From November 2010 through to March 2013, Victoria had an architect as Premier. Ted Baillieu was responsible for bringing White Night to Melbourne as well as instigating the Flinders Street Station design competition in 2012. From his experience in politics and his background for architecture, he has a unique insight into Victoria’s built environment. Recently he sat down in the magnificent Old Treasury Building, to talk at length with The Red+Black Architect (Michael Smith, Director of Atelier Red + Black) on a broad range of issues.
Red +Black Architect:It’s perhaps not widely known that before you entered politics you were an architect. How would you describe your architectural career before entering politics.
Ted Baillieu: I certainly didn’t hide it.I guess people don’t focus on other people’s professions.
I wouldn’t pretend to be the greatest architect in the world although I may physically be one of the biggest!We had a small practice, the practice ran from 1981 to around 2006 and my architectural partner died in 2005.For the last few years he was obviously pretty much on his own and I was just a token partner, there for moral support.Prior to that I worked for McGlashan Everist, they had a notable track record.I worked on school projects and some civic projects.We were the first architects on the transformation of the Bourke St Mall many years ago, and I was the project architect for that.Along the way I’ve done some other bits and pieces, but we were residential, we worked some small commercial projects.We did a ski lodge in New Zealand which got a fair bit of attention I still love architecture and I’ve still stayed in touch with most of my colleagues and stay in touch with the faculty.I’ve now got an honorary job with the University of Melbourne helping the faculty.
R+BA: Did your background as an architect assist you in your role as premier?
TB: One of the reasons why I got in to politics was because I was looking at architecture, in the long term, particularly in school work.We did strategic thinking and master planning for schools which was 20-25 years out, and the decisions that are made now affect things long term.That was one of the reasons I got involved.Another reason I got involved was I didn’t like the no ticket no start mentality and I didn’t like an authoritarian approach to the issues of the day that were happening in Tasmania in the early 80s, so they’re pretty much the reasons I got involved.There are very few architects who have been politicians.It’s actually a very good education for a politician, to be able to think about the future, to be able to plan for the future, to be able to read drawings, to talk a language with those who are dealing with long term projects, it’s an asset.
R+BA:I imagine that the broad nature of architecture, knowing a little bit about a wide variety of areas helps?
TB: I think architects have a sense of place, a sense of environment, a sense of footprint, a sense of relationships to other buildings, a sense of the spaces between, a sense of generations, all that is important.And you get a very acute sense of cost.
R+BA: One of the best things, I think, to come out of your premiership was the genuine discussion around the possible futures for Flinders Street Station.Do you regard that competition as a success?
TB:Yes, I absolutely do.The conclusion of the competition took place after I had stepped down, but I thought it was an incredibly valuable exercise and I think the winners[Hassell with Herzog & De Meuron] didn’t get the credit they deserved.Anybody who actually saw their presentation rather than just the superficial photograph in the paper was just blown away.I spent quite a bit of time with Hassell afterwards trying to promote their scheme to other people.Those we took it to were blown away.In the end, the current government made their decision, and I think that’s a shame because they had set up a design process which saw the final product staged, implementable in stages, and you could graft on or graft off various aspects of it.It was an incredibly compelling piece of work that they had done.Unfortunately it got reduced to one picture and there were a few in the public arena who didn’t want go there.It will eventually need a brave solution.Just the sheer volume of traffic that will go through Flinders Street Station will require a brave solution, and it can’t be a piecemeal fix the ballroom approach.It wasn’t about the ballroom, it’s about the long term future.They took a bold approach to it.
Winning Flinders Street Station Design Competition proposal by Hassell and Herzog De Meuron
R+BA:Do you think there’s any possibility that that could be brought out of mothballs?
TB: Well it certainly lends itself to that.There’s nothing happening now that would prevent it, or parts of it, being adopted in the future.They took a design approach which dealt with the transport issues as well.People think it’s just a building, there are transport issues to be dealt with, there’s retail issues, there’s building use, maintenance, there’s everything that goes with it and one of the challenges that we have in Victoria is to accommodate the freight task in this state.Freight and logistics drives our economy in Victoria and a lot of it obviously takes place on the roads and on the rail system.Where those two meet, priority needs to be given to the freight task.I’m not sure that’s happening, and I was continually pressing the need to put the freight logistics exercise first.
R+BA: Stepping back to the Flinders Street Station conversation, there was a substantial community engagement website where you could see videos and you could have your say .Did you have a favourite entry?Was the Hassell and Herzog & De Meuron entry your favourite or was there another one that you thought ‘if it was up to me I’d choose one of the other six’?
TB: Well I deliberately chose not to look at them in advance of the decision being made.I stayed right out of it.And when it was made, I sought a briefing from Hassell, I was blown away by what they did and I noted that it was a unanimous decision. I think that if you see the whole presentation you can understand why it was unanimous.The level of thinking in terms of the engineering, the transport, the service involved, the building itself, the opportunities, the relationship to neighbouring buildings, the other major project tasks that the city faces in terms of the gallery development, the indigenous gallery , the contemporary art space, all of that stuff.They had gone way way beyond the brief to look at the future of Melbourne.I think probably the only thing that featured in people’s eye was the barrel vaults over the tracks themselves and that tended to dominate the discussion.
Winning Flinders Street Station Design Competition proposal by Hassell and Herzog De Meuron
R+BA: For me, one of the strongest elements of that proposal was the way that the Swanston Street interface worked and how it related to Federation Square.Obviously the corner is very iconic and beautiful, but going towards the Yarra, I see that relationship between Federation Square and Flinders Street Station as critical.
TB: It’s a difficult in between space actually, with all of those rather clunky tram stops which interrupt the traffic itself and the pedestrian traffic, but I thought they’d done a good job opening up that Eastern face, and the barrel forms actually resonated with the original plans and they’d done a lot with thinking about the history of the building as well.Unfortunately the discussion gravitates to what’s happening to the ballroom, which was operable 50 years ago, and what does it look like from above.They are probably two of the least significant things about the station itself.
R+BA: Is part of the problem with that site that one it needs an awful lot of money to do the brave gesture, but two in some quarters it’s seen only as public transport infrastructure. It does have an important public transport role, but I think more importantly, it really is the heart and soul of Melbourne’s cultural identity.
TB: Yes, and I think that’s what Hassell’s tried to bring in to it, to actually reinforce that.Their effort was to turn it in to more than a train station, because it plays a bigger role that that.It has to grow in terms of its capacity, so at the same time it has to grow in terms of its cultural significance and it would be very easy to spend $200 million or $300 million on the station now and not notice the difference, in fact I think the current government have set aside $100 million to effectively do some repair work.And at the end of that I presume we’ll be able to walk around the ballroom and say “hey, the ballroom’s fixed”
R+BA: My understanding is that it doesn’t even stretch as far as the ballroom.
Well if it doesn’t go as far as the ballroom, then the ballroom will remain the standard bearer of the need to do something. The ballroom is an interesting space in itself but it’s a very small part of it.I tell you what, there’s nothing like being up inside the tower, I’m a complete sucker for towers, and to be up inside the clock-face, and then to be above the clock-face and open the windows and look down Elizabeth St.
R+BA: Well to see the photos inside the clock tower when the competition was launched I thought was extraordinary,because you know psychologically that space must exist, but what is it actually like to be in that space?
TB: There’s a beautiful book called Capital which tells the story of Melbourne from 1901 to 1927 when Melbourne was the capital of Australia, before Canberra was put together and Burley Griffin’s vision emerged.Melbourne was the centre of all the action and the photo on the front cover is that view from that tower down Elizabeth St and it’s just beautiful.
Part 2 – Future Directions for Melbourne
R+BA: One of the ideas that was first brought up by urbanist Alan Davies is that of a museum of Australian architecture, the premise being that it could house a collection of models and plans and photographs and digital information pertaining to our built heritage.Do you think that this is something that could get political traction?
TB: I doubt on its own that it would because it would be struggling alongside the sports museum and the performing arts museum, and they actually have to have a business case for them.I was very keen on the idea – and we’d actually pursued this – of putting together a planning centre for Melbourne, similar to what exists in Shanghai.For an architect it’s almost worth the visit to Shanghai itself just to go and see the planning centre.It’s a 5, 6, 7 storey building in the middle of Shanghai.It’s dedicated completely and utterly to the history and future of Shanghai as a city.Probably the main feature is a very very large scale model of Shanghai which is interactive in the sense that there are new buildings shown, old buildings shown, and you walk through it and around it, and it gives you a sense of scale that you can’t appreciate even being on top of the observation centre in Shanghai. Then around it at various levels is the history of Shanghai, the history of the buildings and everything that goes with it.I was very keen to see that explored as an opportunity, whether as a government project, or whether it was a government council project, or whether it was part of a largely commercial building.I think we could probably do it; we did explore it as part of a large commercial building.So the foyer became this interactive expression of the history of Melbourne.If you recall there used to be a little museum down the bottom of this building, the old treasury building, the City museum which had petite and very intimate exhibitions telling the story of Melbourne. It was closed under the previous Labor government.We made a commitment to bring it back.We were in the throes of that, it didn’t happen, but there is now a museum doing similar things downstairs, but with a different focus on the city. The notion of an architectural museum, I would have thought, fits perfectly in to the notion of a planning centre where Melbournians and visitors can go and say “ok, this is the morphology of our city, this is where we can go in the future, this is what the city’s going to look like when we superimpose the buildings that have been approved, these are the opportunities in the future and you can learn more about it as you go.” In a way, ACMI does that for film, a planning centre would be a really positive thing for planning, for development for architecture, and for everybody in the building phase of Melbourne’s history.
Shanghai Urban Planning and Exhibition Center Image source: Wikipedia
R+BA: Is there a site that you have in mind?
TB: Well I’ve certainly speculated about a few, I won’t condemn those sites by mentioning them, but we certainly thought about a few commercial opportunities.Indeed one of the considerations that I had, but I didn’t want to impose it on the Flinders Street Competition, was that there might have been something that could have worked there.
There are brilliant things in the Shanghai exhibition.You can actually step into a sealed space and you stand there and you’re invited to grip a handle and then you’re taken on a fly through Shanghai and it is as if you are in a helicopter flying through Shanghai and you end up leaning, it’s extraordinary.Kids love that.There are so many ways to allow children and architecture to embrace.Particularly in this city with our heritage.I think it’d be a great addition.Anyway it didn’t happen and it got a bit truncated when I got truncated
R+BA: But there’s no reason why that couldn’t come back.
TB: A smart developer doing a project on scale, given the opportunity could at least design a foyer for this.And a smart government would say go there, we’ll help you and we’ll give you some trade-offs as well.
R+BA: A building like that would be an excellent addition to somewhere like Docklands. It would add to the layering of that space and as an attraction to tourists.
TB: Docklands has still got a long way to go.The Boulevard is probably the most difficult space down there I think.
R+BA: Lord Mayor Robert Doyle predicted that in the not too distant future the Docklands Stadium would be demolished and a new facility built elsewhere. Do you think the position of the stadium was the right choice? Do you agree with his view that it’s got a limited future there?
TB: Well when we think the Waverley stadium was going to solve every problem for the AFL and it’s gone. The MCG will obviously stay where it is.It’s a bit like Washington’s axe, there’s no original piece of the MCG there other than the vibe and the location.And place is probably the most important thing about memory and remembrance and connection.A sense of place is incredibly important, so who knows?
My view of Docklands at the time, evolved when I got involved with a group that wanted to submit a non-conforming bid to build a different Docklands Stadium and I thought that had a lot of merit in it. At the moment the current Docklands stadium is just a two thirds replica of the MCG, ring of seating, ring of hospitality, ring of seating.It’s actually inefficient to run, it’s inefficient for small crowds.It’s expensive to build, expensive to service, all of that constraining.Everybody bid on that same design effectively, and the approach this group had taken was to say no, let’s pick up the ring of seating, the ring of hospitality, stack it on one side of the stadium, make that the hospitality area for stadium use, and when the stadium’s not being used it can be used as a hotel.Or when it’s being used for a concert it would be back of stage. And then you get the full stadium effect, a Colosseum of integrated seating. Much easier to build, quicker to build, quicker to service because you haven’t got the hospitality spread out, you’ve got stacks that you can use for hospitality.Anyway it didn’t happen.I suspect that somewhere in this country we’ll have a stadium like that before too long and perhaps Western Australia, or Perth, and Adelaide missed the opportunity to build a stadium that’s really different.Adelaide has now got a stadium that’s a little bit Melbourne, it’s got an interesting gap in it, it seems to be working for them now, but someone will do a different structure sometime in the future.
R+BA: I suspect that with the docklands stadium it wasn’t really until maybe the rectangular stadium [Cox Architects] was built that I think the general public realised that an opportunity had been lost at Docklands to do something of that sort of extraordinary architectural quality.
Melbourne Rectangular Stadium by Cox Architects Photo credit: Christopher Falzon
TB: Well, because Docklands was essentially based on a standardised design, that Jackson’s did, and the design has nothing particularly wrong with it, except that it’s a bit hard to know where you are once you’re in there.I guess that no one amongst the decision makers was looking at it architecturally.At that particular time there was such sensitivity following all sorts of public discussion about how the casino was procured, all of which went nowhere, but there was sensitivity about nonconforming bids.
The rectangular stadium itself, it was such a struggle to get that up.A number of people tried to get that up 9 years earlier and to get a rugby union team in inner Melbourne. It’s got its limitation in the number of seats, and Melbourne Victory would still like to use it, but they’re drawing bigger crowds for the bigger games and so they have to go to Etihad.The mobile seating is in operation there to try to close the gap on the rectangular pitch, but there’s still a lot of people a long way from the pitch at Docklands Stadium.
R+BA: Another one of the big issues Victoria’s facing at the moment is the idea of should there be minimum standards for apartments. The current government’s going through a big process of figuring out if there should be and what those standards should be.The office of the Victorian Government Architect’s been doing a lot of work in that area as well.Do you think Victoria needs minimum apartment standards?
TB:Let me give you a short answer: Absolutely.
TB: The long answer: Absolutely Essential.I had been working, as premier, very closely with Geoffrey London and encouraging the development of an apartment code.We have a very significant problem in Victoria, and to some extent in other states. The apartment code is one part of the solution to that. The problem is that we have very expensive construction costs in this country, particularly in Victoria.Anything over 3 storeys, the price is 2-3 times more per square metre than a small lot single storey cottage construction.And that leaves the young family that’s making the decision about an apartment in an inequitable situation.On the one hand, they can choose a smaller single storey cottage construction in a developing area, the greenfields, or they can choose an apartment.The apartment will be half the size and twice the price.So what are young families doing? They’re making that decision to build twice the space at half the price, and they’re going to greenfields.And their wishes are being accommodated by developers who’ve mastered the art of single storey small lot cottage construction.They know where every nail’s going to be, the sites are shrinking, everything is shrinking, the power points are shrinking, the thickness of the plasterboard’s shrinking.Everything is being condensed in those areas.
We don’t have any attention on reducing the cost of apartment building. The only response that the industry’s come up with is to now avoid some of the problems and now fabricate offshore and assemble here. That is a direct response to these high costs. I had a project on my desk two years ago that was brought to me for a thousand apartments in a tall building in the CBD and each and every one of them fabricated offshore and assembled here, each and every one of them 16 square metres.It has got to the ridiculous stage where we are forcing families to the fringe and creating this massive donut of families.We’ve got to change it.
The cost of construction is having a bigger impact on the planning of our cities than anything else. I tried to focus on that within government and we were within a whisker of getting a productivity commission inquiry in to construction costs.We were vigorously opposed by the then federal government.We eventually got COAG [Council of Australian Governments] on board, and the federal government then attempted to scuttle that by means of unacceptable appointments, because COAG had demanded that they get the right to appoint the enquiry.Until we address that you can have all the planning policies in the world, it’s not going to change.We will continue to send families to the fringe. Until we have an inquiry in to construction costs and do something about those costs, and give families a more equitable share – nothing will change.And until we put in place apartment codes, we will get the market reacting and just building product which is foothold product.Somebody wants a single bedroom which folds down.I’ve been concerned about this for 10 or 12 years, I’ve been on the public record about it all that time.We were concerned when apartments were getting down to 35 square metres and now they’re getting down to 16.We can lower the costs, it’s not just about 1 dimension.There’s a whole lot of things that can be done, and if we do, we’ll make the choice easier for families to choose to live closer to the city.
Having a code is essential and I was really disappointed that after I left it didn’t happen.I do hope that under this government it does.Yes there’s an argument about how it will increase costs.Well until you decrease the relative core costs of construction for apartments it’s a furphy to worry about one aspect, when there’s the central aspect.We’ve got apartments now that are just dreadful.They’re shocking.Tiny balconies that are jammed up with an air conditioner and internal bedrooms with no ventilation or light, fold down beds, ceilings that are to the absolute minimum.Then barely having any prospect of ever meeting accessibility standards in the future, and they’re completely unsuited to families.
Most developments, when they launch now, their promotional material says 1, 2, and 3 bedrooms.In 200 apartments there might be two 3 bedrooms, they will be at the top of the building, the most expensive, and the third bedroom will be a pigeon hole.The two bedrooms is usually one bedroom and a pigeon hole.And the one bedroom’s will be a fold down bed and good luck if you’ve got a bike.It’s going to kill the golden goose in the city if we continue down the track.
R+BA: I think architects throughout the city are wary of these issues and some are actually doing something about it, such as the Nightingale development, have you been following that?
TB: Most of the fuss about Nightingale was about the car parking, and that was an easy one for the public to digest as an issue.On the car parking issue, the problem with that is that if you do one, you’ve got license to do all of them the same.Regardless of whether somebody uses a car in a building, the building gets visited by cars, so you have to accommodate cars.And we shouldn’t just assume we’re talking about petroleum driven vehicles.Sometime in the future, there will be personal transport which is much more environmentally friendly.So I have my doubts about not providing car parking.But that’s an aside.
Part of the problem is that councils don’t get that capacity to make selective decisions, and one of our problems with rezoning is that we tend to drop the zone. We changed the residential zones, and I thought that was an important thing to do, but even then, with some zones we’re looking for diversity in product, but if an area already has diversity, the chances are you will kill the diversity and you’ll end up with a homogenous result.
We don’t empower councils sufficiently to make selective decisions.Yes you can have no car parking there, but the next building will want car parking, otherwise we’ll just end up with cars parked all over the place.You need the diversity.I have no problem with there being some apartments that don’t have car parking provided that there are others that do. Then you get the diversity, and then you can get the price differentials which appeal to the broader market.There’s no use having everything really high price because your young workforce can’t afford to live there.We’re getting a bit of that with some resorts now.So the cost issue is the right one to pursue, but we have to pursue all aspects of it.We’ve got the three storey rule, regarding costs, it’s arbitrary, really heavy OHS costs.We’ve got completely non-competitive bidding, everybody bids on the same basis.Tendering in this country is just not competitive.
To make it truly competitive we need a bit more international competition to fuel that.We’ve got to deal with the monopoly supply chains on cement and other products, and have a serious look at why the cost of an apartment that’s over 3 storeys is 2-3 times more expensive than the equivalent on ground. Otherwise it’ll just keep going.All the grand gestures and all the articles in the newspapers, you will write about it and others will write about it, about how we’ve got to stop the sprawl.The sprawl will stop when young families can make an equitable choiceto purchase what they want in an apartment.
Proposed design of the Nightingale Apartments by Breathe Architecture
R+BA: The Nightingale decision at VCAT was highly controversial amongst the architectural profession and I think in the general community as well.There’s been a couple of VCAT decisions since to allow apartments without any car parking.I think that in the profession there is a perception that VCAT is quite inconsistent.What one member will think is the most important and deciding factor another member may not.
TB: Well I was Planning Shadow for a while, and at least I understood what was being talked about.I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I have a fairly mature view of VCAT and we had a policy position which we didn’t get to under me and unfortunately it probably would have been implemented if we won an election.
My view of VCAT is that VCAT shouldn’t be surprising the community.The fundamental planning schemes ought to be set at the council level with municipal strategic statements, and that you shouldn’t go to VCAT if you don’t fundamentally comply with the municipal strategic statement, either for or against.Unless there’s substantial compliance with the municipal strategic statement, you don’t go to VCAT.If you want to do something which is out of the ordinary then you take it to the council level, or it remains for the government to call it in. You can seek the rezoning of whatever and take it through a planning system.In my view, VCAT shouldn’t be making declarations which take everybody by surprise.And I think it’s unfair on VCAT.It required a modification of the strategic approach to VCAT which we’d been working through but didn’t get to while I was there unfortunately.So I have various strings to the bow to try and keep our cities liveable – cost enquiry, strengthening the government architect, having the apartment code in place, looking at VCAT, design review panels which are a fantastic initiative, looking at strengthening the local community in the sense of municipal strategic statements and actually sticking to them.If you don’t want to stick to them then take it through the planning system rather than through VCAT.
R+BA: One thought with VCAT is that perhaps if there is this inconsistency, maybe what we need to be doing is having more decisions made by a panel of three rather than an individual sitting member.
TB: When it comes to inconsistency there’s so much in the eye of the beholder and closer examination does raise different circumstances.The claim will be inconsistency on one hand but then an analysis will say well that decision was on a sloping site, this one was on a flat site.
R+BA: Yes it could well be a perception of inconsistency.
TB: That’s why I thought the solution to that was to give a little bit of authority back to those strategic statements, so if you want to breach them you go a different route, you don’t go to VCAT.
Part 3 – Melbourne’s Infrastructure projects
R+BA: In terms of the ports, the big discussion as to where the port should be, should we move it, do you have a view on that?
TB: Well I think it’s inevitable in the long term that the port will move out of its current location. So we need to have a strategic approach to the future of the port. I think the notion that you can just have a spill over port for anything that happens to be spill over in the future is not going to work.
At the moment, I simply make the observation that there is no freight and logistics strategy for the port or for our major freight task.The previous government had a view about that they were going to go to Hastings and that was leading us in a certain direction.I don’t have a problem with selling the port in principle but I think the timing is wrong currently.I wouldn’t be selling the port until such time that there is an agreed freight logistics strategy for including the port.We’ve got vague ideas that it might go to Hastings, it might go to Bay West, or it might just be accommodated within. 10 years ago no one was saying that it could be accommodated within. Now I think there’s perhaps too much focus on let’s just do it within the current arrangement. Ultimately I think the port will move out of the city.There aren’t too many ports that close to the central business district left in the world.
R+BA:I started writing this blog in 2012 and you were around the middle of your premiership at that point, and I think the architecture community were going “yes, we’ve got an architect premier, he understands these issues.” There was a good relationship, as I understand it, between yourself and the Australian Institute of Architects.After you left the premiership, the built environment issues and the things that we were excited about, they seemed to take hit after hit.The OVGA was aligned out of the Premier’s office and so forth.
TB: All I’ll say about the OVGA, I had a very strong view about it, when we got there.We wanted to give them more independence, more tenure, more resources, more authority.And we did all of that.Geoffrey London was doing a great job, and I was incredibly disappointed when it was shifted and it lost some funding and I actually pursued that and I was assured the funding wasn’t removed.Then it turned out it had been.All I’ll say is I was disappointed about that.
R+BA:I suppose there are other issues too.The government then pursued the East West Link
TB: Now I read your blog about East West Link, so I’ll simply say you and I would disagree very strongly.The East West Link has been completely misrepresented in the broader community.In my view it’s inevitable.It will happen.The question from the community is what it will look like when it does happen.The principle complaint about East West to date has been the price.It was only the price it was because we chose to put it in the tunnel to protect Parkville and Carlton and the gardens.
The proposed western portal connection from Royal Park to Citylink
R+BA:Absolutely the alternative would be to put it above ground and it would have had an even worse effect.
TB:Perhaps we should have offered the community the alternative and they could have chosen.
R+BA:I would argue though that whilst certainly the middle sections of the proposal, where it was underground, except for perhaps the issue of the unfiltered smoke stacks near schools, it was reasonable.The built environment’s not taking a hit.However I would also argue that at either end, such as West Parkville where it came up through Royal Park and Ross Straw Field, it created substantial issues.The connection with the Melbourne gateway for example, I thought was really compromised.
TB:I know it well because we looked at a range of alternatives there and I think it was the appropriate solution.It’s inevitable, it will happen.To resist because you don’t want there to be a connection there, I mean I talked to someone, perhaps it was you I talked to about the west end.I think you suggested to me an alternative arrangement, and I did pass that on.But there was a lot of effort that went in to that, but it is inevitable, it will happen, and I just trust and hope that the new-foundenthusiasm the current government has for elevated rail lines helps people understand what the best way of doing it is.
R+BA:So talking about infrastructure procurement generally, is part of the problem with the way we go about it that politicians need to spend significant political capital prior to having a true understanding of the costs or the benefits of a project, and by the time that analysis and design work has been done, it’s too late for a politician to turn around and say well actually, the business case doesn’t stack up, or the environmental impacts are too great.
TB:Well the so called business case that didn’t stack up was the draft business case and the opponents of East West never looked, never publicized the more detailed or looked at the environmental cost component
R+BA:Well it wasn’t available
TB:Well it’s still to this day the focus on the original draft, and you have to factor in there, ok, there’s the project, and there’s the very significant environmental cost added on there to protect Parkville and Carlton, they’re effectively two projects.What I say is that in this country, the cost of construction is pricing us out of infrastructure for the future and we’re not, in this country, getting ahead, we’re not even keeping up.
R+BA:Everyone would be in fierce agreement over the need for more infrastructure.
TB:We’re struggling to catch up regarding infrastructure.In this state, we have an economy that thrives on population growth.To some extent that’s a bit of a population Ponzi scheme.Supply never catches up to growing demand.If you look at the economic growth rates and population growth rates, inflation rates, we are putting pressure on infrastructure.And when we come to price it, it’s a struggle.We looked very carefully at Metro, we inherited a project that was, I’ll be very polite and say it was very immature.There was a sum of money set aside to look at it in detail and we did that.We looked at it in great detail.While I was there it became evident that it was almost impossible to build for what was proposed.And then having it revealed to us that there was no South Yarra station even though it was brought to us as South Yarra to Footscray, and with Chapel Street in South Yarradeveloping faster than anywhere, you’ve got to make that connection somehow.So we put it back in.I left before the final decisions were made about that, but the cost of that project is very very significant.We’re talking 5 stations at about 2.5 billion dollars per station effectively.
R+BA:But the benefit of that is the loop capacity.
TB: It takes some load out of the loop and hence adds capacity.
R+BA:So every other line theoretically benefits from that
TB: Everyone was in furious agreement about that.And it was ‘ok, here’s your budget, when we were in structural deficit.With debt projected to rise dramatically’ and you have to say ok, what’s it going to cost, what can we do that’s most effective doing this? And it’s a real challenge. Lots of people think you just make an immediate decision to do something and then you just do it.In my view, that’s not the way you proceed.Maybe I was too much the architect, I wanted the answers step by step and we got a lot of that.We’ve done it on East West.We tested a lot of alternatives on East West and I insisted I wanted all the alternatives tested so that we can make a good decision.And we did likewise on Metro.What I understand of Metro now is that they’ve come up with an entirely different approach to construction.This changed dramatically in the last nine months.In fact, when the government first announced they were going back to it they said they were going back to the original scheme and they released the video of the single tunnel etc. and the details of where it’s going to go. That’s all changed, we now have a split tunnel and the way it’s going to operate has changed
R+BA:There seems to have been some real innovation recently on that project.
TB: Yes, but the core design has changed and that’s partly because of the difficulties that we faced and looking at alternatives to that, and the sheer cost of it.
R+BA:I suppose that’s a parable for how important design is.
TB:12 months ago the government announced we were going back to the original but within a few months they’d made changes and we’ve had more changes since.It’s gone to the twin tunnels and now it’s going deeper not shallower. All the things that we were facing.It’s an interesting project in itself, it’s just about how you do it, and how you get the egress and the access for construction.What do you do with the CBD while it’s under construction.They’re effectively going to do pinhole surgery to build it now.We’ll see how it goes.
R+BA:Another of the big challenges facing Melbourne is the whole Fishermans Bend precinct.As you’d be aware, in the final throes of the Napthine era, the whole area was rezoned essentially overnight to capital city zone.There’s been some strong criticism of that in terms of not having a structural plan for how the community will develop.Where’s going to be the public spaces, where’s going to be the transport infrastructure and so on.Instead of doing that first and then rezoning piecemeal or whatever suits.
TB:Well I can’t say I have any knowledge of that because I was out of the decision making.
R+BA: Have you followed that issue and do you have a reflection on it?
TB:I would have preferred to see a bit more value capture, but I don’t have a problem with Fishermans Bend developing as such.My view is that I don’t want to see any more painted matchboxes.Too much architecture has been reduced to painted matchboxes and I would’ve like to have seen the apartment code in place before permits were issued.
There’s a significant difference between a building envelope and the interior of a building.We tend to give permits for envelopes and then the interior is changed dramatically.In tower development it can be a real issue because you’re focused on the envelope and you end up getting shoeboxes.I actually think there is a role for the envelope permit, but I think the best role for that is in bespoke architecture so that the building gets an envelope approval and then the plates become adaptable. Hopefully if you’ve got an apartment code you get a baseline and then that architecture starts to aim up rather than aim down.I had a number of cases in in my patch where I had developers in and I was saying hey guys, this is a pretty good area, but you’re pitching a building to the council and the community which is really low grade.You’re actually taking the standard of the area down.The response I was getting was that’s what the real estate agents tell us we can sell.We’re benchmarking from the real estate agents.I said well that’s your mistake, you should be benchmarking with the aspirations.Whether it’s Hawthorn, Camberwell, Northcote, Brunswick, wherever, you can actually build the community if your aspirations exceed current benchmarks.If you’re simply trying to get the minimum standards you end up with the wrong mix of apartments and you get the wrong mix of services and you get the worst of everything.We look at what’s happened in Abbotsford, and this is my opinion so no one can shoot me, it’s just what I think, but the developments down there are just appalling.They were approved 8 or 9 years ago, some 4,000 apartments.No community facilities at all.
R+BA:Getting back to the Fishermans Bend story, are you concerned about the way that that’s progressing at the moment and the directions that it’s taking? We agree that it needs to develop it, but is how it’s proceeding an issue?
TB:Well I can’t say that I’m intimately engaged with Fishermans Bend.Most of it took place after I left and I think there’s a bit of finger pointing going down and I don’t intend to join the finger pointing.There’s fingers being pointed at both governments.Bottom line is it’s the ground level that matters for most people and the community, you have to get that right and you have to get the community facilities right.Whether it’s parks and gardens, whether it’s schools, whether it’s childcare, medical facilities, retail, etc. When it comes to whatever goes in the envelopes I want to see a code, even if it’s retrospective and I want to see the aspiration being upward rather than down.
R+BA:So how would you like to see greater Melbourne evolve over the coming decades.We’ve talked a lot about apartment design codes, but is there an idea for what that middle ring of donut needs to do or anything else?
TB:Well it needs to have inserted in to it mature, sophisticated, aspirational apartment building that is combined with retail office below and above.The planners all say we have to thicken the fabric in the inner city, my view is that if you thicken it with bad stuff you’ll destroy it, so you’ve got to get some quality back in the city and you won’t do that unless we address the code, construction costs, get the design review panels involved, and get councils the capacity to be a bit more selective about their permits and back them up by saying we’re not going to surprise anybody.I’ve talked to a few developers about bespoke apartments and I’m pretty comfortable that will end up happening.So people will purchase a floorplate and then they can be mature about it.At the moment they might want to go somewhere good and pay a lot for the apartment but the apartment doesn’t actually meet their needs.It’s got pokey rooms, so they might just want to open it up all together.
R+BA:There is a growing trend of the more wealthy buying two apartments and then put them back together.
TB: I am aware of one case where the purchaser bought three apartments, two side by side and one underneath so he bought and paid for something that didn’t work and he’s reconfigured it.
R+BA: That’s an expensive way to go but the end product is often fantastic.
TB: Yes, so if you give them the plate [for the owner to design] in the first place you might get a better result.
Part 4 – Melbourne Architecture
R+BA:In terms of Melbourne and the architecture of Melbourne do you have a favourite building or favourite space?
TB: I always talk about Marcus Barlow’s building Manchester Unity which is extraordinary.I did a design thesis at university on art deco and International Style stuff, about 200 years ago.I love all of that and Manchester Unity is a beautiful building in its own right and then you look at the construction story.It was started in January and finished in December. It was the first building to broach the 132 foot height limit, the location.It has all the aspirational soaring architecture of the skyscraper style.Beyond that I’ve long talked about the extraordinary civic legacy we have in Victoria which distinguishes us from other places in Australia.It’s a product of gold, but it’s also a product of wise decision making because you can take gold and spend it on nonsense. but if you look at our civic architecture the Parliament building, Old Treasury, the cathedrals, town halls, Masonic lodges, court houses right across the state.You drive around Sydney, New South Wales, Queensland, you don’t see that same civic legacy.It’s a distinguishing feature and the other distinguishing feature of that is who made the decisions? Who were the designers? What characteristics do they have? And so many of them by definition were aspirational people who came here from other parts of the world.They had a focus on the future and on quality.They had gold in their pockets, but in the vast majority of cases they were young architects.You look at this building (Old Treasury), JJ Clarke arrived here at the age of 13 with 5 siblings and his parents.He went to work at the age of 13 attached to the government architect’s office of the day and designed this building at the age of 19. You look at the output of Joseph Reed and others and Wardell and you think ‘how did they actually do it?’
The Parliament building is an extraordinary thing to think of, it was designed when there were only 70 or 80 thousand people living in Melbourne.There are more members of the Collingwood footy club now that there were living in Melbourne when the Impala building was designed.
Manchester Unity Building tower Image source: http://www.manchesterunitybuilding.com.au/
R+BA: Do you think that building will ever have the Parliament dome added or do you think it is what it is now?
TB:No, that’s not going to happen.Personally I don’t think the dome would have ever worked, overbalanced I thought.Every aspect of that building is beautiful, the accommodation’s pretty ordinary for pollies out the back, but that’s bound to be.
R+BA:They’re working on that.
TB:That’s about the third or fourth scheme to do that, so hopefully that’ll come off.I just go around and look at that legacy and think wow, the essential essence of Victoria is about aspiration and about the pursuit of the best and that’s what was happening from the 1850s on.Yeah there were all sorts of problems, questions about the Chinese and about democracy.There was all sorts of stuff, but essentially there is a core character of Victoria where pursuing the best possible outcome was what drove the state.The Royal Exhibition Building is 125 years old and it’s world heritage listed.
R+BA:The first world heritage listed building in Australia
TB: How did they source the product, source the material, source the tradesmen?It took a few years to build.Then Marcus Barlow put together Manchester Unity and did that in 12 months.Couldn’t do that now.Why couldn’t we do that now?
R+BA:Thinking about architecture dynasties, there was a lot happening at that point in time.The modern day example I suppose is the Jeff Kennett era with the various DCM buildings – the Melbourne Museum, the Exhibition Centre, the Melbourne Gateway.I look at that period and from a city building point of view and Melbourne did extraordinary things in that time.
TB:There are various phases but the civic architecture has always been pretty high quality and for a young jurisdiction with not too much in the way of resources apart from some money and people who have come from all over the world.We’ve got this core character essence which is the pursuit of excellence and a multicultural base because those people came from all over the world.Look at the tile work up at the parliament and you say somebody designed that tile work and then someone implemented it and they had to have exceptional skills.Where did they come from, how did they get here?There are all sorts of stories still to be told.And they were young.
R+BA: I suppose there’s the young aspect to it and they also took a lot of risks and were bold in what they did.Do you think we need to allow the emerging architects more scope?
TB: Unfortunately, the general answer to that question is yes, but our architects today have been beaten in to submission over the last 20 to 30 years.Pushed down the food chain of development.If there is a challenge to the architects of Victoria it’s communication. The profession has been very shy. To some extent registration conflicts with the Institute, both conflict with the notion of the degree.If you were to ask 99% of people in Melbourne who’s the go to commentator among architects in Victoria at the moment they probably wouldn’t know and there’s not much general media. That’s why what you’re doing is fantastic.
R+BA: Thank you, I totally agree with you that public engagement on these issues is essential.
TB: I grew up with the ARM guys and transition magazine which I even once wrote for. I used to write for Landscape Architecture and Architecture magazine years ago.In an ideal world architects should be pushing much much harder.That’s why when I got to Premiership I said I want architects back in to decision making.We tried to get as many architects on to government boards as possible.At the same time the profession is still inward looking and it’s still squabbling amongst itself.You go to an awards night and the slide show still falters.The profession needs some really strong vocal champions how can push a point.I thought Geoffrey London was doing a good job and I think Jill Garner will do a fantastic job.I said to Geoffrey when we got there that I want you to be as strident as you want to be.As far as I’m concerned you can say whatever you want.I want you to protect the morphology of the city and I want you to aspire.I don’t want you just doing pedestrian things such asputting out brochuresThey completedquite a nice book with a very nice foreword by somebody at the start of the book.I hope Jill feels confident to do that as well, but we’ve succumbed to project developers as a profession.We’ve succumbed to negative clients.We’ve succumbed to low fees.Along the way governments have compromised the profession a bit by throwing out projects like the BER project in education which was build a box.In the early 2000’s we had what I call the ‘TAFE r tecture’ in Victoria where we built matchboxes and painted them and they hadn’t actually addressed the strategic issues around both TAFEs and post secondary education.I think there’s room for much a more mature discussion about architecture, absolutely.Which is another reason why I was disappointed about the Flinders Street thing because the thinking that had gone in there was really sophisticated and it wasn’t allowed to be heard.
R+BA: One of the things I wrote about it shortly after that was the perception that it was somehow a waste of money because we weren’t receiving the money of the million dollars it cost.You crunch the numbers on the number of hours across the number of teams doing the work and you add in the fact that you have 30,000 responses to it which is a massive community consultation as well.It was also being in the general psyche as to what the future of that site is.It was an absolute bargain.
TB: Well the staging that Hassell and Herzog & De Meuron proposed is very sophisticated and still implementable and I’ll be surprised in the future if some of those stages don’t get implemented.
R+BA: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview and being so generous with your time.