Council concerned about revised plans for Shell House redevelopment

Council concerned about revised plans for Shell House redevelopment
Brendan Rees

A cloud continues to hang over the future of the heritage-listed Shell House, one of the state’s most significant modernist buildings, as the City of Melbourne considers revised redevelopment plans for the building’s site.

Under fresh plans, the applicant behind a proposal to build a 32-storey tower next to the existing 28-level tower and the century-old Milton House building at the corner of Spring and Flinders streets has introduced “significant changes”, which the council’s management has not supported.

The proposed $203.5 million project – which has been met with controversy from heritage groups, residents, and the Australian Institute of Architects, who have concerns that the aesthetic and architectural integrity of Shell House would be destroyed if the plans went ahead – was supported by the City of Melbourne councillors in April last year, which granted heritage permits, subject to conditions agreed to by the applicant Phillip Nominees.

The applicant subsequently resubmitted their plans (named Revision J) for the site, which were lodged with the council on January 16 this year.

However, at the time of publishing, a council report for the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) on February 21, said the resubmission does “not respond to, or adopt, one of the committee’s key recommendations” in its resolution of April 5 2022, “by failing to alter the ground plane and retail tenancy within the tower podium to gift back a more coherent and substantive exterior (albeit covered) plaza offering interfacing with Flinders Lane”.

Council management therefore recommended that the FMC advise the Department of Transport and Planning, and the Melbourne Advisory Committee that the City of Melbourne “does not support” the amended plans.

“Broadly, these design regressions reintroduce ‘Tower 2’s’ cantilever over Milton House and the northern plaza, impact on the pedestrian connectivity and quality of through-block connections for the development, significantly reduce the size of exterior ‘plaza’ areas intended to supplement erosion of the existing northern plaza, and remove detailed landscaping and other human-scale design gestures that enhanced the public realm offering of exterior publicly accessible areas of the development,” the council report said.

The revised plans come after the application by Phillip Nominees was called in by the then Planning Minister Richard Wynne in January 2022, after Heritage Victoria refused the application in August 2021.  

At the time, Mr Wynne said he was “particularly concerned about new buildings cantilevering over heritage places” but maintained there was “no plan for the destruction of Shell House.”

The application still sits with the current Minister for Planning, Sonya Kilkenny, whose predecessor appointed an advisory Committee in June last year to consider the Heritage Victoria refusals and the amended plans that had been supported by the City of Melbourne in April 2022.

The plans, overall, propose to build the tower “into the void” between the two heritage buildings, with a shared podium between the proposed tower and Shell House, which was designed by world-renowned architect Harry Seidler.

It would see the partial demolition of the three-storey brick Milton House building and Shell House, including the reduction of the existing northern publicly accessible private plaza, as well as a refurbishment of Milton House.

Last year Cr Nicholas Reece said that if approved by the state government, the redevelopment would be an “important addition to Melbourne’s skyline, and one which will come to be considered of architectural significance to the city.” •


Captions: Artist impressions of the proposed tower.

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