Construction has started on the foundations of what is expected to be Australia’s tallest building and the tallest apartment block in the Southern Hemisphere.

Brookfield Multiplex has begun on-site piling on Melbourne’s newest addition to the cityscape, a 319-metre tall apartment complex in Southbank.

The Australia 108 building, designed by architects Fender Katsalidis and owned by Singaporean developed World Class Land (which is also building the Avant apartment tower in the city), will eventually house 1105 residential units over 100 levels once completed in “mid-2020”, making it the tallest apartment block in the Southern Hemisphere.

It is also expected to be the tallest building in Australia, a title currently held by the 322-metre Q1 Tower in the Gold Coast. However, as the Q1 Tower’s height is achieved by a 90-metre spire, it is expected that Australia 108 will be recognised as the tallest occupied tower. As well as being notable for its height, the building also recently broke the record for the most expensive apartment ever sold in Australia, with the 750-square metre penthouse selling to a Chinese businessman for $25 million earlier this year.

The foundation work for the $900 million skyscraper is expected to conclude in July 2016, with the first 40 levels due for completion in 2018, followed by levels 41-66 in 2019, and levels 86-100 in 2020. However, Brookfield Multiplex regional managing director Graham Cottam has said the project would “definitely be delayed” as it will rise above the city (nine-storeys higher than the city’s current tallest building, the Eureka Tower) and thus be subject to higher wind speeds, which will make crane work unsafe.

Indeed, the height of the Australia 108 project has been the subject of much controversy. Initial plans for the project were for a 108-level building, but, following concerns that the height of the tower would interfere with airplane flight paths, this was later reduced to 100 levels.

Melbourne City Council had also rejected planning approval for the project, stating that it was “excessive in both height and bulk” and surpassed the area’s 100-metre height limit for new buildings.

Despite this, then Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy approved the project, stating it would be a “signature development for Melbourne”. The minister was later nicknamed “Mr Skyscraper” for his approval of several high-rise projects in the city.

Melbourne apartment density four times that of Hong Kong and New York

To try and cut down the number of new high-rise buildings in Melbourne, the new Victorian government recently implemented new planning controls, including mandatory height controls, to prevent the over-densification of the Melbourne CBD.

An explanatory report for the interim changes stated the average site plot ratio for Melbourne and Southbank applications for the last four years had been 35:1, with the latest applications received going up to 38:1.

In comparison New York, Vancouver and Hong Kong require plot ratios of 10:1, 5:1 and 10:1, respectively, with bonuses for open space, affordable housing and other community infrastructure. Sydney City has a maximum plot ratio of 11:1.

It is thought the new planning rules were largely informed by a Churchill Fellowship report written by Leanne Hodyl, co-ordinator of city plans and policy at Melbourne City Council, which analysed and critiqued the planning controls that apply to high-rise developments in central Melbourne.

It reads: “There is legitimate concern… that developing at these extreme densities will have negative, long-term impacts for Melbourne, eroding away Melbourne’s celebrated liveability. It will create a legacy of apartments that are of poor quality – homes that lack access to light, air and an outlook – and diminish the quality of the streets and parks below by blocking sunlight, increasing wind drafts and obstructing sky views. The quality of these public spaces is critical – even more so as these city residents retreat from their compact apartments to use the city’s streets and parks as their ‘living room’…

“We have highly competent developers and design and planning professionals in Melbourne. It is the lack of effective policies that is letting Melbourne down. The evidence from these cities is clear. Melbourne would benefit from the introduction of policies that: establish appropriate density controls in central Melbourne; establish density bonuses to link development to public benefit and incentivise the delivery of new open spaces, affordable housing and other community facilities; establish an enforceable tower separation rule; and establish apartment standards.”

The report has been awarded the Planning Institute of Australia’s 2015 Victoria President’s Award for Planning Excellence, an awards ceremony for which will take place on Friday.

PIA Victoria president James Larmour-Reid said: “The report’s devastating opening sentence – ‘High-rise apartment towers are being built in central Melbourne at four times the maximum densities allowed in Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo – some of the highest density cities in the world.’ – was perfectly pitched to both grab attention and provide a mental benchmark that could be readily understood by the layperson. Few planners have the skill, bravery or independence to make their case so audaciously.”

Proposed changes to Victoria’s planning rules will be available for consultation next year and the Melbourne Planning Scheme is expected to be updated in the second half of 2016.

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  1. It really is past time to consider the future will NOT be business as usual for much longer. The resources wasted on vanity projects is beyond common sense. Common sense which says we live in a finite planet with limited and by now very stretched resources.
    Capitalism wants us to grow. So its exponential. At 3.5% annual growth the resources used doubles in only 20 years, double the oil double the food double the degradation etc, all without even a whisper about climate change.

    Tall buildings will become stranded assets.