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Who Dares Wins In The Battle For Melbourne's Skyline

Domain, Lorna Edwards - Published August 2015

While nearly all proposed apartment buildings are triumphantly billed as landmarks in the making, very few in reality are distinguishable from their rectangular neighbours in Melbourne’s city skyline.

But some developers are taking bold risks to stand out from the pack with proposed and recently unveiled buildings around the city destined to become architectural landmarks. Love them or hate them, you will certainly notice them.

Recently completed developments recognisable from afar include Grocon’s ‘Portrait’ building known as Swanston Square Apartments, with a 31-storey image of Indigenous leader William Barak, and PDG’s glittering Prima Pearl building at Southbank that has 8500 glazed bronze panels.

Among the bold and the beautiful of approved developments set to make their mark is the tallest of them all, Australia 108, with a distinctive gold star design, MAB Corporation’s Banksia development on the Docklands waterfront, which was inspired by the wildflower of its name, and BPM’s Shadow Play at Southbank, with its sculptural facade.

The colourful stacks that seem to teeter on top of each other in the Icon building by Pace Development Group have already become a landmark at the previously dull St Kilda Junction.

And then there is the planned bootylicious Premier Tower on Spencer Street in the city that made international headlines with a design inspired by US singer Beyonce’s famous curves.

Victorian Minister for Planning Richard Wynne, who approved the Premier Tower, says he was equally impressed by the project’s emphasis on the public realm at street level and amenity for residents.

“While pop culture doesn’t tend to come up in the technical and design detail during the assessment process, I must say this unique design is clearly the result of a lot of care and work,” he says.

“The emphasis should be on creating something beyond a functional structure that can make a profit. Landmark buildings may have a standout or tall design which grabs the eye and makes it on to postcards, but it is the buildings which people can interact with on street level which become beloved over time and have a presence in the city.”

Real Estate Institute of Victoria acting president Geoff White believes developers are now taking more risks in order to stand out in a crowded market.

“With the amount of development that has occurred recently and is in the pipeline, I think you’ll see more buildings designed not to look like the norm,” he says.

But daring design can be risky as unusual architecture is often polarising, as Pace Development Group managing director Shane Wilkinson discovered in his fight to get his Icon project built.

“We invested an enormous amount of money and energy into the proposal and when it received a tidal wave of objections, of course we questioned ourselves,” he says. “But no matter what building is proposed, people are often just scared of change.”

He would like to see more creative contributions to the city’s skyline rather than developers playing it safe.

“Melbourne needs a lot more colourful architecture that adds to the community and people talk about – that’s what architecture is supposed to be.”

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