According Yibin Xu, an architect and managing director of Chinese-backed developer Bridgehill Group, it takes a while for newcomers from his home country to get used to local conditions and regulations, and he does his best to encourage the adjustment.
He hopes that after 28 years in Australia, his company can provide a “blueprint” for others to follow.
“We are mindful that there are many more rules and regulations in Australia than in China so it is imperative that overseas developers gain local knowledge and go about things in a correct way,” Xu says.
“Some Chinese developers have only been here two or three years. I try to tell them how to get used to the local industry and know the local regulation.
“Actually it’s a challenge to deliver; there is some barriers for these people, mostly because of cultural barriers,” Xu told The Fifth Estate.
“The situation will change.”
Overseas developers, Chinese in particular, have come under scrutiny, particularly in Melbourne, for producing apartments of minimum quality, a situation exacerbated by a laissez faire planning attitude from the previous state government, but with quality issues also reported in Sydney.
At Xu’s latest project, at 80 Alfred Street Milsons Point, which recently won an award from the Urban Taskforce, he designed the conversion of the 1980s commercial Tower Life building into upmarket residential apartments that he thinks have some good environmental outcomes.
Much of this is in the contribution to the streetscape and in social impact but there is also huge benefit in retaining an existing building, both environmentally and financially, he says.
“We put a great deal of thought into creating an energy-efficient and ecologically sustainable building that improved the look of this prestigious area.”
The Tower Life building was solidly built and it still had many decades of “life”, but it needed a complete design overhaul to take full advantage of the picture postcard harbour views, which range from the Opera House to serene Lavender Bay.
“As an architect I identified the elements of the outdated building that could be elaborated upon in new and interesting ways.
“We stripped the structure back to its bones, extended floors eastward to create balconies, and added two levels, including a communal rooftop entertaining area.”
To lessen the look of a commercial façade Xu incorporated wintergardens with the apartments, which add thermal buffering for the building, reduce the impact of noise from the street and also lessen the commercial look of the building.
There was a good financial incentive to conversion instead of new build as well.
“A new apartment with good views can be worth many times more than what the space was worth as an office, so there are potentially good returns to be made,” Xu says.
“While construction can be challenging, there are advantages in adaptive re-use. One is that you get to keep the height and the floor space ratio, which avoids potential planning objections associated with overdevelopment, overshadowing or blocking views. Another plus is that the infrastructure and related services are already in place. ”
The company has developed four other apartment project, two at Rhodes and at Mascot and Green Square.