“Significant interest” in adaptive reuse of CBD buildings amid calls for clearer guidelines

“Significant interest” in adaptive reuse of CBD buildings amid calls for clearer guidelines
David Schout

The City of Melbourne is pushing for greater clarity on how CBD buildings can be given a second life rather than being demolished.

New and clearer guidelines were required for the building industry after there had been “significant recent interest” in converting old CBD office buildings into residential uses, Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece has said.

In a motion expected to be endorsed by councillors at the February 20 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, Cr Reece urged the council’s management to create new industry guidance on the matter, which would accelerate “adaptive reuse” in the city.

Research has suggested that the carbon cost of developing a typical commercial office building was worth up to 42 years of its operational emissions, and in recent times the City of Melbourne has made a clear point of preferencing adaptive reuse rather than the development of new buildings in planning decisions.

Last year developer Mirvac chose to “re-life” an office building at the Paris End of Collins St, developing 17 storeys of “premium office space” above an existing 1980s-built commercial building with 1870s-built heritage-listed residential terraces at the ground level.

The move was said to have saved the equivalent annual carbon footprint of 889 Australian homes (compared to if it was demolished), drawing City of Melbourne commendation when it was approved.

However Cr Reece, the council’s planning chair, said clearer guidelines for owners and developers were required for commercial-to-residential adaptions.

“In the past decade, the City of Melbourne has not received any planning applications for the adaptive reuse of large commercial office buildings in the central city to residential accommodation,” his motion, seconded by deputy planning chair Rohan Leppert, stated.

“However, it is understood that several projects in the central city are under active consideration, and that there has been significant activity in this area in other cities around the world, for example London and New York.


With renewed interest in adaptive reuse conversions, the City of Melbourne wants to play a proactive role in facilitating adaptive reuse as a preferred option to the demolition and reconstruction of outdated office buildings.


The motion directed management to produce an “easily accessible publication” on how building owners and developers can navigate the planning and building frameworks for adaptive reuse proposals.

It would also see the council offer a “comprehensive planning and building pre-application meeting” with officers, recognising that the “challenging circumstances of these projects require a tailored approach”.

The City of Melbourne is completing an adaptive reuse pilot project by converting its building at 602 Little Bourke St into supported residential accommodation as part of the “Make Room” project.

Last year Nicky Drobis, a partner at leading architecture firm Fender Katsalidis, said an alliance between developers, designers and government was key to ensuring more city buildings were given a second life rather than being demolished. 

Ms Drobis said getting industry and policymakers working together was crucial to cutting down the “waste and carbon emissions associated with a new build”.

In September last year the council endorsed a “Retrofit Melbourne” plan, which seeks to accelerate the upgrading of existing commercial buildings to reduce local emissions and reach its “net zero by 2040” goal.

The initiative sought to target commercial buildings, which are responsible for the majority (60 per cent) of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, particularly heavy-emitting pre-2000-built towers.

Cr Reece said the plan featured concise direction on upgrading heavy-emitting commercial spaces, however not on adaptive reuse. •

“Although the Retrofit Melbourne plan provides clear guidance on future policies to incentivise the retrofit of mid-tier office buildings, it does not provide direct guidance on the adaptive reuse of office buildings, or direction to property owners or developers on what must be taken into account when considering the adaptive reuse of their buildings.”

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