential and to reignite investment has occurred, and we now need to look to other concerns, such as maintaining amenity and liveability,” Dr March said.

“We now have many of the negative effects becoming manifest in the city of Melbourne – in the CBD in particular. Many of those apartments don’t have openable windows. They don’t have particularly good views. They’re often very small.

“At street level, we now have a situation where there is insufficient open space. There’s significant problems with moving people around on the street. We have wind effects, we have overshadowing effects.”

The head of the council’s planning committee, Ken Ong, said the challenge was to accommodate the city’s growing population in a managed way.

Cr Ong said he took a “site specific” approach when looking at developments. In some cases, a 200-metre-plus building was appropriate. But he had concerns when projects tried to “squeeze into places”, building to the boundaries so neighbours suffered, or when there was no hope of future development.

“It’s not always height that’s the main issue, it’s how the building fits in where it’s going to go.”

The council is campaigning to claw back the power to rule on projects of more than 25,000 square metres. Cr Ong argued the threshold was outdated and should be lifted to 40,000 square metres or 50,000 square metres.

Source : The Age

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