Coffee Palace tower endorsed

By David Schout

A 34-storey office tower at the former Federal Coffee Palace site, one of the city’s “most missed” buildings, has been endorsed by City of Melbourne councillors. 

The $1.5 billion proposal from Charter Hall at the corner of Collins and King streets features a plaza and laneway accessible to the public, with retail uses at ground level. 

The site at 555 Collins St once housed the Federal Coffee House, a much-loved building controversially demolished in 1973.

The original building’s name came from its teetotalling owners, who were part of the temperance movement and refused to serve alcohol.

Before praising the new project’s design, the development of which is scheduled for completion by mid-2022, the council’s planning portfolio chair Cr Nicholas Reece said the decision to demolish the old building still beggared belief.

“That was one of the most marvellous buildings of the ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ era,” he said.

“The Federal Coffee House is often spoken about as the building that is most missed from that era. God knows what they were thinking when they sat in this [Melbourne Town Hall] building back in 1973 and approved its demolition. [It was] An act of vandalism on our city.”

The site’s current building – the 23-storey Enterprise House built in 1975 – will be pulled down by Charter Hall.

Cr Reece said the proposed development, now subject to approval from Minister Planning Richard Wynne, was an “ambitious proposal” with “a lot to like”. 

“It’s very, very well designed which will achieve a very high standard for this end of the city,” he said.

“For too long, Collins St has been known as having the Paris end and the ‘other’ end, but with what is happening next door at 559 [Collins St] and what is proposed, we’re seeing a renaissance for the west end of Collins St, so it returns to its glory of the Marvellous Melbourne era.”

Cr Reece said the public benefit of the development also stood out. 

“It’s particularly pleasing to see the new north-south laneway, which will offer 24 [hour] access along. It is a real, fair dinkum laneway where you’ll be able to see sky – we like that. And also, it’s going to have active frontage with retail, that’s terrific and going to create another laneway for Melbourne.”

At the February 4 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, Simon Haussegger from Cox Architects (the project’s designer, alongside Gensler Architecture) said it wanted to pay homage to the “beautiful” Coffee House building.

“We established a deep learning of what was on the site last century,” he said.

“We had this idea of creating ‘place’. Some of the spaces in the Coffee Palace are about what we try to incorporate into buildings today: a grand arrival, fantastic social spaces, and really creating that sense of address and place. Our proposal was about carving out place, and creating pedestrian flows and desire lines that ensured those spaces are memorable.”

The proposal comprises two connected individual towers, built in two stages, with 102,299 sqm of office space, 2299 sqm of retail uses, a 135-sqm publicly accessible plaza and a north-south laneway.

It will also provide 616 bicycle parking spaces – 195 more than what is required, something councillor Cathy Oke acknowledged as “very rare”.

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