- Article by Online Editor
- Photography by Peter Clarke
- Architect Elenberg Fraser
Luna: the proper name of the Earth’s Moon. We are in St Kilda, home to Melbourne’s Luna Park amusement complex. On a firmly triangular site is this Luna, a golden clad five-level apartment and retail project by Elenberg Fraser. It has more to do with outer space, though, than the fun park up the road. This project is inspired by a Star Wars icon – Princess Leia’s golden attire in Return of the Jedi.
Elenberg Fraser has been very busy. With its 72 apartments, Luna is relatively small for the office, which now works widely across Australia and Asia. Given this relatively small scale, Luna is a development that is in keeping with its context – it is part of an urban block rather than a separate edifice. Over the past decade, Elenberg Fraser has wrestled to develop architecture of complex enclosure – from its original tower, Liberty, in 2002, an exercise in screening and the extruded site, to the form-shifting Watergate Apartments, where the standard extruded form of the tower was challenged and changed, albeit on a bigger site. The more recent towers are games in shifting the eye away from the often-prescribed forms of the developer model. Luna has put an even greater emphasis on the quality of the building envelope, the container.
Under the skin, the planning of Luna is tight. One and two bedroom apartments are organised around a central core, and the plan, despite coming to a rounded point at the street intersection, is fairly deep. The majority of the resulting bedrooms have no direct natural light – a disappointing occurrence in a project by good architects, perhaps resulting from a lack of resistance to development pressure.
The one-bedroom apartments do offer something new to this scenario, though – pivoting mirrored glass doors that offer the ability to vary the small bedroom’s relationship to the living space, as well as the outside beyond. The living space itself is compact, but has moments of generosity – a wall oven, for example, which is uncommon in such a small kitchen, as is the 800mm deep bench. The two bedroom units have a more defined kitchen, but are similarly compact. The apartments at the corner are two bedroom, with the angled space given over to the compact living area, which enjoys a good aspect in two directions.
One-metre deep balconies, which are effectively useless, are an all too common feature of new apartment buildings in Melbourne. It would be better to not have them at all. Instead of the useless balcony, Luna offers a balcony-like edge – sliding glass doors, which open half of the living area’s end wall to the outside, giving the interior some sense of the exterior. It is, however, no replacement for decent-sized outdoor space, the lack of which is a major weakness in this project.
If the rooms are spatially compressed, the one key moment of openness is on the roof – where a large roof deck for occupants’ use boasts expansive views across St Kilda’s medium-rise urban fabric to the bay. Verging on a hotel, the intended occupation period at Luna for the smaller apartments is in keeping with a long transient stay – people working in Melbourne for a year, for example. This was the result of market research that indicated a demand for such dwellings.
As an urban object, the wedge-shaped site results in a building that draws some obvious comparisons to New York’s Flatiron building (DH Burnham & Co, 1902), which ultimately became the namesake for a whole district. It’s a lot shorter than the 21 floors of the 110-year-old Flatiron, and the angle here is wider, but both have dominant rounded corners. The typical plan of Luna seems to be that of a taller building – its relatively modest height of five levels perhaps not exploited with better light access into the deep area of the plan.
On the ground floor at Luna, this is given over to an open terrace area for the key corner tenancy, a restaurant/cafe. The rest of the ground floor is filled with retail, servicing what is an active part of St Kilda. An internal arcade links Barkly and Belford Streets, which bound the site together. This is open to the public during the day to provide a useful urban link. It’s a strategy Elenberg Fraser used on their A’Beckett Apartments in central Melbourne – some porosity in an otherwise private world. The arcade and foyer spaces are black and shiny, with Star Wars style lighting throughout – in these terms, it’s the architecture of the Empire, not the Rebellion.
The ground floor generally follows the site boundary – a 500mm overhang forms the outer edge above, the screen zone. Not deep enough to become a useful street canopy, this edge provides a deliberately minimal articulation of form. Floor slabs are expressed as thin, horizontal slices across the performative facade.
The beauty in this project is in the dressing – a golden fleece of woven aluminium mesh, which on the micro scale has a square edge facing to the street and a rounded edge facing inside to allow more view out than in. This is where the money has been spent, and it mediates both privacy and solar heat gain. The treatment is ‘gradient filled’, however, from the point corner, which it covers, to thin out down the long sides of the building. Many of the screens are hinged, so users behind can open them. The sun catches the screens in different ways, its warm light amplified by the gold anodised aluminium and gold tinted glass. At night, angled external lighting, light sabres if you will, provide a brighter light source to that coming from the interior – a technique to increase privacy through a form of distraction. It’s a clever stunt, a surprise move in a game full of rules. Impressive, most impressive.
This article originally appeared in AR 129: The Price of Building.