From Murky Beginnings

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-By Aleisha Parr

In the heart of Melbourne, covering a spectacular seven kilometres of waterfront promenades along the Victoria Harbour with three kilometres of Yarra River frontage, the Melbourne Docklands have been the focus of a massive urban renewal project intended to transform the former swampland into Melbourne’s new hub of activity boasting urban art, stunning architecture, historic and contemporary buildings, state-of-the-art marinas, stylish waterfront restaurants, cosy bars and active waterways.

With a total holding of two hundred hectares of land and water, the Docklands is comprised of nine distinct but interlinked precincts, currently under development by a blend of residential, commercial, retail and leisure developers, all overseen by VicUrban, the Victorian Government agency responsible for the state’s sustainable development.

Historically, the Docklands were a major point of trade, with a thriving culture surrounding them. In the 1880s, visitors to the area were awed by Melbourne – a city larger than most European capitals which rivalled New York and London in terms of the grandeur and height of its buildings. With the advent of containerisation in Victoria’s shipping industry, the area was considered inadequate and left largely to rot away over the years. Today, the Goods Shed is one of the few heritage buildings remaining in the Docklands area, left derelict for over thirty years after having become redundant in the 1980s and eventually bisected by the Collins Street extension.

Built between 1889 and 1890 by A P Tozer and Company for the equivalent of almost eight million in today’s AUD, Melbourne’s Goods Shed No 2, located off Flinders Street at Spencer Street Station, was once at the heart of the thriving Victorian railways. The boom years of the 1880s had necessitated larger storage facilities for goods handling and this Second Empire styled structure was the largest of its kind in Melbourne, spanning over two city blocks in length. With its three gabled roofs and clerestories overtop of three central tracks spanning fifteen metres total, the central processing area was flanked by a wide storage and loading area to each side spanning nine metres each. Originally built to accommodate horse-drawn vehicles, the exterior walls were fit with fifty-four arched doorways at close centres running the full three hundred and seventy metre length of the building, allowing for direct transfer of goods to the interior.

VicUrban recognised the opportunity presented by the Goods Shed at renewing “an integral part of Melbourne’s history,” and so in 2008 – together with Building Commission & Plumbing Industry Commission (BC/PIC), Equiset as the developer, and a talented consultant team – initiated an extraordinary adaptive re-use project on the Goods Shed North.

In a publicity statement, VicUrban declared, “The relocation to the Goods Shed North… is a practical example of the Commissions’ commitment to innovation and sustainability in the building and plumbing industry and the preparedness to take a leading role in the sustainable refurbishment of an historical building in an area of urban renewal.

“The Goods Shed North is a unique heritage building that naturally creates an exceptional backdrop to the workplace, including high ceilings, clerestory windows, exposed trusses, cast iron heritage columns and exposed brickwork.”

Designed by BVN Architecture and Elenberg Fraser, with heritage architects Lovell Chen, the fifty-eight million dollar project was the first Victorian heritage building to achieve a five star Green Star rating. The completed North building, which utilised leading edge sustainability measures as well as an extraordinary vision for incorporating the unique charm of the original architecture with modern day workplace features and concepts, was the recipient of the 2010 Property Council of Australia/Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation and Excellence Award for heritage and adaptive reuses and three 2010 BPN Sustainability Awards, including Best of the Best.

“Taking existing structures and revitalising them means we are able to work within the existing building fabric rather than demolishing and rebuilding,” said Ninotschka Titchkosky, BVN Principal. “Old doors were salvaged and hung on the wall of the atrium as a backdrop and two were turned into a very large communal table, which also used the old railway tracks as a base.

“You can stand at one end of the shed and see the trusses and roof line all the way to the other. The inter-tenancy wall is treated in this way, so it’s almost indistinguishable. This lends a true sense of openness… The mezzanines have been built into the two wings with the large open spaces and bridges to the centre. This enables great visual and physical connection to the whole organisation. Everyone feels connected.

“It’s been around eight years in the making,” she concluded. “The north side has now prompted the south side to be done.”

And that is exactly what is happening, with Walker Corporation taking the lead as developer and BVN stepping up to put its experience and knowledge to good use on the twelve thousand square metre South Shed renewal project. Currently well underway, the project is estimated to cost sixty million dollars by completion.

“We certainly learnt a lot of lessons with the north side,” said Ms Titchkosky, “We’ve been able to consolidate the services in a more efficient way. We are now able to take the next step on everything, and can push the outcomes on the south side a bit harder because everyone is confident in what works and what doesn’t work.”

The Lantern, as the new development will be called, is a stunning departure from the understated North Shed renewal, with its large glass cube structure emerging as a beacon for the community.

Designed by Building Studio Architects for Walker Corporation Chairman Lang Walker, who wanted a beautiful ultra-modern entry point to contrast with the historic building, the Lantern façade will feature more than four hundred horizontal glass pyramids built on the four sides of the seven and a half thousand square-metre building. Each rectangular wall panel is divided into four triangulated elements that project forward to a pyramid form.

“Inspiration was taken from cut glass decanters and lighthouse lens technology – designed to scatter and distribute light in all directions,” explained architect Nick Sissons, who also said that the façade was in fact conceived as a lit beacon, incorporating a series of glass panels fragmented to reflect and refract light.

“Every facet is intended to pick up and highlight a different aspect of the sky or ground,” he said, “and will respond to changing light conditions throughout the day or night.” The façade is to be raised on thin columns, enabling unrivalled views from Collins Street into the roof trusses and original heritage elements of the Goods Shed. Passenger lifts and the internal staircases are fully glazed, transforming them from mere functional details to highly visible design aspects.

While the overall vision and gusto for the Goods Shed South takes a drastic departure from that of its northern counterpart, both buildings will share a number of similar features which speak to their pedigree. As in the north, a mezzanine floor will be created and the high ceilings, clerestory windows, exposed trusses, brick work and cast-iron columns will all be retained.

In the spirit of reuse, the original timber of the roof has been cleaned and will be echoed in the floorings. Perhaps most notably, the small tower and clock adorning the southern end of the structure, facing out to Flinders Street, will at last be restored.

“The clock will start ticking again,” Mr Walker said, which speaks not only to the prized antique clock tower of the nineteenth century Goods Shed, but also to the new lease on life afforded to the entire Melbourne Docklands community as it emerges from its murky past to offer a more vibrant future for Victorians.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

June 2, 2020, 2:33 PM AEST