Abode318′s shifting façade

May 20, 2016

“From a distance the building appears to ripple and bulge, while close-up the individual apartments become legible. The undulating form has a performative effect by minimising the wind downdraft at street level.” AR magazine talks to Caleb Smith of Elenberg Fraser about the studio’s golden tower, Abode318.

Photography by Peter Clarke and Jeremy Wright.

A democratic approach to city views, the undulating façade delivers the luxury of a corner apartment view to every residence, while adding a dynamic shifting tower form to Melbourne’s city skyline.

This residential apartment tower on Russell Street in Melbourne set out to challenge the conventional wisdom that the corner apartment is premium for its better light and views. Working on a narrow site, the conceptual approach was to give every apartment a panoramic view, by manipulating the façade.

Look closely at the thin wave-like tower and you can see that each of its horizontal and vertical waves consist of individual rooms, articulated as protrusions. This effect – of a set of drawers pulled out at random – explores the relationship between individuality and community. Each apartment has a distinct presentation to the street, creating a collection of variably expressed individuals, while the façade’s undulation ties the apartments together and serves as sunshading.

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As well as articulating individual apartment vignettes, the undulating façade influences wind pressure, which determines the fluctuating amplitude and breaks up downdrafts to protect pedestrians. Its low-emissivity glass appears from the outside as a pink blush, yet from inside looks clear, creating a different experience from inside to out.

To foster a sense of community among residents two full floors have been devoted to communal space: level 9 (the top of the podium) and level 55 (the top of the tower). These bookend the apartments with well-designed facilities catering to different audiences. Level 9 has sports bar-style facilities – a mix of indoor/outdoor lounge games and garden areas with barbecues and communal kitchen facilities, a gym and infinity-edge swimming pool. The level 55 facilities are more club lounge-inspired, with private dining and kitchen facilities, reading and viewing areas and a plunge pool. Some of the spaces can be booked for private use by residents, as you might do in a commercial environment, while others are freely accessible throughout the day.

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At street level, Abode318 presents a stone-clad retail façade rising to the podium car park levels wrapped in anodised bronze mesh screening. The screening blends warmly with the bronze-pink glazing of the tower.

Inside, at ground level, the lobby is generously scaled and detailed, luxuriously furnished as a meeting space – again, a commercial idea of lobby, aimed at fostering community and incidental meetings among residents. As a touchstone to the podium’s bronzed façade, the silver and white lobby interior is detailed with a narrative – the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, culminating with Ariadne’s thread embossed into the travertine wall.

Abode318 is built to achieve a 6.5-star energy rating. It does this with a suite of measures, including the floor-to-ceiling double-glazing that allows abundant natural light into each residence. As well as the standard use of sustainable rainforest timers, low-VOC paints, low-emissivity glass, energy-efficient appliances, lighting and heating/cooling systems, the building also incorporates a solar-assisted hot water supply, rainwater harvesting (reused for irrigation of the garden walls in communal recreation areas), plus 150 bike racks for residents and visitors to share.

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What are the big innovations here?
Caleb Smith
The undulating façade softens the external appearance of the building, while from inside, the sharing of spectacular views up and down Russell Street challenges the expected homogeneity of apartment living. The façade was achieved by new construction technologies and an innovative rolling screen system that the main contractor developed specifically for this project. Socially, the conception of the communal areas moves us a step forward from the generic to the really liveable.

How does this contribute to the streetscape/skyline?
To the skyline, its contribution is the undulating form of the façade that varies depending on the angle and location from which you view it. From a distance the building appears to ripple and bulge, while close-up the individual apartments become legible. The undulating form has a performative effect by minimising the wind downdraft at street level, improving pedestrian comfort, which is a major challenge in Melbourne. The large stone apertures in the ground floor façade create a connection between the public and private realms that animates the street frontage.

Presented with a fairly small site with approval for a very tall tower on it, our goal was first to soften the impact by challenging the conventional vertical setback from the street. Harry Seidler was very successful in his tall towers at tempering height with repeated variations in the surface of the building. With Abode318, in exchange for the setback, the rippling, bulging façade presents a shifting experience.

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How does the building influence the social interaction of residents?
Firstly, we think it’s important to occupy the street edge to avoid the anonymity of many apartment buildings, so the ground- floor lobby is clearly engaging the street as an inhabited space. In terms of the communal facilities, we thought a lot about the end user and researched the demographic trends. We’ve designed a collection of spaces from a sports bar with table tennis and billiards areas, an indoor/outdoor garden terrace and swimming pool on level 9 through to the wellness centre with spa and sauna on level 55.

What’s really interesting is how people occupy these spaces – how they’re programmed. During the day people work on laptops near the outdoor terrace spaces, while at night there might be a ping pong tournament. We’re learning a lot about how people use these amenities through social media and the building’s online booking system. More and more we’re seeing residents organising activities, such as pool or ping pong tournaments, barbecues and social meets and doing this through the online booking system. So the amenities seem to be driving social activity in the digital space, as well as in the building. It’s fascinating actually seeing the building flourish.

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