Q&A with Jill Garner

November 18, 2015

ADR contributor Sara Kirby speaks with recently appointed Victorian government architect Jill Garner about the most fulfilling projects in her career, her new role and her views on Melbourne as Australia’s “only real residential major city”.

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Article by Sara Kirby, Image courtesy of

ADR contributor Sara Kirby speaks with recently appointed Victorian government architect Jill Garner about the most fulfilling projects in her career, her new role and her views on Melbourne as Australia’s “only real residential major city”.

You have been in the industry for a long time; what are the most fulfilling projects you have worked on to date?

I have been working as an architect for almost thirty years now across an incredible diversity of project types in both the private and public sector. The most fulfilling are those where there are fond or surprising memories of either process or outcome – it might be a great client relationship, a great builder relationship, or an outcome that the community has demonstrably loved. However, projects are fulfilling for all sorts of reasons – as a young architect during the 1980’s I was one of the team who helped prepare DCM’s competition entry for The Peak in Hong Kong, which came in second to Zaha Hadid. I believe that Hadid’s Peak proposition changed the way we look at what is possible and I have come to think of that time, place and project as a defining moment in global architecture. That is memorable. 

Your role has been reported to have become increasingly about design for everyday projects, rather than just for key iconic buildings – what are you hoping to bring to Melbourne in terms of design on a smaller scale?

By ‘everyday projects’, reference is not being made to the smaller scale, but to the places and spaces that we as a community occupy everyday. Victoria is engaged in major ‘everyday projects’ such as the level crossing separations that will impact 50 sites across metropolitan Melbourne; the new underground metro that will be embedded through the central city and the consequential projects that might spring out of some of these interventions. These projects are city changing and need real commitment to a quality outcome as much as a major cultural institution does.

What do you think makes Melbourne stand out in regards to building design?

Melbourne has the privilege of being Australia’s only real residential major city. This means its population has become 24/7 and its status as a place to live has equalled its status as a place to do business. This has changed the face of the city in a way that not only affects the grain of our buildings, but has embedded urban design responses into our streets, our public realm, our spaces and places. That makes us stand out as a city. Our public, cultural and sports buildings tend to be designed with commitment and consideration given to place, form, and cultural legacy. We need to commit to our residential buildings to be beautifully considered contributions to our contemporary residential city – we have some way to go in this ambition, and we probably stand out for that too.

One of your first jobs is to submit the Crown Resorts’ hotel tower to the panel. Given how controversial the plans are, how are you feeling about presenting them?

The Crown proposition is the outcome of an architectural competition, which I believe is a credible and exciting way to identify a design team and a design concept for key city sites. I am looking forward to our design review panel (VDRP) being tasked with a critique of the project as it is developed. Our panel will base its review on how the proposition addresses many important site-specific design principles. Considerations might include its sense of place (its contribution and contextual fit into the city), the organisation of the site, its functional impact, the legibility of patterns of use, principles of community safety and universal design and what contribution its urban landscape proposition makes to the future of this part of Melbourne.

What are your thoughts on the tower? 

It is critical that the tower is developed in both form and detail to the highest degree of design excellence. The tower has a large floor plate and needs design skill to ensure it achieves an elegant outcome that negotiates its way from the sky to the street, where it needs to address the scale, amenity and patterns of use of the pedestrian.


Wilkinson Eyre’s Crown Resorts tower proposal


Do you think that upset about the proposed skybridge are justified?

We have seen several sky bridges built in Melbourne over recent years, despite the city’s preference for active streets taking precedence. These sky bridges may well be the outcome of a process of appeal, and they lack quality and interest in their design and detail, and contribute little to their place. In light of this, I take the position that if a real understanding of this bridge’s location as a gateway to the city, and design and detailing excellence is a prerequisite in the proposition from the start, we may at least embed principles that require a design outcome of the quality essential for an aerial intervention in this place.

Is the close proximity of the Queensbridge Tower and Freshwater Place still a concern? (It hasn’t been reported on in a while…)

I am not aware of the details of the proposition, but this is likely to be an issue discussed by our review panel.

You are quoted in the Age as saying that you can’t comment on whether the building design that was publicised addressed what is important to the street’s population – what would you say is important to them?

As outlined above, our panel will look at the amenity at pedestrian level – this was not fully legible in the imagery in the Age. The ground plane of this building will play a significant role in extending and / or altering the patterns of use of the city in which it is embedded. The site is located on the edge of the river, where the public domain will be an extension of our important southern river promenade. Our panel needs to interrogate what contribution the urban landscape proposition might make to this context.

WilkinsonEyre just won the competition to design the tower; what, in your opinion, made them stand out against the others?

In the imagery I have seen, Wilkinson Eyre proposed a skilful formal response to the large floor plate of the tower. They also have a track record for bespoke, innovative detailing, so it should be exciting to watch as they develop their design.

Are you aware of what the judges were looking for when choosing the winner?

Not really. I can guess that Crown would be looking to meet their own business criteria, however the commitment to appointing an architectural advisor and selecting a design team and proposition through a competition process suggests they also consider that design quality can add value.

What is the next project you are most excited about?

Melbourne is engaged in city changing projects – I am privileged to have been given the task to lead a team to address the challenge of embedding, in government, a commitment to getting the best possible design outcomes across an incredibly diverse range of project types. The project to shape our team to best address the scale of the task is exciting.

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