Finalist 2023

Wesley Place

OCULUS / COX / Lovell Chen / Charter Hall

A renewed precinct that preserves a heritage building complex and delivers an important green space to Melbourne.

Located on Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Country, Wesley Place is one of the largest urban renewal projects in Melbourne. A new active urban precinct connects the history of the Wesley Church with a next-generation frictionless workplace, curated retail, and engaging public offerings including new greenery for the city.

The precinct maintains a celebrated forecourt to the south and creates a sun-drenched public courtyard centred around two significant heritage trees for the community. Heritage buildings have been restored and reinstated or adaptively re-used to ensure that their historic value is preserved and celebrated.

Design Brief:

Located on Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Country, Wesley Church complex in central Melbourne is a substantial collection of mid-to-late nineteenth and early twentieth-century ecclesiastical buildings, architecturally significant as the earliest intact church complex in the state. The grounds house a heritage-listed olive tree said to be brought from Jerusalem around 1839, planted in 1875, and relocated to its current position in 1988.

The project vision was to conserve the complex and secure its future through a site-wide regeneration process, including the construction of a new office tower, and new open space, re-engaging the city centre with this significant group of buildings. The precinct was designed to accommodate 110,000m2 of technology-oriented workplaces and 5,500 daily office workers.

Heritage buildings are celebrated, and unified with new architecture, through a high-quality public realm. The landscape architecture sensitively negotiates existing vegetation, significant trees, heritage elements, and a new contemporary office tower.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The collaborative design process was underpinned by internal design reviews undertaken by both architects and landscape architects, providing peer review through the design stages of the project. The final design was reviewed and supported by City of Melbourne’s Future Melbourne Committee, with final development approval granted by Victoria’s Minister for Planning.

The provision of publicly accessible open space was carefully designed in consultation with the City of Melbourne to invite connections between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale Streets and provide a diversity of places to dwell. An active heritage engagement process, led by Lovell Chen, ensured that the design was attentive to Heritage Victoria’s concerns from the outset. While these spaces are not publicly owned, the design facilitates its use and legibility as an area of public open space that benefits the community.

The public realm design achieves universal access throughout, with minimal disturbance to the existing topography and drainage. The resulting public realm is open and inviting, with minimal reliance on stairs or ramps to safely navigate the precinct. With over 2m of slope across the site, pre-existing drainage issues, fixed floor levels to each of the heritage buildings, and broad tree protection zones to contend with; the grading design presented a unique challenge that required intense collaboration between disciplines including access consultants, architects, arborists, and engineers.

An ongoing dialogue with builders, specialist consultants, the City of Melbourne and Heritage Victoria ensured that the heritage character was maintained throughout construction, and the final public realm design was safe, inclusive, and engaged with a contemporary audience.

Design Excellence

Wesley Place is an important addition to inner Melbourne’s public spaces. It offers refuge from adjoining city streets and creates a new pedestrian connection through the site, which previously didn’t exist.

Historic features have undergone major conservation works to reinstate, restore, and repair the original fabric, preserving the character of this precinct for future generations.

With adaptive reuse as a key focus, Wesley Place is an active and welcoming urban environment pairing the best aspects of the calm church sanctuary with new intelligently integrated architecture. This transformative landmark precinct seamlessly merges business and lifestyle with a technology-enabled public realm that invites workers to bring their work outside.

The verdant trees and gardens create spaces both for public interaction and quiet contemplation. It is immediately identifiable as a place of respite and reflection, providing a diversity of spaces that encourage inclusive social interactions, and act as a platform for church, civic, arts and community events.

Wesley Place has been recognised for good design on a state, national and international level. In 2021, the Urban Development Institute of Australia Victorian Chapter recognised Wesley Place with a ‘Great Place Award’ – with the public landscape and green space for Melbourne noted for making it an exceptional development. In 2022, Wesley Place was celebrated at the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) National Awards, and the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) VIC Chapter Awards. Internationally, 130 Lonsdale Street was voted ‘Best Tall Building Australia’ by the audience at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) at the 2022 Tall Excellence Conference and was also the Urban Habitat - District/Master Plan Scale Winner. The adaptive reuse of the Caretakers Cottage into ‘Melbourne’s Smallest pub’ has received global recognition, ranking 60th on ‘The World’s 50 Best Bars’ list for 2022.

Design Innovation

The public realm covers a substantial 48% of the site. The rich history of the site called for a landscape response that was quietly subservient to the heritage buildings and existing sense of place. A process of archaeology and historical research uncovered the story of this site, which has been presented in the landscape via a multi-layered journey of discovery; including heritage plaques, artifact showcases, contemporary public art and integration of found objects.

The northern lawn is a series of three terraces – part on natural ground, part on suspended structure – introducing valuable space to an area of the city lacking greenery. Retention of mature trees preserves significant ecological and biodiversity value, a rare feat on urban renewal projects of this scale. Retaining the trees whilst creating usable public space on a sloping heritage site presented several challenges. Many different concepts were considered, before arriving at a suspended lawn spanning the tree protection zones. This allows free air and water movement below the slab, while a build-up of 250mm of growing media above provides a lush green space for public enjoyment. The concrete was installed using a biodegradable void former and suspended via screw piles located on-site by the project arborist, with careful consideration of tree roots.

The technical realisation of the design concept, through the documentation and construction phases, was a challenging task, requiring on-the-go creative solutions to surprise constraints that arise when developing a degraded heritage site. The grading design continued to evolve up until the moment the last paver was laid, with many redesigns required to protect existing tree roots as they were discovered. This type of fast-paced responsive design was typical of the project, with many additions to the design being introduced along the way, such as the inclusion of heritage objects discovered during the excavations.

Design Impact

Wesley Place has been embraced by the city despite the delayed opening of adjacent food and beverage offerings due to the pandemic. The precinct has been a stage for various events, including an Urban Garden Runway for Melbourne Fashion Week.

An ongoing dialogue with builders, specialist consultants, the City of Melbourne and Heritage Victoria ensured that the heritage character was maintained throughout construction, and the final public realm design was safe, inclusive, and engaged with a contemporary audience.

The dramatic use of flowering perennials in the overshadowed forecourt has proved very successful, generating much praise from visitors delighted by the seasonal colour. Visitors also remark on the naturalistic layering of native and exotic species, and the way the planting defines space to create a sense of intimacy in an otherwise formidable church forecourt.

Wesley Place is a catalyst for the reinvigoration of Melbourne’s North East CBD, creating a green, active, connected and welcoming urban environment that retains heritage character and the best aspects of a calm city sanctuary. The use of high-quality natural materials, meticulous detailing and skilful execution of the hardscape means this landscape will age well and continue to provide a positive contribution to the city for many generations to come.

Curated by Broached Commissions, a series of public artworks are embedded within the landscape. Maree Clarke and Trent Jansen’s Balit-dhan Balit-ngangjin benches place First Nations cultural heritage at the foot of the Church, revealing the deep history of this place in a celebration of the ingenuity and resilience of the Kulin Nation Peoples who endured the devastating impacts of colonisation.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Charter Hall sought to implement flexible technology to continuously improve the performance of Wesley Place for future generations. Health and well-being are at the forefront of 130 Lonsdale Street with amenities, like basement bicycle racks, as well as biophilic design elements including the use of earth-tones, patterns that mimic nature, natural materials such as basalt, travertine and exposed timbers. The building has achieved a 6-star Green Star design rating, and has also been designed to achieve PLATINUM v2 WELL certification (Core and Shell), 4.5 Star NABERS Water rating, and 5 Star NABERS Energy rating. Property technologies include Waste Monitoring; Electrical, Water and Gas meter Monitoring; Smart Bins; Electric Vehicle Charging Stations; Smart Lift Systems – to name a few!

The northern lawn is a series of three terraces introducing valuable green space to an area of the city lacking greenery. Retention of mature trees preserves significant ecological and biodiversity value, a rare feat on urban renewal projects of this scale. The retention of existing large trees, and the preservation of existing soil within their root zones, provides significant habitat, urban cooling benefits, air filtration and ground water recharge. New trees and extensive understory planting throughout the precinct, using a diverse palette of native and climatically suitable exotic species, provide flowers for urban pollinators throughout the year. The layered structure of the planting creates habitat for birds and other urban wildlife.

The gardens at Wesley Place offer spaces for people of all backgrounds and abilities to relax, breathe deeply and feel connected to their environment and to each other. The scale of the outdoor spaces is comfortable and undemanding, providing a tranquil refuge from the business of their urban context. These are spaces where people can slow down and take a moment to immerse in the beauty of their surrounds.

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