Finalist 2022

Queen & Collins

Kerstin Thompson Architects / BVN / The GPT Group

Queen & Collins integrates heritage with new opportunities and a vision for workplace with wellbeing and social connection at its heart.

In the aftermath of Covid the design approach for Queen & Collins is especially prescient. Here commercial development is supremely placed to connect us with each other, with our city, its heritage and climate through an architecture of determined porosity. The design integrates the remarkable neo-gothic heritage with new retail opportunities and a vision for a future workplace with wellbeing and social connection at its heart. Underpinned by the urban design strategy it reconnects a third of a block back into the city with a network of new pathways and interstitial spaces for public access and enjoyment.

Design Brief

In June 2017, KTA was commissioned to re-imagine the collection of buildings collectively known as the Gothic Bank Complex at the corner of Queen Street and Collins Street in Melbourne’s CBD. The complex is comprised of three 19th century Boom-Era Neo-Gothic architectural landmarks and the 1990s Post-Modern ANZ Tower. GPT’s brief ‘to reposition a commercial asset’ was exploited for urban opportunity and a celebration of Melbourne’s remarkable neo-gothic heritage. Our design aligns heritage aspirations with urban design ones; by disaggregating a cluster of new and old, with a network of interstitial space the project reconnects people with climate- sky and open air- and the city. KTA identified key themes and a series of design intents that directed the development of GPT’s brief. Together client and architects collaborated towards a rich narrative for the transformation, from closed corporate lobby to reconnected urban experience once again a part of our city.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Key themes were established during the design process.

Laneway not Lobby: The vision for the ground experience distinguishes the site from other commercial offerings, it feels distinctly urban with a Melbourne-Venetian-Gothic sensibility. The integrated vision for urban design, urban furniture, interior and architecture design have yielded a series of public ‘rooms’ for the enjoyment of tenants, visitors and general public. Importantly the delight of level changes across the site have been retained while achieving on grade access through the new works.

City within City: Four new retail blocks have been added to the three heritage buildings to form a rich cluster in which each building has its own identity through subtle variations in articulation and material. This creates a network of interstitial space for increased precinct porosity and increases the available perimeter of shopfronts for increased retail opportunities too.

City of Imports: The selection of materials, details and motifs, amplify and reinforce Venice as a source of inspiration for Melbourne’s 19th century heritage that was similarly a city built on trade. While urban intrigue and delight is also drawn from Venice – the interplay of light and dark, open and intimate spaces, pathways through the campiello’s illuminated by pink lanterns recalling those of Saint Mark’s Square and a palette featuring marble, terrazzo and coloured glass – the network of paths reinforce Melbourne’s own urban laneway delights.

Celebration of Heritage: Introducing a network of pathways and a new opening - one of Melbourne’s finest interiors - The Cathedral Room is reprioritised and reinstated. The changes integrate it within the flows of the city so that this extraordinary Melbourne heritage can be part of our city’s future vitality. The former loading bay has been exploded to create an open-air ‘Cathedral Court’ and to interlink - a more attractive north-south link via Briscoe Lane.

Design Excellence

Queen & Collins reasserts ‘what is considered a city precinct in Melbourne’s CBD?’ The culmination of commercial imperatives, heritage integrity and urban realm, established the foundations for the design intentions, which also encompassed placemaking and identity. Queen & Collins in now a destination, it offers more than other precincts, spaces and connections blur the lines between commercial user vs passer-by, private vs public, open vs closed, old vs new. Significantly Queen & Collins enhances access across the site. It’s pedestrian network of semi-open laneways and open air courtyards, campiellos (intimate squares in Venice) provide greater accessibility on this multi-level site in east west and north south directions: between Queen Street and Brisco Lane and between Collins and Little Collins Streets. Generous, explicitly civic gateways from these streets are an invitation to enter and explore.

The introduction of more elegant windows suitable for retail are a further refreshment of the 1990’s street address. A testament to the success of an outcome is receiving award recognition from your peers, in the 2022 Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter Awards, Queen & Collins received a record number of awards, including the Melbourne Prize and in categories; Urban Design, Commercial Architecture, Interior Architecture and Heritage Architecture shortlist. AIA Victorian Chapter Awards Melbourne Prize Jury Citation “This remarkable project breathes life into a cluster of gothic revival icons, offering Melbourne a new benchmark in commercial architecture. KTA and BVN have skillfully opened-up and unlocked a series of wonderfully interconnected and terraced campiello, gifting them back to the city, inviting a sense of discovery and an element of surprise not often encountered in this typology. Spaces are interwoven in a distinctly urban way, creating open air space and revealing hidden moments like the heritage Cathedral Room and Safe Deposit Building, otherwise lost within deep commercial footprints.”

Design Innovation

Urban design and architecture shape our cities, but so do our histories and experiences, Queen & Collins, gave us the opportunity to explore how city blocks can be re-examined and opened, and how spaces can be re-used and reinterpreted to created laneways and new ways to connect. The outcome of this project has set a precedent for how we can utilise existing city blocks through careful planning, to create an adaptable and versatile urban realm. In contrast to the closed, commercial character of the previous lobby now the ground level experience encompasses the first 3 floors for a scale and character that is civic and urbane. Openable windows enable occupants to access open air via the open air courtyards.

Through challenging and changing times, Queen & Collins, was able to maintain its commercial operations and support the broader community with connections and spaces that offer relief and delight. This can be applied to other locations throughout the city, where spaces can be designed to reinforce our connectedness and also celebrate our histories. Our cities are places where we come together; to work, to enjoy, to visit and experience, we believe Queen & Collins has forged this connection. Commercial buildings are part of a larger whole, an extended civic neighbourhood and urban realm that assembles our cities. Queen & Collins is a civic minded and generous project that offers the city and the commercial world a unique model that blurs the lines between public and private, connecting us in new ways at a time when connection could not be more needed. Queen & Collins offers civic generosity to the city which in turn contributes to Melbourne’s livability and attractiveness. The project is a collaboration between KTA – podium, ground plane, urban design, end of trip and BVN – workplace.

Design Impact

The most sustainable building is the one that already exists. So, the intelligent refurbishment of our commercial stock and heritage buildings too made good use of existing resources for future opportunity. Restoration and refurbishments are also less impactful on the environment compared to demolition with a new building structure. While the design did require some demolition works, these were kept to minimum, and were providing open spaces and a clear hierarchy of major and minor entry points, routes, for ease of way-finding coupled with urban intrigue.

Choice of materials was also imperative, with base materials between the campiellos being relatively consistent – where possible marble, concrete, stone paving, metal and were sourced from local suppliers. Our successful planning and heritage strategy was to propose an alignment of urban design imperatives with heritage requirements, to achieve endorsement from the City of Melbourne, and Heritage Victoria and to ultimately argue for an approach to conservation which recognises that for heritage spaces to be successful, they must be activated.

The redevelopment embedded sustainable initiatives and achieved a 6 Star Green Star – Design & As Built v1.2 rating. The Queen & Collins precinct will operate with 100% renewable electricity, which helps to ensure that the asset will have one of the lowest carbon footprints in the city. Although the design intents were developed before Covid-19, and substantial considerations during and after the pandemic resulted in changes to how we live, how we work and how we navigate our cities, KTA had incorporated measures to protect and support. We considered the precinct as part of a broader civic development and surrounding city enhancements; the precinct was designed to inhabit, gather, and enjoy. Integrating openness and versatility, it is designed to nurture sustainable initiatives and variability with various access routes to fresh air and sheltered outdoor spaces.

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