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Fender Katsalidis: our South Yarra skyscraper

Fender Katsalidis: our South Yarra skyscraper


Nicky Drobis, design director at Fender Katsalidis chats to ADR about Yarra One – the studio’s 26-storey, landmark building in South Yarra’s Forrest Hill precinct. The building comprises 268 apartments, as well as a range of shared amenity spaces including a library, dining room, state-of-the-art gym, wellness retreat and wine room. Meanwhile, on the ground floor is a public atrium featuring cafés, restaurants and retail spaces, encased by a grand timber trellis.

ADR: How did this project come to you? Tell us about the brief?
Drobis: This project came to us at the start of 2012 when we were tasked with exploring the potentials of this site. We tested a variety of different configurations of uses, storey heights and building forms. From the beginning, there was always a commitment to providing a connection across the site from Claremont Street to Daly Street (and Chapel Street beyond), which evolved into the ground floor plaza and atrium in the current design.  The brief has evolved over time.

yarra one

What was your inspiration behind the project?
Yarra One was a unique opportunity for us to combine large scale public and private uses on the same site.

This presented two distinct design opportunities for the podium and tower. At the podium and ground plane, the design is very much a response to the pedestrian realm with robust materiality and detailed building articulation. Planning wise, this includes prioritising permeability and the connectedness of the local area, and creating active frontages. As a response to the density of the surrounding context we also created a large plaza which not only unlocks the ground plane but also creates an amenity for the local community and a unique sense of address for the building’s residents.

yarra one

At 26 levels, the tower will be one of the tallest buildings along Claremont St. The tower’s prominence is an important design opportunity to create a sculpted object. The form of the building is a composition of elliptical and rectangular volumes – this creates a dynamic and changing building silhouette depending on the viewer’s position. The building form is also a result of internal apartment planning, creating multiple corner aspects within the rectangular volumes and opening up view angles around a curving façade.

yarra one

The area that is currently reasonably low-rise, generally. How do you design a 26-storey building in an area like this without it sticking out like a sore thumb?
To support an active ground plane, we begin by analysing and understanding the site’s context – pedestrian traffic, desire-lines, the figure ground and existing uses. In the case of Yarra One, it was clear that the site had the potential to greatly improve pedestrian permeability in the area and there was the opportunity to unlock a desire-line connecting all the way from Chapel Street to the South Yarra train station.

This is a unique approach to the relationship between private and public spaces and is achieved by a series of design interventions such as widening the laneway into a plaza with retail, alfresco dining, casual seating opportunities as well as further activation from offices above. We softened the distinction between public and private land with feathered edges – extending landscaping and paving treatments across and beyond the site.

yarra one

Can you tell us about the giant timber trellis-like structure that makes up the ground level?
The atrium space comprises the plaza on the ground floor and the super-scaled trellis defines the spatial volume. The genesis of the plaza’s design was inspired by the vernacular Australian verandah – a sheltered outdoor space which often faces the street and offers the opportunity to interact with neighbours. The design of the trellis structure came later, initially as a way to balance the desire for an alfresco space and at the same time provide a degree of protection against inclement weather. The trellis will create a beautiful play of light and shadow on the plaza and become a framework for landscaping with integrated planter boxes.

yarra one

Yarra One will be built within the Forrest Hill precinct, an area of South Yarra poised for much development and the creation of many public realms. How did this affect your design?
In recent years, the precinct has become more intensively built up and this project presented the opportunity to make positive contributions to the figure-ground of the neighbourhood. The ground floor plaza is intended to function as a town square for both the building’s residents and the local community. The proposed plaza space was developed in consultation with the local council in exchange for additional storeys in a more slender tower.

yarra one

What do you see as the future for this area?
South Yarra and the Forrest Hill Precinct is vibrant, active and social. We believe more residents, balanced with continued investment in the public realm, will mean this area continues to epitomise all that is great about liveable Melbourne.

Renders courtesy the architect.


See Fender Katsalidis’ recent designs for a new hotel at Tasmania’s MONA.


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