Thinking Smarter

Equiset

Smarter buildings make sense. But to construct them, we need smarter building techniques too. That is the aim of Equiset Construction Pty Ltd.

Equiset is an important member of the Grollo Group, a leading light in Australia’s construction and property industries since its establishment in the 1940s by Luigi Grollo, supported by his wife Emma and sons Bruno and Rino, a role now carried on by Rino’s son, Lorenz Grollo.

As it has grown, the Grollo Group has expanded from its initial role as ‘simply’ a traditional builder to become a major force in property development and ownership. The founding family has long been associated with development, starting with local community assets in the 1960s, moving on to landmark properties in the 1980s and more recently transitioning into the development of innovative commercial and educational facilities.

From its base in Melbourne, the Grollo Group owns, develops, and operates a wide range of industrial, commercial, educational, residential, retail, sporting, and tourist facilities. The construction business includes planning, design, financing, and construction management. Grollo also owns and operates resorts (notably at Mount Buller), which boast ski operations, retail, rental, accommodation, and food facilities; as well as shops retailing sports goods and services, including skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking equipment and apparel, snow sports products, ski hire, eyewear and accessories, waxing, walking boots, and toboggans.

Equiset itself is best described as a progressive property development, construction, and asset management company that continues the Grollo reputation for excellence in the property industry. It is in Melbourne where its impact has been felt most – or seen, rather, because Equiset has not only been involved in many of the city’s most iconic new buildings but has also been a proponent of new and less invasive methods of constructing them. Equiset thrives on challenges and today sets its stall out as a genuine specialist in the area of building in confined CBD spaces – as epitomised by Collins Street in Melbourne, which is the location of not only Grollo Group’s headquarters but of several new and innovative buildings on which Equiset has worked.

Opposite the group’s Rialto Towers is 464 Collins, the Makers Mark building, where Equiset is preparing to redevelop the site with one of its trademark super-thin skyscrapers. Once planning approval has been granted, this will be a 194 metre mixed-use tower with a value around the $200 million mark. The tower building will have some 37 levels allocated as residential, featuring 185 apartments, while another 13 storeys will house nearly 3,000 square metres of office space.

The plan is to retain the façade of the Makers Mark building – originally constructed in 1908 – but to construct another amazingly thin structure behind it. Designed by architects Bates Smart, the building will be put together using a highly innovative construction method in which the conventional core and column is replaced with an H-shaped structure. Equiset has already used this technique successfully on its Phoenix Apartments at 82 Flinders Street. This amazingly narrow structure has somehow been ‘wedged’ between two existing buildings in a space less than 10 metres wide on the busy Flinders Street.

“It is 6.5 metres wide and 88 metres tall and 25 metres deep – uniquely challenging because there is no access to it. We examined a strategy to build it using the concept of extruding a building, squeezing a building out of a system, and from that we have been developing further new techniques and strategies about how we build such buildings. It has been very exciting to work on these projects,” says Equiset’s construction manager Steven Richardson, who points out that everything had to be contained with today’s very competitive tender market – no place for budget blowouts.

In the case of the Makers Mark building project, Bates Smart says its mission is to “deliver a truly exemplary internal design and layout, based on notions of layout flexibility and individualisation. The internal division of each floor, particularly on the residential levels, will be highly flexible enabling future purchasers the opportunity to buy adjoining apartments, horizontally or vertically, and combine and internally fit them out to their personal preference.”

Only the ornate façade facing Collins Street will be retained. This façade will represent a grand entrance to the development with a double level foyer behind. Various options were put forward for the design, which includes a four-metre cantilevered floorplate set to cover the air space above 400 Collins Street, which is next door.

The so-called ‘pencil building’ concept is not unique to Equiset, nor to Melbourne. However, it is very much the state of the art and as Steven agrees, this kind of work – tiny footprints in crowded city centres – is going to be increasingly in demand in cities around Australia as the need for redevelopment meets the forces of physics. Steven describes the technique as “extruding a building” rather than constructing it in the conventional manner.

Another example of Equiset’s expertise in this field is the new headquarters building of Melbourne Water, part of the ambitious Digital Harbour project. This eight-storey 12,650 square metre head office facility at 990 LaTrobe Street, in the southeast corner of Digital Harbour, cost some $77 million and was built in a remarkably short space of time, especially considering the constraints on the site. The project has garnered numerous awards for elements including its fit out and its sustainability credentials. Steven says this was a particularly challenging project. It was a job that required a lot of special attention because of its tight deadlines and the need to redesign parts of the project in order to secure the timeline and finish it in 2012. “At the end of the day it was really quite successful,” he shares. The project helped Equiset to establish its new delivery model and acted as a kind of shop window for the company’s abilities – which helped it win several hundred million dollars worth of new work.

The building has achieved six-star Green Star ratings for both the base building and fit out construction and was described by Digital Harbour directors as one of the most sustainable and efficient buildings of its kind in Australia, incorporating leading edge sustainable design principles. Floorplates of 2,000 square metres and a series of interconnected open atrium spaces link the seven upper floors in an effort to enable the tenant – Melbourne Water – to improve communications between its various departments. Its environmentally friendly features include vacuum toilets – long used in trains and planes but rare in a stationary structure so far; an unusually large provision for on-site water storage; an under-floor air distribution system delivering higher than normal volumes of fresh air; a gas-fired tri-generation plant for on-site electricity production; and waste heat recovery for heating and cooling. The result is a showcase for green building initiatives but one which will also demonstrate that such progressive features are not just clean but also practical in everyday use of a building.

One of the projects won as a result of Melbourne Water was 27 Little Collins Street (billed as “Where Paris Meets Melbourne”). This is a new 32-storey mixed use development comprising 142 residential apartments, plus 44 luxury residences and penthouses on the top six storeys of the tower. There is also a Sheraton hotel with some 180 guest rooms and suites, and three levels of basement car parking. The tower was designed, according to architects the Buchan Group, to “create an iconic predominantly glazed sculptural form of highest quality architectural design on Melbourne’s skyline. The residences and penthouses have been designed to the highest quality of interior design, with distinctive areas of timber and marble floors and generous living, bathroom and balcony spaces. Residents will enjoy the convenience of utilising the facilities of the 5-star hotel within the one building.”

27 Little Collins presented challenges to all the conventions of building, says Steven, with the need to rethink how to access the site as well as how to build it. “There is a very real niche for this type of construction work,” he says, and Equiset has seemingly captured the niche. The company is acutely aware of the need to remain competitive on costs as well as innovative in its technology, and is working on perfecting new methods and cementing its position as a leader in new ways of renewing modern cities.

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’?

October 22, 2018, 10:36 PM AEDT