Tribunal knocks back redevelopment of Flagstaff House

Flagstaff House is a “B” graded heritage building located opposite the Flagstaff Gardens on the corner of Batman and and King streets. 

It was designed by Yuncken Freeman Architects in 1955 and developed for its office. It was considered a prototype building for subsequent “International Style” heritage buildings by Yuncken Freeman in Melbourne, most notably the Former BHP House and the South Yarra Library.

It is a two-storey International Style building and is described in the West Melbourne Heritage Review as one of the most faithful of the Mies van der Rohe inspired designs in Victoria.

Application was made to construct a 19-storey tower behind the existing facade for a residential hotel (including a liquor licence) and private penthouse apartment. The proposed building would be almost 30 metres above the discretionary 40 metre height control.

The City of Melbourne opposed the proposal, as were nearby landowners including Haileybury College to the immediate south.

The college adapted its building for the school’s use with approval granted in November 2015. The school’s capacity is understood to be for 774 students. The school has open spaces on three levels – levels 3, 4 and 10.

In DCF 407 King Street Developing Entity v Melbourne CC [2017] VCAT 423, the tribunal found there were many fatal problems with the proposed development including its impacts on the school. It therefore agreed with the council that a permit not be granted. In summary, the tribunal found that:

The street and laneway setbacks were generally sufficient to distinguish the retained fabric from the tower, however the placement of the tower on the southern boundary or its relation to the buttress element had not been successfully addressed;

The design response would adversely affect the significance of the retained building by reinforcing bulk and height (by lining up and matching the size of upper and lower sections of the tower), emphasising mass and heaviness over the lightweight heritage glass box;

The proposed building was too high when viewed from the Flagstaff Gardens, which was accentuated by the “heaviness” of the building form;

A building height of 50m or less was in the order of acceptability for this site in the context of the planning control which has a preferred height of 40m; and

The design had little regard for the impacts on the adjoining college, and any redesign should include design techniques to lessen impacts as a trade-off for height utilising common methods, such as chamfered tops of towers angled to allow sunlight to the school when most warranted.

In refusing the proposal, the tribunal gave clear directions as to what was required to achieve an acceptable outcome. These included:

Acknowledge the buttress element of the retained building;

Set the building back from the southern boundary above the Haileybury College building about or greater than 3m to allow the design of the upper tower in the round;

Reconsider the architectural expression, particularly the relevance of the indent;

Reduce the height of the building to respond to the Flagstaff Gardens; and

Provide for better consideration of the amenity of the Haileybury College’s outdoor areas.

No doubt with some clear directions from the tribunal a new application is likely to be made.

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