Melbourne’s proliferating high-rise towers need to be planned carefully

Melbourne’s proliferating high-rise towers need to be planned carefully to avoid damaging the city’s laneway culture, one of Chicago’s highest-profile modern-day architects Jeanne Gang says.

Gang, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the founder of Studio Gang, said on Tuesday – day three of a visit to Melbourne to give a talk at Melbourne University’s architecture school – that she was starting to “get hooked” on the city.

“I’m getting in that crush phase!” she said.

Gang, known for density-boosting designs that link a building to its street and the wider relationship it has with people and geography, said she had spent her first couple of days exploring the CBD’s laneways.

“I think that’s such a great way to connect. If you can make tall buildings come down to the ground and have the porosity – that’s the key to the Melbourne city,” she said.

She praised the fact that the city’s high-rise towers appeared to be clustered together, rather than uniformly spread out over the CBD – “different districts have different characters” – but also said it was crucial for the proliferating multi-residential towers to incorporate the city’s laneways into their footprints.

“The tall buildings that are being planned should pay attention to the vibrancy of the laneway pattern and incorporate it,” she said. “It would be terrible if we lost that quality.”

Rules protecting the wider environment also need, however, to be able to give developers the ability to be creative and make a return, she said. In New York, Gang designed Solar Carve, a 17-storey commercial building adjacent to the High Line, a linear park built on top of a disused railway line.

To prevent the trunk of the building throwing a large section of the High Line into shadow – even though planning regulations would have permitted it – Gang shaved off one side of the building, so it rises up from the ground outwards, to increase the sunlight falling onto the park.

In planning a building that reduced the floor area of the tower at lower levels, they were able to convince planning authorities to let the building go higher than it could otherwise as an offset, Gang said.

A tall building, she said, is “vertical infrastructure” for a city and needed to be given as much consideration as any other infrastructure.

“You need it as much as you need a train – think about it like that.”

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Bespoke building planned to be symbol of ‘new Geelong’

High visibility: Artist’s impression of the Myers Street proposal.A Geelong company has put up its hand to develop a  building that will be a commanding presence in the city skyline and future home for either WorkCover or the National Disability Insurance Agency.

Kings Funerals has proposed constructing  an 11-storey building on a Myers Street site that will have spectacular views of the city, Corio Bay and the You Yangs. It is estimated to cost about $40 million.

The high-tech building is the brainchild of businessman Michael King, who aims to create a landmark that will symbolise the “new Geelong”.

The city is facing economic upheaval with the impending closure of the Ford car plant and other manufacturing businesses. With that in mind, the state and federal governments plan to create jobs through the establishment of WorkCover and the NDIA in the city.

“We are not developers,” Mr King told Fairfax Media. “We are putting up a concept of what could happen in Geelong. It’s about reinvigorating the CBD.”

Located at 25 Myers St, the 2000 square-metre site is now home to Kings Funerals’ central city branch, which will relocate to its two other sites  in the city.

Mr King said the proposed 11-storey building would be about 10,500 square metres. “It would fit the requirements of WorkCover,” he said. An underground car park will accommodate more than 240 cars.

Kings Funerals has submitted its proposal to the City of Greater Geelong. Mr King said the council had a maximum height for the site of nine storeys, which was an issue that would have to be worked through as the plan was evaluated.

While the building would have 360 degree views, Mr King noted wryly that also meant “residents of Geelong will also have a 360-degree view of the site”. For this reason, the company had put a lot of effort into creating an interesting building, he said.

Geelong architect Nicole Walters from local firm Bespoke  Architects has spent two years working on what she described as “a labour of love”.

The result is a striking structure dominated by glass with terraces at most levels. Vertical wall gardens will screen the services, provide visual relief and blend in with a landscaped area at the foot of the building.

The vertical green wall plants will be a mixture of aromatic herbs, grass-like plants, succulents, wildflowers and creepers.

Recycled timber will be used as a deck that wraps around the ground floor. The mixed hardwood timber will include reds and browns in various widths.

The glass is all double-glazed. “There are three shades of glass – clear, mid-grey and dark grey – so that the building does not have a monolithic, one-coloured appearance,” she said. Overhangs will allow the building to “self-shade”.

Ms Walters said the building was also designed to be interesting for those people in it. Terraces on every level but two will  give life to the building and provide views over the Surf Coast, the Barwon River, Corio Bay, the Bellarine Peninsula and hills to the west, she said.

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Chinese developer snares stellar Dorcas Street site

A new-entry Chinese developer has snapped up a Dorcas Street development site part-occupied by producers of popular TV shows Dancing With the Stars and Deal or No Deal.

The studio and warehouse at 26-66 Dorcas Street and 49-61 Coventry Street, owned by property veterans Max Beck and Michael Buxton and which once housed Channel Seven, had plans for 492 apartments in two 24-storey towers.

It sold to a Chinese developer for about $35 million, its first acquisition in Australia.

CBRE selling agent Mark Wizel said the strong result was because of intense competition among Asian developers for sites, especially those with planning permits.

In another deal, a prime inner-city landholding at Parkville has sold for $12.05 million.

The Parade Inn motel at 535-541 Royal Parade was on 3221 square metres and also had significant development potential, said CBRE agent Ed Wright.

The motel had 25 metres of frontage to Royal Parade and more than 45 metres of The Avenue, was close to Melbourne University, and covered three individual titles, he said.

Industry sources said it was purchased by Oliver Hume Funds Limited.

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Solid debut for Regis Healthcare $1.1 billion float

The $1.1 billion aged care group float of Regis Healthcare had a solid debut on the ASX with its shares closing at a premium, albeit still on a deferred and conditional basis.

Regis has 45 aged-care facilities, with 4719 existing places, along with further provisional allocations. The initial offering raised $485.9 million, with the funds being used for greenfield and existing redevelopments.

The pro forma revenue for fiscal 2014 is $404.8 million, with more than half coming from government. The 2015 net profit is forecast to be $48 million.

Regis chief executive Ross Johnston said the listing “marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the group … Given the increasing demand for residential aged care in Australia, we are delighted to be entering our next phase of growth as a listed entity.”

Regis follows the $525 million listing of Japara Healthcare in April this year and will also compete with the Aveo group for assets.

Analysts said demand was forecast to be strong in the aged-care property market as the population aged and people lived longer.

Meanwhile, the retail sector is also busy amid suggestions that Abacus Funds has sold its Birkenhead Point site to Mirvac for about $300 million. The agents involved declined to comment.

The deal has been in the pipeline for some time as Abacus looks to sell down what it sees as non-core assets for its fund and then use the cash for other developments.

Elsewhere, TIAA Henderson Real Estate has agreed to acquire a 75 per cent interest in Mount Ommaney Centre, a regional shopping centre in Brisbane. The property will be acquired as part of a co-ownership arrangement with Federation Centres, who will own 25 per cent of the centre. Federation Centres will provide ongoing property management services at the centre. The total purchase price is $416.25 million.

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Centuria to launch new fund

Recent acquisition: 10 Spring Street, Sydney.

Recent acquisition: 10 Spring Street, Sydney.

Recent acquisition: 10 Spring Street, Sydney.

Centuria Property  will launch its $200 million Metro Diversified Fund in the coming month. The fund will own an initial eight industrial and commercial properties, with a focus along the eastern seaboard.

It will be run by Nick Collishaw, the former head of Mirvac, and will form the listed platform for the Centuria Property Funds empire. It will aim for a yield of about 8.25 per cent and low gearing of about 25 per cent.

Jason Huljich, chief executive of Centuria Property Funds, said the listed vehicle will add diversity to the group, which also has 21 wholesale funds, with assets spread across NSW and Victoria.

Mr Huljich said the latest acquisitions of 173 Castlereagh Street and 10 Spring Street, Sydney, have all been leased 100 per cent through recent deals at competitive rents.

“In the two properties, we have separated the vacant floors into speculative suites to cater for the demand, in capital cities, of small to medium tenants, including the listed financial services group OneView and financial commentator Peter Switzer,” Mr Hiljich said.

“The leasing markets in the small to medium sector remains strong, particularly from legal and financial consultants, accountants and the new property entrepreneurs.”

Mr Huljich said while there are companies looking for large spaces, including Google, which wants about 60,000 square metres  and is said to be looking at the Australian Technology Park at Redfern, incentives in rents remain competitive.

Other  groups looking for new digs include Insurance Australia Group, which is at present at 380 George Street and is said to be looking at Darling Park Tower 2 or 680 George Street, and UBS, which is at Chifley Tower.

Westpac’s excess staff from 275 Kent Street, which are not included in the move to Barangaroo, are said to be looking at moving to the 40,000 sq m Grocon development at Darling Harbour, known as the Ribbon.

The leasing and new fund launches, including GPT’s recent Metro Office, comes as valuers, fund managers, property financiers and property analysts see foreign investment as a significant to very significant driver for the current increased demand and prices for Sydney and Melbourne residential property, according to the respondents in the Australian Property Institute’s 33rd survey on property directions.

The survey found that commercial property in Sydney is currently seen as being the furthest along the rise of the property cycle, with Melbourne beginning to rise  and with Brisbane at the bottom of the cycle.

Tyrone Hodge, API NSW president, said market values are expected to increase at a faster rate than predicted in May for Melbourne CBD and suburban CBD commercial, industrial and retail property. “Market rents for Melbourne CBD and suburban CBD commercial property are expected to decline but at a slower rate than in May, while increasing slowly for industrial and retail property,” Mr Hodge said.

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