Photo by Tom Roe

When it comes to injecting life back into a fading high street, it turns out three heads are better than one.

That’s the thinking behind a largescale mixed use development masterplanned by SJB in the heart of Newcastle that has the wholehearted backing of the community, according to architect on the project Emily Wombwell.

In a departure from the usual design excellence pathway that sees architecture firms competing in isolation for the best design, the executive architect on the project, SJB, opted to team up with fellow architecture practices Durbach Block Jaggers and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer on the city-shaping project.

Each studio designed a mixed-use building each and SJB also took on the old David Jones building that will become a QT Hotel.

Fabric House by Durbach Block Jaggers. Photo by Tom Roe

One of the benefits of this collaborative approach that also heavily engaged the community and the local council, according to SJB studio director Emily Wombwell, is that the design teams were able to elevate the connecting public space to new heights.

“It’s better than a design excellence competition where we don’t know what everyone else is doing and we lose opportunities to respond to one another and make the connecting spaces more meaningful.”

Fabric House by Durbach Block Jaggers. Photo by Tom Roe

Rather than plonking three tower blocks on the 16,611sqm site independently, the development will function more like a traditional European perimeter block where collaborative master planning allows for generous and well considered public and semi-private space.

The $75 million mixed use project, developed by Iris Capital, will forge a new network of laneways running east west and help inject 24/7 life into the area, with the entire East End precinct to include a combination of retail, residential commercial and entertainment space.

Breathing life back into the CBD

The CBD was in need of revival, says Wombwell, who grew up in the now fast-growing coastal city. She says the old Newcastle mall was once a thriving high street until the big box suburban malls lured foot traffic away.

“The mall really lost its energy for a while there.”

Wombwell says reviving the high street for the community was a priority, as was “reinforcing the character of Newcastle”. This meant keeping a lot of existing fabric and sensitively referencing the eclectic mix of heritage buildings wherever possible.

Washington House by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer. Photo by Tom Roe.

This was something the community valued.

“We wanted the local community to be proud of this and from all accounts they are … I’m from Newcastle so I have ears on the ground, and it’s been extremely positive feedback.”

A promising sign of community support is the number of interesting local businesses vying for a retail space in the development, she says.


SJB’s tower, Perkins & King, opted against a wall-to-wall glass exterior that’s typical of buildings with expansive coastal views and instead protects the interior from the harsh sun with a series of deep columns and slab expression.

This helps maintain the thermal performance of the building, Wombwell says.

The design also leveraged cross ventilation where possible and used the form to maximise dual aspect apartments. There’s also ample communal spaces including three rooftop gardens.

Perkins and King by SJB. Photo by Tom Roe.

As well as creating beautiful spaces for residents, the rooftop gardens help with thermal running and stormwater runoff.

The building includes rainwater collection and rooftop solar to power communal facilities.

All of the buildings are connected in a carpark underneath that Wombwell says has less than the maximum car spots because of its proximity to the light rail and amenities. It’s also easily navigated by foot and bike.

“You don’t really need a car in that location.”

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