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The wall, two years later see more

Kegs against wall
Kegs lined up against the wall, c. 1980s (VHD)

An old brick wall collapsed in central Melbourne two years ago, killing three young students walking past on a busy footpath. I cobbled together a history of the wall and published it. Then time passed. Occasional news articles focused on fragments of the official investigations, but it was (and is) hard to get the big picture on what has happened since March 2013. In summary: not a lot.

[ Previous posts: FIRST – March 2013 SECOND – April 2013 THIRD – April 2013 ]

I stopped at the site on the second anniversary last weekend and found dead flowers in the vases of the “temporary memorial”. It’s a slab of stone that appears to be frozen in the midst of falling off a rough concrete wall (which could be the original). It perhaps too closely recalls the events of the day. The main purpose of the slanted top seems to be to stop people from fixing things to it, which is unfortunate. In the week after the collapse, a melamine shrine was erected – simply a shelf that people could lave candles and notes on, and flowers and stubbie holders. It was probably more appropriate.

swanston street temporary memorial
Temporary memorial, March 28, 2015 (PJ)

Swanston wall shrine
Original shrine, April 4, 2013 (PJ)

The only hint that it was the anniversary was a white wreath from the CFMEU union propped against a planter. The newspapers were silent, as they had nothing new to report.

I’ve dredged court reporting and pieced together a timeline of what has happened since March 28th, 2013. I did not know of the dates of the various hearings and did not attend. Audio recordings of hearings are available at a cost to “non-parties” with family permission for one year and they are then destroyed. I have not sought these out. The Melbourne public is totally reliant on coverage of the case by the media, which has been rather disjointed.

Several inquiries were meant to be underway in the immediate aftermath of the collapse. Grocon, WorkSafe (also called “WorkCover”), Victoria Police, the Building Commission (now VBA) and the Coroners Court were all conducting investigations. It is hard to find much trace of these. The Coroner’s website has no information on the wall collapse other than some name suppressions. WorkSafe’s websites have two articles, both published soon after the collapse. The VBA website has nothing about their investigation of the collapse.

Swanston Street wall on April 4th 2013
An inspector at the wall on April 4th, 2013

A chronology

March 28th, 2013
New information about 28/3/13 since my last reports

  • the wall was constructed in 1971 with a building permit.
  • Grocon hired Aussie Signs to build the wall in October 2011. They sublet the job to another contractor.
  • the wall made a creaking sound just before it fell
  • the hoarding peeled away
  • others were injured but left the scene immediately

March 29th, 2013
Planning Minister Matthew Guy tells radio 3AW that he understands the wall was “more than a hundred years… The wall has been [left there since the CUB demolition] so I understand that’s the rationale for keeping it.”

Media around the country report that the wall was very old. Not much is done to correct this when two days later the wall is discovered to be quite new.

The Age 29.03.13

April 30th, 2013, WorkSafe
WorkSafe’s media website announces that an investigation is continuing but, “given the complexity of the task it remains in its relatively early stages and will take some time to complete.” “The investigation’s primary focus is to determine whether any offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 have been committed.” VWA News

The authority also issues a safety alert on its website, which is a reworking of a 2004 alert.

May 24th, 2013, Coroners Court
Coroner Ian Gray warns that possible criminal prosecutions could stall the coronial inquest for several years. He does not rule out the possibility of holding the inquest in tandem with proceedings in other courts. ABC

Brick pile

December 4th, 2013, Coroners Court direction hearing
A police investigator tells the Coroners Court that Grocon had failed to provide witness statements other than that of an archaeologist who had previously worked at the site. The state coroner judge said he would order 18 other Grocon-associated witnesses to give statements if they were not forthcoming within a fortnight. The investigators had managed to interview 60 other witnesses.

Police investigators also tell the court that they were unable to obtain an engineering survey about a bluestone wall from Grocon, as the commpany had said it was not relevant. The judge orders it to be made available anyway, by the end of the week.

While he is at it, Gray criticises WorkSafe for not having shared with police 10 folders of material from their own investigation. WorkSafe lawyers reply, saying this would not be possible before April 2014. Judge Gray: “This happened nine months ago. Of course there’s a lot involved… but I’m not prepared to accept I should wait as long as you’re proposing.”

Gray orders that a “critical” engineering report be delivered within two weeks, well before the coronial inquest which is set for June, 2014.

A “well-placed legal source” tells The Age that, “WorkSafe say they’re doing their best but Grocon are lawyered up and are being totally unco-operative.”

This tallies with what I’ve been told by another source who said that Grocon had more than 15 lawyers at the hearing, slowing proceedings. I also heard that few Melbourne building professionals were willing to provide expert advice to the authorities and so some experts were sought from afar.

The Age’s allegations were refuted in the Herald Sun in an article: published online that same day. Grocon and WorkSafe affirmed that Grocon had been cooperating, while the State Coroner refused to comment.

In the only reference to the wall collapse on the Coroner’s Court website, Coroner Gray makes an interim suppression order prohibiting publication of information which may identify four key witnesses. The order is to be reviewed on December 19th at another direction hearing. There is no further mention of the case or the name suppressions on the website.

The Age 05.12.13

December 19th, 2013, Coroners Court direction hearing
14 Grocon employees have been interviewed since the judge ordered Grocon employees to give statements to the police. Three would not provide statements until “other processes in the investigation have occurred.” Their lawyers justified this on the grounds that they might incriminate themselves. These three, and a further witness who agreed to talk to the police, were granted name suppression.

The Age


All remnants of the fallen wall have been removed, and the footpath has been resealed. In March Grocon install a temporary stone memorial and planter boxes, for which a planning permit was obtained.

March 28th, 2014, Swanston Square on the anniversary
Construction work halts for a day out of respect for Bridget Jones, Alexander Jones and Marie-Faith Fiawoo. A Grocon spokesman says, “The important questions about why these three young lives were lost are not yet resolved but some answers will no doubt emerge when the Coronial inquest begins later this year.”


April 29th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
Worksafe (Victorian WorkCover Authority) files criminal charges at the Magistrates’ Court against three Grocon companies and Aussie Signs (the subcontractor who erected the sign). Each charge is eligible for a fine not exceeding $1.3M, however this is limited by the Magistrates’ Court limit of $305,000.

The Herald Sun was able to view VWA’s charge sheet, which stated that, “The attachment of the hoarding to the wall was unsafe… It was reasonably practicable for Grocon Pty Limited to have eliminated or reduced the risk to the health and safety of persons in the vicinity of the wall and hoarding.”

Referring to the lack of engineering and wind design, inspections and building permits, the documents allege that, “Grocon did not take any of the above measures to eliminate or reduce the risk to health and safety of persons who were not its employees. Nor did it ensure that any other person or entity took such measures.”

A third party, Paramount Signs, erected the wall for Aussie Signs. The 29 year old owner of Paramount is facing $72,000 in fines for not having a building permit. He is the first person to be charged in the case.

The Aussie Signs quote was approved on October 6th, 2011, with work beginning on October 10th and finishing four days later.

Grocon executive chairman Daniel Grollo says, “Grocon’s priority remains to assist investigating authorities as they continue to closely examine all of the factors that contributed to the wall collapse and identify what needs to be done to see it never happens again.”

The coronial inquest, scheduled for June 2014, is delayed indefinitely.

“Building giant Grocon and sign firm hit with seven criminal charges over fatal Swanston St wall collapse” Herald Sun 29.04.14
“Contractor faces criminal charges…” Herald Sun 29.04.14

Hoarding installation
Early October – the hoarding is erected and painted (Fairfax video)

Hoarding installation
Early October – the hoarding is extended to the Malt Store. This extension looks almost like an afterthought but would place additional pressure on the end of the brick wall, to which it was bolted. (Fairfax video)

May, 2014, VBA
The Victorian Building Authority reissues its “When is a building permit required?” fact sheet, adding two new clauses relating to signs on free-standing walls. Here’s one:

“A building permit is required for signs that are attached to free standing walls, permanent or temporary fences that put addition dead and live (wind) loads and forces on the wall or fence that hasn’t been designed for those additional loads. To prevent the possibility of the collapse of the wall or fence, the wall or fence will need to be assessed for structural soundness and be structurally certified to ensure it can withstand the additional forces imposed by the sign.”

The previous edition, in 2008, required a building permit for a new sign above one metre, but made no mention of signs attached to existing structures.

June 25th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
A subcontractor to the signage subcontractor appeared at the Magistrates’ Court. He had been charged by the Victorian Building Authority with constructing a timber structure attached to a wall without a permit. Unlike those previously charged, his full name, age and address were published.

Herald Sun 26.06.14

July, 2014
Grocon puts two northern sites at C.U.B. on the market, totalling 6,600 square metres.

The Age 30.07.14

August 25th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg allows Grocon lawyers six weeks to vet 600 WorkSafe (WorkCover) documents.

Melbourne Times/The Age

September 26th, 2014, Swanston Street
The 29 year old signage sub-subcontractor charged by the VBA in June reappears at the Magistrates’ Court. His lawyer tells the court that his client received a letter from Aussie Signs making it clear that no work permit was required. He says that their defence team is trying to access information from the coroner’s investigations in order to shed more light on the details of this sub-subcontractor agreement.

Sourceable 26.09.14

September 30th, 2014, Swanston Street
In high winds, a temporary gangway roof on the Swanston Square building site blows off its fixings, flips and lands upside down on the footpath at the scene of last year’s tragedy. Pedestrians ran for it. ABC – with photos

October 6th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
The court learns that mounds of earth from an archaeological dig were seen immediately next to the wall prior to its collapse. A Grocon VS lawyer asks if he can question the archaeologists about the extent of their operation. “We’re not talking about the pyramids of Giza”, says the lawyer. The magistrate grants the request.

The committal hearing is expected to take 12 days and to involve more than 40 witnesses.

The lawyers for Aussie Signs would like to establish whose idea it was to hang the hoarding on the wall, while the three Grocon entities want to know who commissioned the work.

The Age 06.10.14

Glenn Wilson Feb 2013 photo of CUB site
The mounds of earth in late February, 2013 – credit Glenn Wilson

November 12th-13th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
At the first day of the committal hearing, Grocon (Victoria Street) Pty Ltd and the prosecutors come to an agreement. Grocon would plead guilty immediately if the matter would stay in the Magistrates’ Court, and if they could plead on a risk basis, rather than a causal one (meaning that they did not cause the wall to collapse). If GVS were to plead guilty to one of two charges, the four charges against two other Grocon subsidiaries whould be dropped, pending court approval. The prosecution no longer believed it could be proven beyond reasonable doubt that mounting the hoarding on the wall caused it to fall.

Lawyers for Aussie Signs did not become aware of this conditional plea until the week before. Their QC Nick Papas said, “it changes things completely.”

Three Grocon companies had each been charged with two identical offences. 1. “[failing to ensure] persons other than your employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of your undertaking” and 2: failing to ensure a workplace was safe and without risks to health. GVS would plead guilty only to the second charge, which relates to employee safety, not the safety of passersby.

WorkCover’s allegations centre on the lack of a building permit, the lack of a bracing design, the lack of a wind risk assessment, and the lack of a post-construction engineer’s inspection.

QC Ray asserts that, “it’s not possible to say that the conduct of the accused caused the wall to collapse… Whilst it’s serious offending, the measure of disregard is not at the highest end.”

“He said rather, [Grocon VS] should have been aware of [the wall’s] capacity to withstand wind, and should have conducted an assessment of the wall’s capacity. He said it was reasonable to accept Grocon would have taken action to reduce that risk.” ABC

By pleading guilty at the Magistrates’ Court, rather than have the case proceed to the County Court, the maximum fine would be $305,350. The maximum fine at the County Court is $1.1M.

View from North
Aerial view from North, c. 2011, Bing Maps

Magistrate Charlie Rosencwaig says previous demolition works left the wall unshielded and vulnerable to wind. He refers to an expert witness who would testify that the wall would have fallen within five to ten years without the hoarding. “With the hoarding, it comes down to six to twelve months.” He questions whether the case was resolved with Grocon’s guilty plea. But he also thinks the fine “ample” for the offence, and notes that, “closure and finalisation is a very important aspect in matters such as this.”

Grocon chairman Daniel Grocon writes in a press release that, “this process has identified areas in which we, and the industry as a whole, can improve our procedures to ensure the safety of the public, and our employees, is further protected, including on vacant sites.”

Several witnesses in the immediate aftermath of the collapse state that they saw rusted or corroded brick ties within the debris. An MFB inspector stated that, “there was no attachment from one skin to another.”

A City of Melbourne building surveyor defends the council’s inaction after the hoarding was erected. They saw no need to take action.“From our perspective this fence or wall had a building permit and has been in use and has been standing up since 1971… It’s only when issues are brought to our attention as to safety that we investigate and try to determine what needs to be done, if anything.”

An inspector from WorkCover visited the wall during the installation of the hoarding and saw nothing inappropriate or dangerous.

Aussie Signs decides not to match Grocon’s guilty plea. Under instruction from the Director of Public Prosecutions, the prosecution requests that the Aussie Signs case be send to trial at the Supreme Court. Magistrate Charlie Rosencwaig questions this, asking why they hadn’t requested the same for Grocon. The prosecutor replied that the case was sufficiently important to go to the Supreme Court.

A builder subcontracted by Aussie Signs, and who is being prosecuted by the Victorian Building Authority, is to appear as a witness.

Sources: ABC | ABC | “WorkCover drops claim Grocon caused deadly wall collapse” The Australian 12.11.14 | “Grocon to plead guilty…” The Age 12.11.14 | “Ties on Melbourne collapse wall had rusted through, court told” The Australian 13.11.14 | Herald Sun 14.11.14 | “Grocon’s maximum fine after wall collapse a ‘slap on the wrist’” The Age 13.11.14 | “Grocon guilty…” Sourceable 13.11.14 | Architecture and Design 14.11.14

enlarged detail of 1979 aerial view of wall. Credit: Wolfgang Sievers, NLA

November 20th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
At the second day of the hearing, Grocon pleads guilty to one breach of the Occupational Health & Safety Act. Regarding WorkSafe’s allegations, Grocon Victoria Street’s QC Ross Ray says that the company was entitled to a presumption of integrity due to the “free-standing” wall’s 1971 building permit. “When it’s built with a permit there’s no need to go back and recertify”, said QC Ray. The lack of risk assessment was due to the site not being considered a building site at that stage. GVS relied upon its subcontractor Aussie Signs to assess risk.

Grocon’s lawyers express “deep regret”, and seek a fine of around $250,000. QC Ray said, “no one – no one – questioned the integrity of that wall. All people in the industry have learnt due to this tragic incident.”

Prosecutor Gregory Lyon said that Grocon had failed to check that Aussie Signs had ensured that the wall was safe before erecting the hoarding. This had exposed large numbers of pedestrians to the risk of injury or death. Ray replied that this risk hadn’t been picked up as the site wasn’t a construction site – Grocon had relied on their subcontractor – “that reliance was not enough”.

Grocon VS is fined $250,000 and costs on one charge, as Grocon had suggested. The maximum penalty at the Magistrates’ Court is $305,000.

According to Magistrate Rozencwajg, the incident represented a significant failure of the company’s duty, but acknowledged Grocon had since acted in the manner expected of a good corporate citizen.

Grocon executive chairman Daniel Grollo says, “in whatever small way, we hope that the timely conclusion of the proceedings today assists the families and friends affected by this tragedy.”

The committal hearing had been intended to run for 12 days. If there were further sittings they were not covered by the media. The news of the Grocon prosecution was not reported by WorkSafe’s own dedicated news website.

Sources: ABC | The Age | “Court hears Grocon wall had permit” SKY 20.11.14 | ABC

Saturday March 28th, 2015, Swanston Square on the 2nd anniversary
The hoarding along the site has been partially removed to make way for the entrance to the Swanston Square apartment building.

The AFR reported during the week Grocon would be selling off various portions of the C.U.B. site to other developers, but that they would retain the Swanston Street frontage. The Maltstore was sold earlier in the month to a Singaporean syndicate.

The Aussie Signs trial

This trial is to take place at the County Court, which uses juries. This is perhaps one reason for the lack of commentary on the wall in the past months. I cannot find mention of the trial in any court lists.

clean bricks
Where’s the mortar?

A few unanswered quesions

Though these questions may have been discussed in the various hearings, no commentary or conclusions have been published (that I have been able to find).

- when was the 1971 building permit unearthed? Was there an inspection during construction in 1971?
- what reasons were given for Grocon (Victoria Street) Pty Ltd’s willingness to plead guilty to one charge (relating to employee risk), but not the other one (relating to public risk)?
- has any action been taken by the Planning Minister over the lack of a planning permit for the hoarding advertising?
- what are the details of the 1984 incident when the truck hit the wall? Rumour has it that the truck hit a different part of the wall, or possibly even another wall.
- what are the results of testing done on salvaged fragments of the wall?

Street edge
Street edge, with adjacent shallow concrete wall removed

bricks on end
Bricks on end in hidden leaf. This is another indication that the concrete wall may have pre-dated the brick wall. PJ 2013

Some of the problems with the wall when it was built:

  • it was over-height by about 700mm
  • it had no effective buttressing or lateral restraint
  • the pilasters sat on an adjacent concrete bund wall
  • there was a combined concrete / brick system near the base of the wall. While brinks expand, concrete shrinks over time.
  • there weren’t enough reinforcing ties. Boral recommends medium duty metal ties spaced at no more than 400mm horizontally and vertically.
  • the wall had a stretcher bond – no headers (cross-laid bricks) other than the top capping
  • there was no drip edge on the capping bricks (though this is not uncommon in Victoria)
  • there was inconsistent mortaring – both flush and raked used – both of which were unsuitable
  • there were no control joints to allow for movement
  • there was an apparent lack of mortar in the vertical (collar) joint between leaves
  • perforated capping bricks were left open to weather at wall step downs.
  • at least 5 types and ages of bricks were used, including old pressed bricks and newer extruded bricks. There would have been varying porosities, compression strengths. The old and new bricks may have required different mortar mixes.
  • there was either a lack of mortar, or else the mortar had not adherred – noticeable in post-demolition photos showing clean bricks
  • a steel end support at the north end of the wall, and other steel fixings for a gate, may have caused eccentricities in the wall due to the differing rates of expansion
  • there was no noticeable DPC beneath the capping
  • the hidden leaf of bricks, between the concrete wall and the facing bricks, in some places contained rubble and in others bricks were used on end.

“It appears to contravene every rule in the book” Trevor Huggard. Former Lord Mayor, engineer in The Age 03.04.13

different brick types used together

Some of the problems for the wall after it was built:

  • the southern abutting building was demolished in 1989
  • the brewery was demolished by Hudson Conway, exposing the wall to wind and gusts across the site
  • the few wall ties seen after collapse were corroded.
  • capping bricks fell off and were not replaced
  • the mortar had deteriorated in many places
  • efflorescence was visible on the face of the wall at mortar joints
  • there was evidence of mould colonies within the wall
  • the outer face was sealed with paint
  • most of the inner face was sealed with graffiti
  • the addition of a plywood hoarding in late 2011
  • storage of earth adjacent to the wall in February 2013

( Information from news, photos, court hearings, brick construction manuals, head )

Bricks at street edge

Preventing a repeat

Walls have continued to fall around Victoria since 2013 and will continue to do so. These accidents attract little attention unless there is an injury or death. If the wall in Swanston Street had fallen at 4a.m. when no one was around, its likely we’d not even remember it had happened.

I had expected there to be more of a discussion about the safety of neglected sites and construction sites, but instead the media and courts have focused on the hoarding. Perhaps some initiatives are in train, but after two years of waiting, I’m not hopeful.

brick pile
Yet another type of brick: 3 hole extruded

What could be done?

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list. That would require a building industry-wide response. But there hasn’t been one.

  • Rate holidays on vacant sites could cease – RMIT didn’t pay rates on the CUB site for eight years because it is an educational institution.
  • Rates and land tax on land-banked sites and “bomb sites” could be reviewed.
  • Demolition sites could be redefined as construction sites, and so be subject to the same safety requirements.
  • Archaeological digs immediately prior to building, and requiring bulk earth moving, could be considered part of the early construction process.
  • Site dilapidation reports should be the norm when large properties change hands. ( sample PDF )
  • Selling sites like Monopoly could be discouraged.
  • There could be a public safety hotline, with a phone number prominent on any hoarding around bomb sites.
  • There could be an advanced weather forecasting system (AWFS) sending out automated alerts, as is now happening in Calgary.
  • WorkSafe could extend its remit beyond employees to the general public, better reflecting the stated objectives of the OH&S Act.
  • Worksafe could publish its construction incident report on its website, as it has done previously.
  • The Ministry for Planning and the City of Melbourne could sort out their demarcation issues on site boundaries. They could also assure the public about what they have done to lessen the possibility of a recurrence.
  • Salient points contained in the hundreds of Australian Standards for construction could be made free so that smaller builders and contractors are encouraged to obtain them and refer to them. Minimum expected standards should not be locked behind a pay-wall, especially those that affect public safety.
  • Encourage use of the building code (now National Construction Code) by making it free, as New Zealand did some years ago after the “leaky building” scandal revealed widespread ignorance in the industry. This is being acted upon now by the ABCB – the 2015 online edition will be free to view.
  • A permanent memorial could be built for the three students. One not tucked in a corner.


As mentioned in my first post, toddler Michelle Krsek was killedin 2009 by 250kg of flying roofing iron near a construction site. This prompted a conversation about public safety in Calgary which has led to several actions. These include the formation of the On-Site Construction Safety Committee ( a joint initiative between the city, the construction association and the OH&S authority ), a best practices guide commemorating Kersk ( PDF ), an advanced weather forecasting alert system, a public safety component in construction degrees, a construction award and scholarship in Michelle’s name, and a push for changes to legislation to better include third parties (the general public). It’s not perfect but at least the wheels are turning. Canadian OH&S consultant Peter M. Knaack sums up the state of things there – but he could equally be describing Victoria.

“While employers, supervisors, regular employees and contractors represent the most important identified stakeholders within Canada’s collective body of safety statutes and regulations, other significant stakeholders also exist whose importance presently remains only poorly defined and regulated under existing Canadian occupational health and safety legislation. Although largely ignored by the health and safety statutes and regulations, victims of industrial accidents who are not actual parties to the work being conducted represent the most significant additional risk factor to any public or private employer.”

05.04.15 in brick authorities


An incredible piece, thank you for sharing.

by Melissa on 7 May 15 ·#

Deterring density see more

In July, Plan Melbourne introduced three new flavours of residential zone. Loosely described, the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) will prevent medium or high density developments in order to preserve character, the General Residential Zone (GRZ) is pretty much business as usual with a small nod to developers, and the Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) is where apartment blocks will be allowed to blossom. Well blossom as much as they can within a 13.5m height restriction. The new zones are meant to provide more certainty to residents and developers.

The planning department abdicated responsibility for determining where the zones go to local government, though the minister retained final say. By the time the government slipped into caretaker mode recently, Mr Guy had approved a good number of the zoning maps lodged by councils. Many of the successful councils happened to be in the south and east, where councils opted for blanket use of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, with tiny dollops of GRZ and RGZ around busy roads.

Glen Eira neighbourhood character zones
North West part of Glen Eira’s zoning map (the beige-salmon shaded blanket is NRZ. The light pink areas are GRZ, the hot pink ones are RGZ, and the mauve areas are zoned commercial). DPCD

In July I began my zigzagging foray meander through Plan Melbourne by zooming in on some Residential Growth Zones, just to see what they were. I randomly chose an area in Glen Eira near the Elsternwick Station (middle left of the map above). Glen Eira was the first council to have its submission approved and gazetted, back in August 2013, even before the release of Plan Melbourne. As with all the leafy ‘burbs, NRZ dominates. The Age calculated that 93% of residential land is Neighbourhood Residential Zone, 5% GRZ, and 2% is RGZ.

zone comparison
Zoning on the left, NC overlay on the right

The RGZ is meant to, “provide housing at increased densities in buildings up to and including four storey buildings”. What’s disturbing is that most of this RGZ area falls within Neighbourhood Character Overlay No. 4. One of this area’s Neighbourhood Character Objectives is, “to encourage retention of older dwellings that contribute to the valued character of the area.” At the top of the overlay’s schedule it states:

New dwellings will respect the key characteristics of the streetscape, comprising of:
- Established garden settings with substantial planting.
- A single storey scale of buildings, with upper levels well recessed from the front façade.
- [etc]

There appears to be some conflict between the zone and the overlay. Which one wins? In general, “if an overlay is shown on the planning scheme map, the provisions of the overlay apply in addition to the provisions of the zone.” They would both win! But this overlay explicitly modifies the zone requirements to insist on scale, heights and site layouts that respect neighbourhod character. In other words, the zone permits you to build up to four storeys, as long as you only build up to two storeys with a hip roof, and as long as it only looks like a one storey building from the street. So much for certainty.

If this is a Claytons RGZ (the zone you have when you’re not having a zone), how many others are there? I looked at the adjacent RGZ just across Glen Huntly Road and found that it coincided beautifully with Heritage Overlay 72, “Elsternwick Estate and environs”. Most of the properties in this RGZ are significant places, as identified in a 2003 draft heritage report. Most of the rest are contributory places. Reading this report and the heritage clause of the Glen Eira planning scheme, it seems very unlikely that a developer would be permitted to demolish a letter box, much less build a four storey apartment block.

Yarra proposed zones
Part of City of Yarra’s proposed zoning plan (rejected)

Possibly these are just isolated aberrations that somehow slipped through all the checks. I decided to look at a different, distant council. The City of Yarra’s zoning plans were not approved by the Minister and the whole municipality was “neutrally converted” to GRZ on July 1st. I only examined the Northern area from Fitzroy through to North Carlton. Once again, it’s hard to find many RGZ properties that could actually be developed. There are St Brigid’s Church, School and Presbytery on Alexandra Parade, which would all be sorely missed should apartments land atop them. The RGZ picks up properties which have already been developed, others in heritage overlays, and St John’s Primary School. There is a large strip of RGZ down on Alexandra Parade close to Hoddle Street… the very same properties that the state government is forcibly buying to build a temporary road for its elephantine East West Link project.

Some councils with insufficient RGZ in their proposals were sent back to the drawing board without approval. Other with approved schemes were told to allocate more area to Residential Growth Zones as a “Stage 2”. These latter councils include Boroondara, Bayside, and Darebin. The Bayside request was withdrawn during the current Liberal election campaign (!). The most perplexing case I’ve found is Boroondara. The council’s zoning recommendations were approved on a “fast-track” by Minister Guy in June, despite warnings from his own Residential Zones Standing Advisory Committee (RZSAC). Back in March the planning department asked Boroondara to increase its RGZ from 0.8% to 2.5% of residential area. Council did so but in May the elected councillors unanimously voted down these recommendations at an RZSAC hearing, in response to community outrage . The advisory committee later rejected the proposed zones too and in September Minister Guy issued this press release:

“Residents in Boroondara will have greater certainty about where development should occur, with an independent advisory committee ruling out higher density zoning in areas proposed by the council… All councils are expected to adopt a sensible approach to the residential zones. Boroondara will have to undertake further strategic work to achieve this, and will have the General Residential Zone put in place instead of the higher density development that council proposed.” ( link )

Talk about everyone having it both ways. Guy “locked up” all the council-proposed RGZ properties that the council didn’t support and that he had requested, by zoning them all GRZ. Some poor council planners are between a rock and a hard place.

Boroondara is a very special place. In 2002, locals got organised to protest against development proposals for Camberwell Station. Quite a few groups fired up around that time, among them the Boroondara residents Action Group and the Malvern East Group. Boronodara-based Planning Backlash is a coalition of many such groups. In opposition, shadow Planning Minister Guy showed support for the groups’ demands to return power to councils and to preserve the character of their suburbs. He addressed these issues in Plan Melbourne but disagreed with Planning Backlash’s solution for reigning in the Urban Growth Boundary, preserving liveability and restoring affordability to the suburbs. They want to reduce immigration, or “build a new city elsewhere eg develope [sic] Portland”.

So where does that leave us? Boroondara, Glen Eira, Bayside and other municipalities in that leafy south eastern belt are not going to meet any targets requested of them by state government. The RGZ’s across Melbourne are not what they appear to be. Many have been deliberately positioned where they can’t work, at least without a big fight and a trip to VCAT. There is no provision for apartment blocks over the often mandatory maximum height of 13.5m. The number of dwellings in suburban municipalities will grow, but not enough to cater to upcoming demand within them for affordable and diverse housing options. Picking up some of the slack will be urban renewal zones (ie Fisherman’s Bend), and growth areas (ie woop woop).

“It was submitted that a reduction in the development of apartments; reduced new housing supply opportunities due to the inappropriate application of new zones; and increasing greenfield production costs are expected to create an ongoing structural shortage of new housing to meet growing demand.” from RZSAC’s Stage one Overarching Issues report

23.11.14 in planning 


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Humanitarian reinventions see more

Arch-peace strategic plan image

{ The event link is here . }

My conversations with people closely involved in several humanitarian architecture groups have had an underlying theme – interest is down in Australia. People aren’t volunteering, donations have slumped, patrons are in name only… Emergency Architects Australia have even closed shop. I could write a book about why I think this is happening, so won’t attempt to unpick it here. Suffice to say, many of the remaining groups are in the process of re-examining their goals.

I’ve been involved on and off with Architects for Peace since its inception in 2003. It was the only Australian-based group of architects prepared to protest the Iraq invasion. Times have changed since then, and not for the better. But Architects for Peace grew beyond its roots and was soon hosting talks and events, facilitating pro bono work, hosting a busy online forum, releasing news and editorials, and a lot more. But despite having 26,000 facebook followers and 600 members worldwide, A4P was finding it increasingly hard to get things done with the resources available.

Architects for Peace went into a temporary hibernation earlier this year, and focused on itself. There have been months of meetings, discussions, arguments. The result, the first Strategic Plan, is being launched tonight at Design Hub in Melbourne. I’ve read it and am pretty excited about it. I think it’s going back to roots, to hopefully reemerge as an unapologetically political group concerned with people’s rights to built environments and public spaces that are meaningful, safe, and egalitarian. But that’s just my quick take on it. Come hear the official version yourself tonight, on the roof-top.

Details here .

11.11.14 in activists 


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Strings of coincidences see more

The Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania has a peculiar name. Old art and new art add up to all art, so why not just call it the Museum of Art? But that would abbreviate to MA or MoA, neither perhaps being appropriate. The acronym is MONA and that’s what everyone calls it now, which is as it was meant to be.

Reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle recently (a good read), I realised what the roots of this name might be. In the book, Mona is the beguiling beauty – apparently the only beautiful woman on the Island of San Lorenzo, and the daughter of a Finnish architect. Vonnegut himself was the son and grandson of architects. He said his father’s only advice to him was not to stick anything in his ears and not to become an architect.

The island’s dialect contains many a strange word, and one is ‘foma’. It means ‘lies’ as in ‘a pack of foma’. These “harmless untruths” keep the country stable. In Walsh’s cradle, FOMA has become the Festival of Music and Art. Walsh let the cat out of the bag in an interview with Le Figaro last year, and Mathhew Denholm of The Australian picked up on it in 2011.

“Live by the foma [lies] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy” (Cat’s Cradle frontispiece)

1963 cover
Original 1963 cover

So that’s what Walsh has admitted to, that I can find. He has plenty of other things to say about influences though, which are well-covered in David Neustein’s 2011 review. Architects Fender Katsalidis give very little away about the origins of the design, saying it was inspired by Greek rock fortresses. Walsh mentions Naxos. Schematic architects Tandem have even less to say, but have some great photos of early citadel-esque models on their MONA webpage.

Mona stairs
Related? Lindos acropolis ( lindianet ) / MONA entry (PJ, 2011)

Walsh may have revealed more in his gilded new memoir Bone of Fact , which he wrote in the style of Vonnegut. But I’m still saving my pennies for that one. Anyhow, I decided to dig a little deeper and see what else turned up. Some of it will be B.S., but hopefully interesting B.S. I think that a few of these snips influenced the shape of things at MONA, and I think it was for the better. If you’ve not yet been, a lot of what follows won’t make much sense… maybe even if you have been.

A Fantastic Fortification
The president of Vonnegut’s San Lorenzo, a small and fictional island in The Caribbean, lived within an imposing edifice by the sea. It was built by a mad slave-turned-emperor who copied it from a child’s picture book.

“A maniac, Tum-bumwa caused to be erected the San Lorenzo Cathedral and the fantastic fortifications on the north shore of the island, fortifications within which the private residence of the so-called President of the Republic now stands.” Cat’s Cradle, chapter 57

“We at last came to the castle. It was low and cruel and black. Antique cannons still lolled on the battlements. Vines and bird nests clogged the crenels, the machiolations, and the balistrariae. Its parapets to the north were continuous with the scarp of a monstrous precipice that fell six hundred feet straight down to the lukewarm sea.” Cat’s Cradle, chapter 95

The oubliette
Within the Prsident’s residence is a large square anteroom with a manhole cover within it. This lead down to ‘the oubliette’ – a drop-and-forget type dungeon, accessible only from the top. A ventilated and stocked bomb shelter had been retrofitted into this dungeon by the reigning despot. The oubliette may have been inspired by the underground cellars of the “meat locker” Vonnegut and other prisoners of war found themselves in during the bombing of Dresden in 1945, known as Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse-Five). The only reason they survived the firestorm was because they were held in isolated captivity. Similarly Mona and the book’s bumbling hero Jonah survive an ice storm in their own oubliette. Rather than being prisons, these dungeons became arks for preservation.

I visited MONA during the first exhibition, Monanisms. It could equally have been called Meat Locker, given many of its displays (one even being a rack of meat). The MONA dungeon is entered through a deep circular drum staircase from the Roy Grounds house above. I vaguely remember that we were advised to take the stairs for the best experience. Déjà vu – all of a sudden it was 1989 and I was tramping down the emergency spiral stairs in one of London’s smaller tube stations. The lifts were off again. These stairs provided wartime access to tube station platforms, which doubled as air raid shelters in WWII – more arks.

WWII London air raid shelters
This illustration shows some purpose-built “deep” shelters, which were intended for later use as the Northern Line. ( source )

MONA basement 3
MONA basement 3 – the spiral stair is at top right. ( source )

Is Tasmania an Ark?
The state of Tasmania is almost at the end of the world, if you’re over at the ‘centre’ of things. Utah lawyer Martin Polin certainly thought so – during the Cold War he purchased 18,000 hectares of prime Tasmanian wilderness to use a a bolt hole in case of nuclear catastrophe. He even had bunkers built, which you can see here . His own survivalist ark. Perhaps MONA can be read as an art ark? Though it wouldn’t function too well in a biblical flood.

Noah's big boat
MONA (Leigh Carmichael) inset: Noah’s Ark ( source: answersingenesis )

The Other Monas
‘Mona’ has other significance in Tasmanian history. In 1865 Robert Quayle Kermode built what is thought to be the largest home in Australia at Mona Vale, a property north of Hobart. His father named the property in about 1824 after Castle Mona (1804, Isle of Man), another imposing castle by the sea. Robert Kermode’s house, which is partly modelled on the original, apparently contains a room for each week of the year, and a window for each day of the year. So it’s also known as “Calendar House”.

Speaking of castles, Julian Castle is a character in Cat’s Cradle. Sugar millionaire, draft dodger, and playboy, at forty he sought to make amends by following Albert Schweitzer’s example and building a free hospital in the jungle of an impoverished state. The House of Hope and Mercy was designed by Mona’s father, Nestor Aamons. cf…

“Mona, then, is a one-man, self-imposed gambling levy, ploughing tens of millions of ill-gotten gains – as some might see it – into high forms of human expression.” The Australian, 2011

The symbol for MONA is a cross sign and a plus sign. David Walsh is a bit clever with numbers so that’s not too much of a surprise. But then there’s this little discussion in Cat’s Cradle about the string game cat’s cradle:

“He held out his hand as though a cat’s cradle were strung between them. ‘No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between sombody’s hands, and little kids look and look at all those X’s…’ ‘And?’ ‘No damn cat, and no damn cradle.’” Chapter 74

Cross and plus

Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells visited General Electric’s office near New York in the early 1930s and was entertained by Nobel-winning chemist Irving Langmuir, who we can thank for artificial snow. Vonnegut later developed Langmuir into Dr. Felix Hoenikker in Cat’s Cradle. Langmuir hoped to inspire Wells with an idea for a type of water that was solid at room temperature. Wells wasn’t that excited, but Vonnegut later found out about it while working at G.E., and from his brother Bernard. Bernard had worked with Langmuir and was accomplished in his own right, developing cloud-seeding in 1946.

Kurt’s fictional scientist develops a version of crystallised water called ice-nine, a lot more dangerous than either Bernard Vonnegut’s or Langmuir’s contributions. Ice Nine is present today in Tasmania, but only as a climbing route in Coles Bay. (By coincidence, the first photo I found of it shows a friend of mine scaling the fractured rockface.)

H.G. Wells’ path-crossing with Vonnegut doesn’t stop there. Towards the end of Cat’s Cradle is the chapter The Tasmanians, where Vonnegut describes the tragedy.

“…They were so contemptible in the eyes of white men, by reason of their ignorance, that they were hunted for sport, by the first settlers, who were convicts from England. And the aborigines found life so unattractive that they gave up reproducing. I suggested to Newt now that it was a similar hopelessness that had unmanned us.” Cat’s Cradle chapter 125

book cover
War of the Worlds, Airmont 1964 edition ( source )

H.G. Wells was inspired to write “War of the Worlds” (and set off an alien invasion fad) after discussing the same events with his brother Frank. He refers to the Black War in the first chapter of The War of the Worlds, suggesting it was comparable to a Martian attack on England.

“And before we judge [the Martians] too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanquished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years.”

Vonnegut’s interest in genocide stemmed from his personal memories of the Dresden bombing, a mass-killing that Vonnegut blamed on ‘bureaucratic momentum’ in the British War Office, and which inspired his most well-known book, Slaughterhourse Five. In Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, the Armenian massacre is ever-haunting. The protagonist in Cat’s Cradle is attempting to write a book about the Hiroshima atomic bombing.

Walsh has asked Katsalidis back to work on a new high-roller hotel and casino on the MONA site, named Hotel Mona, or HOMO . HOMOsexuals don’t crop up in Vonnegut’s writing much, but HOMO sapiens certainly do. They’re a destructive species and shouldn’t be trusted.


David Walsh talks at Capitol Theatre on Thursday, November 6th, but it’s booked out.


Other odd stuff picked up along the way

  • Both Vonnegut and Wells began their careers in chemistry.
  • The subject matters of both “Cat’s Cradle” and “War of the Worlds” were influenced by the respective authors’ brothers. Wells dedicated his book to his brother Frank.
  • Vonnegut may have borrowed ‘foma’ from two short stories by Nikolai Gogol, whom he much respected. In these stories the narrator Foma relates the tall stories of his grandfather.
  • Herman Melville’s whaling book ‘Moby-Dick’ is alluded to in several ways in ‘Cat’s Cradle’. From the name of the main character (Jonah) to the profile of a mountain range. There are no strings back to MONA, but there are strings. For a start, Hobart town was the second largest whaling port in the world in the early 1800s. Whales were regular visitors to the Derwent River, and locals got an $8 spotters fee if they reported one. Melville never made it to Hobart, but in 1842 he sailed 1,371 kilometres from the Marquesas Islands to Tahiti on the Australian whaler Lucy-Ann. While on board he took part in a mutiny, so was thrown in jail in Tahiti. Elements of his time on board may have surfaced in Moby-Dick and Omoo. Super-weirdly, I now realise that some of my ancestors owned the Lucy-Ann until seven months before Melville sought refuge on it.
  • The career of Orson Welles spanned decades. He first gained notoriety for sending the whole of the U.S. into a brief invasion panic with his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” – it was a little too realistic. At the other end of his career, the Nashua end, Welles was reduced to doing uncredited voiceovers in Magnum P.I., and “Slapstick (Of Another Kind)”, an appalling adaptation of a Vonnegut book.
  • Cat’s Cradle is probably a corruption of “Cratch Cradle”, cratch meaning rack or manger. Cratch is still used to describe cattle feed racks in France, and in England it’s used to describe hatchway frames on canal narrowboats (cratch boards). These boards are trapezoidal in shape with a strong central vertical element. Drawing a very long bow, this is not unlike MONA’s ramparts.
  • Albert Schweitzer, apart from building a hospital in Gabon, and inspiring Julian Castle to do the same in Cat’s Cradle, was an organist with plentiful Bach recordings. Schweitzer was a hero to pianist Glenn Gould, who provided Bach interpretations for the soundtrack of the 1972 film Slaughterhouse Five.

MONA from Derwent River
MONA from Derwent River (PJ, 2011)

The last words:

“Humans.. are very good at finding likenesses, at finding meaning, at finding order, where there is none.” David Walsh, ABC Stateline 2012

“What a coincidence! But that is all it is. One mustn’t take such things too seriously.” Vonnegut in Bluebeard, chapter 23

05.11.14 in museums books


Railroaded see more

Magritte - time transfixed In May’s Victorian state budget, the Metro Rail Capacity Project was officially abandoned and relaunched as the smaller, Southern-focused Melbourne Rail Link. It’s been under consideration for less than three months, and looks to have been rushed out in time for the November state election. They’ve earmarked $8.6B – $11B, which includes (a bit like steak knives) a distant airport rail link branching off the Sunbury line.

There’s no start date for any of this, but the changes put back “threshold” readiness of Metro Rail by at least four years. Treasurer O’Brien says the shovels are ready, but if they bought shovels, they won’t be able to use them for a while yet. The Metro project was due to start in January 2015 ( Infrastructure Australia submission ), so now nothing will happen for the forseeable if the Liberals return to power in November. According to the new Plan Melbourne, the Link will become “progressively operational” between 2017 and 2021. It’s quite a clever ploy, appearing to be pushing forward with rail but effectively stalling it. I might be less cynical about it had the government raised its fundamental objections to the scheme before spending millions developing it to the point that it is ready to be built.

One factor that held some sway on Spring Street was the federal government’s putting the kibosh on public transport. The Coalition made it clear well before they were elected that they were not interested in funding rail, and 36 hours before the election confirmed the diversion of the initial Metro Rail funding of $150M into a $19B splurge on road projects.

The new route does build some inner rail capacity, but the extent cannot be confirmed – the figures are all preliminary and a $547K business case will not be released publicly. Ernst and Young will have spent three months working on it. Evans and Peck have been working for years on the Metro Rail business cases.

We have been told that the capacity of the City Loop will increase more with Rail Link than it would have with its predecessor. We just have to believe them on that front, as the details aren’t available. Transport blogger Daniel Bowen looked under some stones and decided that the new capacity figures are probably based on the use of high capacity trains – the problem being that only 25 are to be ordered…

Avoiding patrons in significant services and population centres in Melbourne’s inner North, the project favours the site of the government’s “CBD 2” development at Port Melbourne. A Fisherman’s Bend extension was always in the plans, but was low priority – to happen in 15 to 20 years when the Bend has gained a population. The reprioritisation was apparently at the behest of the Premier’s office, and has had little if any planning input – well not planning as we used to know it. Minister for Planning Matthew Guy sees the Rail Link as a boon for his new development:

“The largest urban renewal project in Australia must have a railway station.”

Guy further justifies the Link by saying that it will provide 3,700 jobs. That’s planning these days.

It’s great that a new urban development is promised a railway line when it’s barely out of the ground. That’s forward thinking. It’s like the private railways built to new suburbs in the Nineteenth Century (one of which went right through this area until 1987). The new line increases Fisherman’s Bend’s attractiveness in the eyes of developers and investors, even if at some cost. Too bad about the busy institutions that were to share the Parkville railway station in the Metro Rail scheme. These included the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the new Children’s Hospital, the Women’s Hospital, the new Cancer centre, and the Univeristy of Melbourne. These will be serviced by a “key bus route” to North Melbourne…

Transport map
Moving Victoria graphic, 2014

As with the East-West Link, the government has found a way to steer infrastructure dollars into serving marginal electorates and more safely-held South Eastern seats. This time the realignment favours the South, particularly the marginal Albert Park seat. Spring Street rumour has it that the resident Labour MP is preparing to pack his bags.

Rail Link steers clear of servicing Melbourne’s Inner North and West, where the Liberal Party doesn’t have a chance at the election. But Melbourne also happens to be the fastest growing statistical division in the nation. In addition to being the commercial and retail hub, the population jumped 10.5% in 2012-13, 23% if you focus on the CBD alone. Instead of servicing the increasingly dense inner North with several train stations, Rail Link will service an off ramp at the Westgate Freeway with one station.

It was obvious that Premier Napthine was no fan of the Metro Rail project. He was in 2012 but changed his mind this February. His surprise attitude shift is purportedly to do with disruption to Swanston Street – Napthine wants to save it from turning it into a “Berlin Wall” during construction. The reasoning should also apply to East West Link, which will disrupt Alexandra Parade for years with tunnelling, but this appears to be a more palatable sacrifice for the premier.

It’s debatable whether Swanston Street would have become a “Berlin Wall”. Another independent blogger has researched this furphy, coming to the conclusion that cut-and-cover construction of Metro Rail would have been impossible due to Swanston Street’s gradient and the depth that is needed in order to pass beneath the Yarra River. Geological surveys show the trains at least 30 metres beneath the city, requiring tunnel boring. This blogger also makes the point that where Metro Rail passed through solid ground, Rail Link has a much trickier route through the sandy soils that prevail along its whole length. There’s also the slight problem of Melbourne’s main sewer pipe, which is in the path of the line.

So the reasons we’ve been given for the new route are that it passes through a new speculative development project, that it has a higher capacity, that’s it’s a cheaper “two-for-one” deal, and that it won’t cause disruption to Swanston Street. This is blind to the bigger picture, but soon reports will be written that reinforce the government’s opinion. That’s what commissioned reports are for these days (sorry, I have become a little jaded in recent times).

“the Melbourne Rail Link will act as a major catalyst to ignite commercial development in the [Fisherman’s Bend] area.” Moving Victoria: Why Melbourne Rail Link?

The 2008 Eddington study did look at the bigger picture. It seems from this report that it’s a pretty simple equation. To increase the capacity of the rail network and to provide a better service to the outer growth areas, the City Loop needs to have the pressure taken off it. This is what Metro Rail did, by by-passing it. Eddington didn’t think a railway to Doncaster was viable, preferring “smart” buses. But if the time came for it, Doncaster and South Morang lines could have hooked into the North end of Metro Rail. This would remake the lost Northern cross connection, taking a bundle of commuters out of the city. Metro Rail also took the pressure off the three lines Northern and Western lines converging on North Melbourne Station, by taking the Western line on a separate route. Metro Rail wasn’t perfect, but it looked beyond itself in ways that the Rail Link fails to take into account.

Ashworth Report 1940
Ashworth Report, 1940

The path of Metro Rail pops up (approximately) in a report that predates the Eddington report by at least 70 years. Victorian Railways’ Ashworth Report of 1940 shows a line running due North from the CBD and connecting into the now decommissioned line that we know as Linear Park in Princes Hill. The purpose of the Ashworth Report was to set out a decades-long plan of action to better support out-lying suburbs.

The Ashworth Report did include rail to Doncaster, as an extension to the Kew line. But the Kew line was closed in 1952. The VicRoads Headquarters opened on the site of the demolished Kew Railway Station. Fitting, that.

Dr Mees checks the figures

Was Eddington’s Metro Rail all it was cracked up to be? In 2010 the late Paul Mees investigated in great detail the sudden and unexpected appearance of Metro Rail and the Regional Rail Link ( here’s the PDF ). He found it curious that Labour had put them on the table having omitted them from its major “Melbourne 2030” plan of 2002, 2004’s “Linking Melbourne: Metropolitan Transport Plan” and 2006’s “Meeting Our Transport Challenges: Connecting Victorian Communities”. These plans focused on a third track on the Dandenong line. It wasn’t until 2008 that Metro Rail surfaced in Rod Eddington’s road-focused East-West link needs assessment report. Mees found that the Eddington team contained no people with experience in public transport planning, and had based its optimistic rail patronage forecasts on linear extrapolations of old figures – extrapolations that were way off the mark by 2010 when Mees published his study.

Eddington’s report was quickly followed by the last of the biannual transport plans, the Victorian Transport Plan. This promoted the Regional rail Link and Metro Rail project (in a revised form) and dumped the Dandenong line improvements without explanation (as of May 2014 this project is back in a different form).

Mee’s argument against the assumptions behind Metro Rail stems from an earlier paper of his which suggested that the rail network in 2007 was running well below capacity. He noted that Flinders Street station has never been busier than it was in 1929, and that patronage of the system peaked in the 1950s. The official response to Mees came from the Department of Transport, standing up for their Dandenong rail upgrade plans. They said that express trains compromised the system and meant that fewer trains could run than in the past. In 2010, with the once vital Dandenong line work dead in the water, Mees could find no evidence that stacked up for the Metro Rail project. The Eddington team seemed to be borrowing the dud figures justifying the dumped Dandenong improvements for a new project somewhere else.

Those interested should really read the Mees report, as it contains far more relevant and revelatory information than I can nutshell here. Mees’ explosive report suggests that neither of Eddington’s road or rail proposals have been adequately vetted, and that the Benefit Cost Ratios (BCRs) being quoted today are a great deal higher than those calculated in 2008, even though the costs have increased substantially. The “wider economic benefits” forecasts used to inflate these numbers are borrowed from rather fuzzy UK research that is perhaps best left in the UK.

The state government was not too interested in Metro Rail in 2013, looking the gift horse of $3B federal funding in the mouth. State treasurer Michael O’Brien thought there wouldn’t be enough workers for it due to East-West Link construction. Then the federal government changed, the funding evaporated, and they stopped talking about rail.

A possible reason for the government to suddenly regain a keenness for rail is political. In early March, a poll was published finding that only one in four voters thought that The East-West Link was a high priority project. Metro Rail received twice that support. Labour has guaranteed Metro Rail will happen with them. Throw in a train to the airport, and at first glance the incumbents are ahead of Labour in their commitment to rail.

In May I watched as the PTV website steadily removed its Metro Rail content – it seemed to have been caught out by the announcement as their Metro Rail page was still available a week after the Rail Link announcement – it now redirects to the Department of Transport’s Rail Link page, suggesting to me that the PTV had little, if anything to do with the switch. While it’s still available, check out the PTV’s Metro Rail video here . You might then compare it with the government’s new video for the Rail Link. Both are well-spun. The figures stated appear to be based on a trail of assumptions that gets cloudy rather quickly.

Having poked around for the last month or so and found more questions than answers, I reckon that the MRL is an expedient and fairly useless approximation of the Metro Rail project. Metro Rail was a project which was fast-tracked from pre-feasibility to contract documentation without the proper steps in-between. Why? Maybe it’s easier and looks better to invest billions in infrastructure and jobs than to ask Public Transport Victoria to improve its timetabling. Maybe it looks better to concentrate money on big-ticket projects in the central city than spread it quietly through the expanding suburbs where roads rule and rail fails.

“The real problem with the Melbourne rail system is what the international expert Professor Vukan Vuchic calls ‘self-defence of incompetence’, as the Department of Transport and Connex collaborate to shield each other from suggestions that efficiency can be improved. Rather than fixing this problem, Eddington proposes to reward the incompetence with $8.5 billion in capital funding.” Paul Mees, 2008

Dr Mees, I think we need you back.


top image: Magritte’s time transfixed, 1938

20.06.14 in urban-planning 


Its hard isn’t it to assess these things when so few details are provided, like whether swanston st would have to be dug up or not. Or of course any political reasons. Four instance, not sure if the MRL was decided on because it advantages liberal voting areas instead of labour ones – surelky they would concentrate on marginals ? If it increases service on frankston line that would make sense, but as you say easier ways to do that, not mention actually building the Southland station. Anyhoo, I rekon they’ve chosen this one because a. its cheaper (probably, and as you say pputs off spending anything anytime soon), b. encourages development at fish bend (though only one end really) but mainly c. there’s an airport rail line connected to the southeast – I think they think that’s a vote winner generally (though it doesn’t seem to have generated much positive noise, and oddly at the same time the EWL and tulla widening would make driving easier). And as you say, nothing will happen for years….

by rohan on 6 August 14 ·#

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A sentiment in a minor key see more

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is out of the way now, sandwiched between The Presidio military barracks and a residential neighbourhood. It was out on the edge because it it sits on what used to be the swampy 635 acre home of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (“The Innocent Fair”). There’s little left to see of the buildings that made up the expo, but it was well-documented – here’s a good glimpse showing the Palace in construction.

PPIE 1915 documentary (11:52 for The Palace of Fine Arts)

All up the fair cost fifty million U.S. dollars (about $1.15B in today’s dollars). Its centrepiece was the Tower of Jewels, covered in 125,000 shimmering Bohemian glass jewels fixed to mirrors. Highlights were the auto assembly plant presented by Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison’s light shows. And then there was The Palace of Fine Arts. It’s a complex that in a functional sense housed an art exhibit, but to Bernard Maybeck it was a carefully-engineered emotional procession.

The commission for the Palace originally belonged to architect Willis Polk, but Polk put Maybeck forward in his stead. Perhaps this was an example of the gallantry of a time past, or the pragmatic solution of a busy man (Polk was chairing the architectural commission for the entire fair). However the job came to Maybeck, he took great care to address Fine Arts director John Trask’s vision. The brief spoke of the mood required for a building housing fine arts in the midst of a noisy and colourful world’s fair, and Maybeck responded.

“The Fine Arts suggest the romantic after the classic renaissance… These nomenclatures, ‘romantic’, ‘classic’, etc. are usually covered by the word ‘atmosphere’… For instance, when [Trask] said that he did not want the visitors to come directly from a noisy boulevard into galleries of pictures… Mr. Trask not only wanted the mind of the visitor to be in a tranquil mood, but he worried lest the high coloring on the outside of the building would dull the eye of the visitor to the delicate tones and shades of some of the pictures.” Bernard Maybeck

Postcard - Maybeck Palace - Uni Berkeley collection
Source: Berkeley EDA
Palace of Fine Arts
“high colouring”

“Summing up my general impression, I find that the keynote of a Fine Arts Palace should be that of sadness modified by the feeling that beauty is a soothing Influence.. To make a Fine Arts Building that will fit this…impression, we must use those forms in architecture and gardening that will affect the sentiments in such a way as to produce the same modified sadness as the galleries do… you examine a historic form and see whether the effect it produced on your mind matches the feeling you are trying to portray…a sentiment in a minor key.” Bernard Maybeck

His inspiration for focusing on emotion seems to have been drawn from a visit to a gallery in Munich. Having “dragged” himself past a great variety of artworks, he emerged into the sunshine. “All at once our eyes fell on the marble bust of a five-year-old boy cleverly portraying a little mischief, and underneath the bust were the words, “Dear God, make me pious,” – and we smiled.” He noticed the “drawn” expressions of other exiting the gallery and how they relaxed into smiles upon seeing the bust. “We realized right there that an art gallery was a sad and serious matter.”

Same for the surrounding lake. Maybeck wanted something that was a little less dismal than Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead series, and found it nearby at Clear Lake, “where the trees and bushes seem to rise out of the water.” This choice also may have helped his design fit into an exposition that he believed expressed California. Emotionally, the colonnade and lake were hoped to be a kind of decompression chamber for those leaving the “strain of the galleries”, before reentering the “hustle and bustle” of the fair.

Maybeck wasn’t quite as expansive about another building he designed for the Fair, The House of Hoo Hoo. Much lesser known than the Palace, the House of Hoo Hoo looked like a South Seas tiki lounge crossed with a Franciscan Mission temple. It did share some similarities with the design for the Palace of Fine Arts, particularly in its planter-topped pediments – though at the Palace the plants were pulled for budgetary reasons. This must have been a great disappointment to him, as it seems quite intergal to his vision of the colonnade as a ruin, being overtaken by nature.

It’s reasonably safe to say that the Palace of Fine Arts was the most popular building at the Fair, and was of more note that the art (“ancients and moderns”) housed within. But it had definitely not been built to last… built of timber framing coated in staff, it had a life expectancy of two years. Even while the exposition was still in progress, efforts began to preserve this peculiar fusion of Greek, Roman, Baroque, and.. Maybeck, for the long term.

When the exhibition ended in December, most of the buildings were torn down. There wasn’t much holding them together so that wasn’t hard. Bernard Maybeck made an unusual request around this time – that his attempt at a melancholic, Piranesian palace of ruins should be left to become an actual ruin. But by then the Palace was pretty much assured of some sort of preservation – while the Exposition was running a public fund was launched to preserve the buildings and lake. In 1917 Assemblyman Milton Marks introduced a bill aimed at preserving the Palace. It would be the first of many attempts by Marks, Caspar Weinberger, and many others, to save it. But it was to be a while before anyone came to rescue the Palace, so Maybeck’s wish came true and it began to crumble. If that really was Maybeck’s wish…

Contemporary correspondence with Walter Burley-Griffin, who was toiling away on Canberra town, reveals a different, canny Maybeck. He suggested to Burley-Griffin that building in cheap lightweight materials is a cunning way to encourage funding for a more permanent version. Research by Gary Brechin has unearthed Griffin’s resigned response.. “plaster or stucco are hardly considered as temporary expedients [in Australia] for they are largely employed for buildings both commercial and governmental, already deemed to be permanent.”

It is tricky to work out quite what Maybeck thought of his buildings at the fair – his explanations over the decades weren’t exactly consistent. In an interview with Ben Macomber at the time of the Exposition, he hinted that the public were intrigued by the Palace not because of its architectural mastery… more like its old tricks.

“What is it the people like?” he asked, and himself replied, “it is the water and the trees.” When I reminded him of the beauty of the colonnade seen from points in the enclosed passageway, where no water is in view, he answered: “The public was bribed to like that. Leaving off the roof between the colonnade and the gallery was a direct bribe. A few other simple devices give the effect the people like. One of these is the absence of windows in the walls, a device well known to the old Italians. Others are the water, the trees, and the flower covered pergolas on the roof.” The Jewel City

Two decades after, Maybeck and White returned to the Palace, spending $500,000 in city funds on preservation. The US army also worked on it during World War II. In the following two decades, while discussions swirled about the future of the Palace, the buildings themselves were left to rot again. After reading about the building’s fluctuating condition over the decades, its hard to believe that it received much in the way of maintenance.

There were numerous suggestions put forward for the buildings, including a rather unpopular one from the AIA in 1952…

“The Northern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects prepared a report… recommend[ing] that the Rotunda and Colonnade be torn down, and that the exposition hall at the back be repaired for modern use. (The estimated demolition costs were $50,000; the estimated repair costs were $1,000,000.) The lagoon was to be saved, and modern sculpture placed about it. This report which reflected the crass business-esthetics of most practicing architects was later repudiated by certain members of the committee.” National Park Service 1964

In 1951 Maybeck was awarded the AIA Gold Medal. He was entering his Nineties but still contributed to the discussion about the Palace. By then he was saying that if rebuilding was to occur, it should be in Golden Gate Park, the original location intended for the Exposition before it was relegated to swampland. Maybeck died in 1957 at the age of 95. The following year the Palace was still looking good from a distance in its brief Vertigo cameo, but up close it was a different story.

1958: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, still via Lady Eve

Walter Evans, Met
1960: Walter Evans

Photographer Walter Evans visited the site in 1960. The cheap staff stucco cladding was breaking off exposing the framing, and the artifice. Evans’ photos were part of a giant set he took of “doomed architecture”, commissioned by Time-Life (the entire collection can be viewed at The Met’s online archive ). It was possibly this exposure, and not-too-distant memories of the Exposition, that helped build the momentum for preservation. The nine page feature also alerted New Yorkers to the imminent loss of Penn Station, but it was too late to save that.

Demolition of Palace of Fine Arts

Funding uncertainty continued right into 1964, the year the Palace was demolished and rebuilding began. The architect in charge was to be William Merchant, who as a student in Maybeck’s office designed many of the plaster details for the Palace. But he died, not long after all his ornamental moulds for the Palace had been unthinkingly destroyed. The project passed on to Hans Gerson.

A cursory look at before and after photos reveals a number of differences between the original and the facsimilie, especially the loss of the unadorned half-round walls at the water’s edge in front of the rotunda. It looks paler too, cream where it should be “high colour”. Critical opinion, personified in Ada Louise Huxtable, was not on the side of the recreation. She wrote of the loss of, “the integrity of a work of art as expressive of its time, the folly of second-hand substitutes for first-rate inventions, the aesthetics and ethics of duplication measured against creative art.” Criticism is expressive of its time too. I wonder how she would have reacted if she’d heard of Maybeck’s letter to Burley-Griffin half a century before, in which he suggests that an original can be a cheap prototype, luring funding for its reconstruction in proper materials.

By the 21st Century the Palace was again ailing, again in need, and again rescued. A major nip and tuck was completed three years ago, costing about $21M. Judging from Google Images, this could easily have been funded by a levy on wedding photographers using it as a backdrop.

So we’re left to celebrate the centenary of a building that is an approximate replica of a ‘ruin’ that became a real ruin 50 years ago. There’s a tangle for you. The lightweight materials were replaced with reinforced concrete, joints visible. It’s sturdy, but still not the stone it was never meant to be.

palace - bing aerial
Bing Maps aerial view 2014


19.06.14 in buildings heritage


The silver fern see more

The silver fern has come to represent almost everything to do with New Zealand. There are a lot of ferns there so that makes sense. Weirdly enough, my great grandfather suggested it, well over a hundred years ago. Tamati Rangiwahia Erihana (Thomas Ellison, Ngai Tahu and Te Ati Awa) was a footballer of some repute, being the first coach of the New Zealand Rugby Team. At the first meeting of the NZRU in 1893 he suggested— a shift from the dark blue uniform with a gold fern to a, “black jersey with silver fernleaf, black cap with silver monogram, and white knickerbockers.” They kept them well-clad back then. The silver colour comes from the underside of the common ponga, or Cyathea Dealbata, a fern used by Māori for bedding. Ellison and team had worn this uniform on the Native Rugby Team overseas tour in 1888. His motion was accepted and so the uniform changed and has been pretty constant since, apart from a change to black shorts in 1901.

All blacks postcard
1905 postcard suggesting a uniform change.

Ellison published a book in 1902, “The Art of Rugby Football”. I’ve known of this book for so long that I never stopped to consider its title, until I read a post about it by Jock Phillips suggesting that, “at its best rugby is truly an art form, where people running unusual lines and passing at speed make the game almost a form of ballet. I know this is derided as ‘razzle-dazzle’ by the purists; but that is the rugby which I love.”

From small beginnings, the use of the silver fern in company branding in New Zealand has recently exploded. In 1991 it got to the point that the NZRFU attempted to stop it with a trademark, but failed. The fern is out of the bag and belongs to everyone. It’s been overexposed like any national icon. It’s gotten to the point that the silver fern is a serious contender for a new national flag, one that differentiates it more from the Australian flag, which is the same flag with an extra star.

With the extraordinary powers of modern web search, it’s easy to find out more than the official histories have been able to dredge up. Once again, history has been simplified into something a little too neat and tidy.

In 1925, a controversy— erupted in the New Zealand media about the origins of the silver fern. Other sporting codes were wanting to use the silver fern. People were still alive who had been on the 1888 rugby tour so it wasn’t too hard for the Evening Post to find an opinion or two. Apparently— the silver fern was picked up almost by accident on a trip to the Wairarapa in the late 1880s.

“Mr. Hyland claims that it was on the occasion of a Wellington-Wairarapa Rugby match in 1886 or 1887 that the fern leaf was first adopted as a badge. The Wellington team was journeying to Wairarapa when a stop was made at Hayward’s Farm. “Miss Hayward gave one of our boys a ‘fern leaf,” said Mr. Hyland, “and asked him to wear it for luck. Before taking the field for the match the player pinned the fern leaf over the W.R.U. badge, and luck was with us! Tom Ellison and Davie Gage passed the remark that the fern leaf would make a better badge than the one we were wearing. In 1888 when the Native team was chosen to go to Australia and. England, the question of a suitable, monogram and badge cropped up. Tom Ellison, Davie Gage, and George Williams recommended the silver fern leaf, and this was adopted. The black uniform with silver fern leaf on the jersey was worn by the 1888 Native team, and the silver fern leaf was also worn as a hat badge. The Wellington Rugby representatives wore the black uniform years before, with a shield monogram and gold lettering.”

Ellison’s own team, the Poneke Football Club, one of three senior teams in Wellington, wore black and red in the 1880s, and were known as the “Reds”. Back to the 1925 article:

“Mr. Collis states that he recently had a conversation with George Wynyard (better known as “Sherry”), a member of the 1888 Native team, and an older brother of W. T. (“Tabby”) Wynyard, of Wellington. It was ascertained from George Wynyard that he was present at Wellington when Joe Warbrick, captain of the Native team, chose the all black jersey and silver fern leaf as the uniform of the team. George Wynyard also said that each member of the team, when in mufti, wore a black button relieved by two silver fern leaves, in the lapel of his coat. The all black jersey was selected as being most suitable in colour to withstand the wet and sloppy playing fields which were likely to be experienced in England.”

These remarks were verified by another member of the squad. But when the Native team arrived in England in late 1888, the Evening Post’s correspondent wasn’t very taken with— the new uniform.

About a minute after three o’clock the Welshmen entered the field, looking as fresh as paint in their white pants and scarlet jerseys, and a few minutes afterwards the New Zealanders appeared, and were accorded a very hearty reception. The Maoris were altogether heavier than their opponents, though their black uniform did not show up so well against the green sward as the more attractive dress of the Welshmen.”

40 years later the press still found it— a little sombre, but functional at least.

“The All Blacks get their name from the uniform they wear, for it is in truth all Black. The only touch of colour in the sombre uniform of New Zealand’s team is lent by the Silver Fern, which is worn on the breast of each member of the team. This uniform, when placed alongside the gayer habiliments of other teams, certainly looks dull, but it is extermely neat, and stands much more wear and tear than do other football uniforms.”

Silver Fern cap
1888/89 tour cap NZHistory

While their dark uniform was raising eyebrows in 1888, Ellison was picking up— on many game tactics that would later inform his book.

“[Ellison’s] trip with the Native team to England had enabled him to pick up an immense number of ideas and wrinkles, and, although there have been many most able football generals in this and other places in the colony, I doubt very much whether any of them ever understood the game in all its branches, both forward and back, as thoroughly as did Ellison. Moreover, as a forward, and especially as a try-getting one, he probably has never had a superior in the colony. For Warbrick’s team he secured more tries than any other member, with the exception of Keogh, who, playing at half-back, certainly had better opportunities to score. Ellison was quick to pick up an opposing team’s system, or lack of one, as the case may be and, by a counter movement or two, would rudely upset all their tactics.”

So maybe Ellison didn’t ‘invent’ the sliver fern, as some have said, but he did assist it into immortality. As Dr Ron Palenski, a Dunedin historian, says, “Without Ellison, you wouldn’t be talking about it.”

I think the rugby-playing genes were completely used up on Ellison. I am quite incapable of playing it. That honour goes to Ellison’s great great grandnephews, Tamati and Jacob Ellison – both recent or current All Blacks and doing a fine job of it.

After a brief but remarkable career in rugby, law, and politics, Thomas Ellison died— in 1904 at the age of 37.

“Private news received— here (says the Carterton Leader) states that Mr T. R. Ellison, well known in football circles, is dying in the Porirua Asylum. The sadness of such an end to a young man – he is about 36 years of age – is accentuated by the fact that Mrs Ellison is at present in an extremely delicate state of health. It is stated that over-study was the cause of the breakdown in Mr Ellison’s health.”

Ellison’s body was intercepted at the Porirua train station and taken for burial at his iwi’s marae at Otakou— , Otago. Within a month of his death, the Public Trustee was advertising the sale of his newly-built house in Day’s Bay. Construction finished after he was hospitalised.

A year later the British press christened— the visiting NZ team the “All Blacks”. Skipping forward a century to 2005, Ellison’s suggestion for a haka, Chief Te Rauparaha’s “Ka Mate” was replaced with “Ponga Ra”, meaning “Silver Fern”.

All Blacks profile
NZ Encyclopaedia
ODT 2011 ‘Man behind the black jersey buried on peninsula’

21.05.14 in random-debris 


Great piece PJ. So much I had no idea about. X

by Jess on 24 August 14 ·#

page listing related:   in  New Zealand   Wellington  

Finding planes see more

I’ve spent a little time taking part in the aerial web search for the missing plane, MH370. Here are a few useful links I’ve found, and tips if you’re considering having a go. It’s good to have Photoshop or Gimp on hand… as well as an internet connection.

tomnod screenshot
TOMNOD screenshot

  • TOMNOD MH370 grid search: link
  • Boeing 777-200 safety card, with emergency slide positions: link
  • Boeing 777 liferaft information: link and then scroll
  • Boeing 777 product page: link
  • Boeing 777 drawings with dimensions: link
  • Malaysian Air livery: search at google images.

Step 1: Scan the aerial photos -TOMNOD will drop you somewhere in the Indian Ocean and you can navigate from there. You can create a login to keep track, but it’s optional. Bear in mind that the scale is small, the ruler at the bottom should give you an idea of the approximate size of a 777 (63.7m long with a 60.9m wing span). Remember the aircraft may have broken up so also keep an eye open for yellow octagonal liferafts and grey slide-rafts. Also note that these images were taken a few days later. When you think you’ve seen something…

Step 2: Screenshot the area of interest (on a mac hold command+shift+control+4) and paste it into a new photoshop document. Zoom in. Adjust the levels to darken it a bit. If you think it’s a contender, enlarge the image two or three times.

Step 3: Paste in the plane plan from the boeing link above and scale to the correct size using the ruler. If it still looks like a possibility, use the TOMNAD controls to register the location.

Here’s my example. It’s from the upper left of map 114154. I thought I found some liferafts nearby too, but it’s always going to be a long shot.

plane search method

19.03.14 in random-debris 


Nearly 3 months later and we are still cutting and pasting and we have not found it….
Who needs unmanned submarines.

by Mike Nowson on 12 July 14 ·#

page listing related:  

Problems see more

The site was shifted today to a new server and there are a few problems. Sorry about that, attempting to fix them all now. The new server is running slightly different software causing some scripts to choke.

Update: the frontend problems are hopefully just limited to the forum now. As for the backend..

27.02.14 in random-debris 


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Pruitt Igoe - the film see more

You know the photos and the footage. In case you don’t here it is, complete with prevailing attitude courtesy of Robert Hughes.

According to Hughes, “every sort of Corbusian amenity” did not “improve” the tenants, who ripped it apart. I’ve been waiting a while for the film “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” to become available and now it is, and for a short while (until mid February) it’s streaming freely on the web at World Channel.

Spoilers follow
As the film will only be up for a short time, and because I can’t stop thinking about it, here’s a very quick run down.

It wasn’t Corbusier who killed this St Louis project. Or Minoru Yamasaki. Tenants initially loved the place – and its cleanliness. It was a far cry from the toxic inner city slums they left. But it wasn’t a popular development with local politicians, bankers and developers – they didn’t mind helping to construct it with federal funds but it had no use to them after that. So there were no funds to maintain the giant complex – all operational costs had to be paid out of the tenants’ rent.

The estate was built in 1952 to cater to an optimistic population explosion in St Louis that never came to pass. Not only did St Louis’s population steadily decrease from then on, it also spread out as the suburban dream took hold. As elsewhere, the city started to empty and rents dropped. Pruitt Igoe was not full, and could not be maintained with the rents of those who remained.

There were good reasons for people to move out and back into private dwellings if they could, but they weren’t architectural. Public housing, according to the film, was a sort of punishment for being poor and you weren’t allowed to forget it. Able-bodied men were not allowed in, so families had to separate to gain access. Fathers were occasionally smuggled in and frequently had to hide in closets. If that doesn’t sound punitive enough, how about the ban on telephones and televisions in the early years?

As the complex deteriorated physically and socially, vandalism increased and drug lords took over empty buildings. Emergency services refused to go anywhere near it. It’s a sobering tale, but its fault lay more with its city fathers and its size, rather than its architecture. This film tells the story well, from the tenants’ point of view.

Why they built the Pruitt Igoe project Alexander von Hoffman
Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University.
Pruitt Igoe Now 2012 competition.

04.02.14 in urban-planning films


Melbourne: why parts of it are starting to feel like Hong Kong  see more

by contributor Rohan Storey

Having worked in the fringes of the planning industry since the early 1990s, especially dealing with big projects in the central city, I now have to concede that all that I thought was good about planning in the city area has now basically gone.

Podiums are out of fashion, and wind effects, not to mention tower setbacks from each other, and cumulative shadowing of streets (when the tower is on the north side anyway) seem not to be a concern. Tall skinny towers on small sites exacerbate all these issues. My take is more political than architectural, but both are in the mix for driving the changes that will soon make parts of our city very dense indeed, in a way quite the opposite of the vision set down in the 1980s, and still, supposedly, in force. Amongst many other things that was a vision that saw the comfort of the pedestrian as primary, and so encouraged towers setback above people-scaled (and heritage-building scaled) podiums, which also avoided the notorious wind effects towers in Melbourne create, and spaced enough to ensure some sunlight made it to streets level.

Vision, 500 Elizabeth Street
Vision, 500 Elizabeth Street, 72 floors

I was shocked when images started appearing of designs of tall no-setback towers, because I knew that the City of Melbourne Urban Design Guidelines stated that a podium should be included – but I realised that since 1999, with the introduction of new-format ‘performance-based’ Planning Schemes, it’s not mandatory, it’s ‘policy’. The same thing happened to plot-ratio, the tool that most cities use to encourage or force good design and control densities – it was made into policy, and applied only per-block rather than per-site, and now it’s simply ignored.

The other big change in the last 10 years was that most of these towers, suddenly it seemed to me, were so tall they were over 25,000 sqm, and so were dealt with by the Department of Planning, not the City of Melbourne. The Department has its own culture, and under Justin Madden started allowing no-setback towers from the early 2000s, without a peep from the City of Melbourne, or at least noises that anyone could hear. The City of Melbourne didn’t help by starting a trend – issuing a permit in 2001 for the silly apartments-on-the-boundary on Wills Street that is now causing problems for next door. The Department at the same time permitted the BHP Billiton tower with no setback on Lonsdale Street, and Elenberg Fraser’s Liberty Tower on Spencer & Collins, with no podium to speak of and no setback on Collins Street. Looking back, they were the first relatively minor breaches of the guidelines.

Then came the towers on ever smaller blocks – perhaps this was pushed by developers, or by architects as developers, or by architects using new technologies to assist developers to maximise site potential. They were also assisted by a lack of concern from the Department who apparently had only minimal requirements, and soon developed a culture of more and taller is better, perhaps mixed with an admiration for all the glassy wibbly-wobbly designs (which I quite like actually, assuming they turn out as glamorous as the renderings) and didn’t see any problems with wind effects, street overshadowing, or tower spacing. They probably started off with a vague notion that towers in the central city should get some slack because it’s the best place for them, and will slow urban sprawl (though they obviously aren’t), but certainly under Mr Guy’s leadership, the intention is now that they will take the pressure off the leafy middle suburbs (where now a 3 or 4 storey height limit will soon apply over most of those leafy streets).

Phoenix Apartments
Phoenix Apartments in contrsuction, Flinders Street. When complete 29 floors (reduced from 41). VCAT approved following council rejection.

The Department has its own culture because they do everything without scrutiny. They rarely get challenged by public submissions, since there are rarely dedicated residents or businesses nearby who can make professional submissions, there are no meetings to attend, and the CBD is an everything-goes zone anyway, so no possibility of VCAT. In fact the Department has been surprised on occasion when I said I wanted to make a submission!

So it has merrily gone on its own way, ignoring all the Urban Design Guidelines about podiums, tower spacing and plot ratio. The CBD is in the process of being dotted with towers with no or minimal podiums, some very close to other towers (or each other) that themselves were built too close to side boundaries, many in the 10m wide ‘little’ streets, or even smaller lanes, some even facing each other, and a big cluster between the Vic Market and RMIT, and of course Southbank. These little sections of our city are indeed going to look Hong Kong-ish pretty soon, though a bit zippier. But these no-or-practically no setback towers are now creeping into the city proper, like the giant 35 Spring Street, and Tower Melbourne. Collins Street will be next, and there goes years of careful planning that has retained a low scale streetscape, with setback towers in the most part. In the future, only the height limited heritage-listed precincts of the city will still feel like ‘Melbourne’, assuming those controls aren’t dumped as well …….

Rohan Storey

26.10.13 in urban-planning 


There are worse places to become like…at least Hong Kong has character! Though I do of course see your point

by Ben on 6 February 14 ·#

And then the pause see more

For anyone still happening to pass by here of their own volition, it’s been a little quiet. Blogging is a funny thing. You start off wanting to share anything you touch, then after a certain number of years you become much more selective. And interrogative. That seems to be the case here. The short pithy posts you will find on social media, here I’m now trying to do something more. You’ll see the most of the posts this year are quite long – in fact they took several months to put together – I’m not sure how the likes of Geoff Manuagh et al manage to do them so swiftly, but I seem to take my time.

There are in fact about five or even ten posts simmering away that I have written, and a couple by others. I will get to them eventually. I think they are pretty interesting. It’s perhaps a luxury of a problem – I get too busy at work and my “to do” list gets a lot longer than my arm, and this blog ends up trailing at the end, waiting for some attention. I end up doing paid work that is very similar to what I do here for nowt.

I am thinking of terminating the events section, which takes a lot of time for little response, and making this more of a ‘pure’ blog. Others are now in the fray doing that ‘current events’ stuff more effectively, with salaried people. Not sure where I’ll end up with this, but I’m afraid it ain’t going to stop for a while.

Thought burst over. Hopefully a real post soon.

17.10.13 in random-debris 


page listing related:  

The missing link see more

The term “missing link” was originally applied to old fossils. It’s fitting that it is now being used to describe Melbourne’s East West Link. This little project has been floating about since the 1950s, but in it’s current form it can be traced back to a suggestion from Premier Jeff “the quiff” Kennett in 1999. It’s been looked into since, but has always been a political impossibility, and a waste of money… until now. The planets are aligning and Dr Napthine and Tony Abbott can see the project’s “electoral” potential. As long as it’s sold in the right way to the right voters. These voters live in Melbourne’s East, in some of the most marginal electorates in the country. They’re been tempted with a big carrot – a faster run down the Eastern Freeway in the morning rush. We’re told that this run has slowed down 20kph since 2001, which is true, but only because there was a short-lived speed spike in 2001 after the opening of City Link.

Once they’ve had their leisurely drive on the Eastern, most of our drivers will land straight back into the usual traffic jams. There are no tunnel exits along Alexandra Parade, where most drivers continuing beyond Hoddle Street turn North or South. It’s the lucky one in 5, or 1 in 10 depending on where you read, attempting to journey beyond Royal Parade who will now have the option of driving through the $6 – $8B tolled tunnel, saving quite a few minutes. The lucky tunnel drivers may be a little intimidated when they realise they’ll be sharing these tunnels with the B-double and B-triple trucks for whom this expensive short cut is really being built (an East West planner told me so). Imagine what it would be like to drive between two of these road beasts in a tunnel…

A B-triple up close

These trucks currently haul their freight between the ports and industrial hubs using CityLink, the Monash, and Westgate bridge. The growing number of container trucks enables our collective preference for cheap imported goods over locally-manufactured ones. By weight, imports at the Ports of Melbourne far outweigh exports. Most are from China, and many are cars. Most attract no import tariffs. Demand is straining the ports’ capacity to deal with its cargo. The East West Link’s purpose is to redistribute some of this load from CityLink and the over-stretched Westgate Bridge. It’s odd that they’re starting at the Eastern end, as the Westgate is over in the West.

Freight through Port of Melbourne

Just before they left office in 2010, Labor announced that West Link construction would start by 2014, though they hadn’t found the money. The newly elected Liberals swapped the start point over to the Eastern end without much explanation. It’s pretty easy to guess the main reason…

2010 electoral results map
2010 state election results map showing East West Stage 1 (wikipedia)

You’d expect oddities like this to be made sense of in the business case. But the short form business case issued to Infrastructure Australia is a promotional brochure containing some rather hopeful numbers and, oddly, lots of photos of trams. The most optimistic number, and the most important, is 1.4. This is the benefit-cost ratio that pushes East West Link just ahead of the Metro Rail project (1.2). West Link was only 1.16. Quite how the benefits came to be this high isn’t explained. The clue is in the small print. This BCR contains within it “Wider Economic Benefits” for the state. This is naughty, as the BCR required by Infrastructure Australia is meant to be for the project alone – otherwise it gets very difficult to compare apples. Allan Davies at Crikey has found that the figures don’t even add up. The case was submitted after the deadline, after announcing that East West would proceed, and after securing a $1.5B starter fund pledge from federal opposition leader Tony Abbott. If the Coalition win next month’s election, Infrastructure Australia has been bypassed.

Infrastructure Australia’s current head honcho is Rod Eddington, who under a different hat wrote the influential 2008 report recommending the East West Link. He knows more about the big picture than the state government, and he well knows what’s wrong with this version of his project – the more important Western end has been neglected, and his integrated rail improvements have been omitted completely. That last one will be particularly grating for Eddington, as he went to great pains in his 2008 report to point out that for Melbourne’s transport system, no action on rail was not an option. He found that suburban rail improvements cannot start until the CBD has the capacity to absorb the extra trains, which is what Metro Rail is there to do.

In mid August, Premier Napthine finally got behind Metro Rail, though he did say he didn’t like the name. Tony Abbott however remains against it: “We will not be committing to the Metro Rail scheme, I’ve made that absolutely crystal clear”.

Based on the costs of Perth’s rail line down the middle of the Kwinana Freeway, a rail line running from Victoria Park along the Eastern’s median to Doncaster could be built for $894M. An extra $300M would take it through to Parkville and Metro Rail, and provide the only East West rail in the city. Instead parts of this median will become asphalt, limiting future rail options.

“Manningham has a population comparable with Geelong, but while Geelong
has a frequent train service to the city with 160 kilometre an hour trains,
Manningham residents have no such service. They also face a longer journey by bus if they choose not to use their cars.” Professor Bill Russell, Unimelb ABP

Then and now, across Melbourne’s road network.

  2001 2011
Population 3.5M 4.1M
Vehicle kms 23.5 billion 27.5 billion
Truck kms 1.7B 2.1B
Avg. car speed, AM peak 37kph 35kph
Avg. tram speed, AM peak 15.2kph 15.0kph
AM rush duration 1.75 hrs 2.75hrs
People per car, AM peak 1.20 1.12
Road traffic increase +20%
Public transport increase +60%

{ sources: vicroads and charting transport }

Traffic (per day, both directions)
Westgate Bridge: 170K, growing at 2.1%
Eastern Freeway at Hoddle St: 135k, growing at 1.8%p.a.
{source: The Age }

This project will increase traffic on the Eastern Freeway, providing an alternative to the M1. Here’s a live traffic map from right now, at 6.55pm on a Friday illustrating why this might be required.

Melbourne traffic on a Friday night in August
Google Maps + traffic overlay

Google Maps now allows you to display average traffic flows from any time of the day or week. It’s a powerful and accurate tool that lets us take a closer look at the Eastern Freeways traffic problem. The “slow = red” problem on the inner Eastern is a little hard to find, as it only gets bad between 8.00 a.m. and 8.15 a.m. from Monday to Thursday. I’m sure those stuck in it will have a different perspective.

So who is stuck in it? Recent monitoring tell us that 80% of morning car commuters are travelling alone – this percentage has increased about four percent since the government discontinued car pooling initiatives. 70% (not a typo) of freeway drivers in the morning rush aren’t going to work, they’re dropping kids at school, or going to the gym. 17% are off to the shops or to play, compared to 3% 35 years ago. The current government is keen for all these drivers to stay in their cars as they offer no demand-side initiatives to lower vehicle use, their sole focus is to supply more road for them. This only buys a little more time.

There is a small, quietly announced element of the East West Link that doesn’t defy common sense. Traffic lights and variable speed limits are to be installed along the Eastern Freeway. This will relieve congestion, for a while. This is about all that is being done that’s of direct benefit for the bulk of commuters driving into town. Outbound drivers will get a new bridge to drive over or under. It won’t improve travel times a jot but it will be a lasting “cheese sticks” monument to Premier Napthine.

They’ve already tried traffic calming measures on the M1 (Monash), as part of the recent improvements. The tollway flowed more freely for a while – now it’s back to where it was. This is the way it works – make a road faster and more people will opt to use it instead of arterial roads or trains, slowing it back down till it is barely tolerable.

A government that says it’s broke and can’t fund TAFE is throwing all its coins (and more) into a new road that will benefit few for not very long. Infrastructure Australia classifies it as a freight project yet it’s being sold as a commuter congestion fixer. In committing to this, other more urgent projects are put in the back seat (post 2020). It’s this last effect that makes East West Link a good example of a vote-driven government that is blind to the big picture.

This brief summary of events hardly scrapes the surface. There is more to this argument than the “trains vs. tolls” placards tell us. Being a fat line through the inner North of Melbourne, the East West Link touches on many issues beyond its immediate neighbourhood. I believe they are all important and affect how we will dwell in this city in the future.

I have brutally compacted some of the other chapters of the East West Link story below. These are extracted from a 6000 word post that got a little out of control.

  • The often stated 20km speed drop on the freeway over the period 2001 to 2011… is not. The 2001 figure spiked, probably due to the opening of CityLink. Less dramatic figures are found for the period 2002 to 2012.
  • Traffic estimates for the new tunnel (80 – 100,000 per day) would require significant extra traffic on the Eastern Freeway.
  • The Linking Melbourne has private evidence that, “most of the traffic is trying to get across town”. This evidence contradicts all other reports and monitoring.
  • In 2003, 37% of incoming freeway traffic turned South onto Hoddle Street. Using freedom of information laws, The Age obtained a recent study for the government and concludes from it that, “only a small proportion of the cars, trucks and buses clogging Hoddle Street are likely to use the tunnel as an alternative if there are no off-ramps to the city.” There are no on or off-ramps proposed except in Royal Park.
  • The tunnel would reduce Alexandra Parade traffic only negligibly and temporarily as 90% of it is not making the full trip across to Flemington Road.
  • Options to lessen the Eastern Freeway congestion through time-of-day congestion charges are not being examined.
  • Peak hour traffic has doubled since the Seventies. The morning peak is now much greater than the afternoon peak, being heavily concentrated around 8.30 a.m. The afternoon has a double peak now due to school pickups, which generate more trips than evening commutes. Initiatives to spread the morning peak don’t exist.
  • All-day traffic on Alexandra Parade has been steadily decreasing since 2002.
  • The stated aim of easing congestion does not take into account unlocking latent demand.

“It is not evident that the impact of the East West Link on future traffic congestion levels has to date been adequately analysed and assessed.” Auditor General, April 2013

  • Increases in traffic are driven in part by land use decisions in the outer suburbs, which do not take into account their affect on the greater road network.
  • Traffic congestion’s effect on productivity is a reason for the project, yet public transport congestion is not shown the same respect. There is an assumption here that public transport can’t assist economic growth, yet the concentration of jobs can’t occur without it. The industries most favoured by this proposal, manufacturing and transport, are the only two that grow better without job agglomeration. They are also the two poorest performing industries in the country.
  • The funding model for the project places the risk with the taxpayer, and prevents private operators from profiting from traffic increases. The operator, should one be found willing to accept the conditions – will build the road and then be its caretaker.
  • All new transport infrastructure in Victoria needs to be assessed using the Transport Integration Act (2010) framework. The Act requires a triple bottom line assessment. This would be interesting to see…
  • Making roads like this more free-flowing probably leads to a short term reduction in emissions, but this is soon cancelled out by increased patronage of the road.
  • Replacing the rail easement with new lanes at the Western end of the freeway is just startlingly short-sighted. Premier Napthine says this project is about “choices and options”, but not for rail.

The Property Council responded to Eddington’s report in 2008 by saying, “We are pleased that Sir Rod Eddington and his team have adopted what appears to be an integrated approach, which does not just provide for the construction of tunnels and roads but seeks to incorporate other improvements to our public transport network, while at the same time promoting alternatives like cycling as part of the solution to our traffic woes”.

  • In 2010 the government implemented four smart buses, optimisticly calling them “Doncaster Area Rapid Transit” (DART). While there is a transit lane on the Eastern Freeway, there is only a South-running one on Hoddle Street, where these buses travel. Crikey author Alan Davies writes that Transport Minister Mulder rejected a North-running one as it would require a clearway, a concept the government has some trouble with. Presently 10,700 DART customers are delayed 15 minute every evening so that 175 on-street car parks can be maintained.
  • Allan Davies (Crikey) recently calculated that subsidies to car travel are equal to those for public transport, but much harder to measure.
  • The argument for public transport isn’t helped by the dire state of the subsidised private system.
  • The Melbourne airport CEO has called for extra lanes on the busy Northern section of the Tullamarine, saying they’ll be immediately needed if the government doesn’t progress the airport rail link (which has been set back further by East West Link’s prioritisation).
  • In addition to the hundreds of private properties that will be flattened in Clifton Hill, Kensington and Moonee Ponds, several public parks, creeks and wetlands are heavily impacted upon.
  • An historic hand-cut railway cutting (GSA ML 69) in Royal Park, used for 120 years as a site for geological tuition, will be removed for the tunnel head. Also the hill behind it.
  • The main sewer for the North East runs along Alexandra Parade and Princes Street. It is a historic structure and will mostly be left intact by the tunnel, meaning that the tunnel will be built beneath housing on the North side of Princes Street.

Sewer along Alexandra Parade

  • The diesel truck-laden City of Maribyrnong, factored out of this project, has more than 20 cases of child respiratory illness requiring hospital admittance per capita, over ten times the figure for the Eastern suburbs.
  • The government is under pressure to find jobs to replace those vanishing on Peninsula Link and the Western Ring Road upgrade, but there appears not to be the same urgency to find jobs for rail builders once the Western regional rail upgrade is complete.
  • Eastern drivers will benefit from the next project in the pipeline – to connect the Eastern Freeway to the Western Ring Road, probably going under the Bulleen wetlands.
  • In 2009 the Labor state government voted in the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Bill, which allows the usually check and balances to be bypassed in the interest of cost and efficiency.

The RACV, in response to Eddington’s 2008 report, “Melbourne’s transport network remains incomplete and there is no comprehensive transport plan for the next 30 to 40 years to provide a context and direction for ongoing developments.” They supported an East West tunnel as part of a multimodal solution, major components of which were to strength cross-town public transport and improvements to rail freight.

Melbourne 2040 - new inner roads
VicRoads wet dream for 2040 – six lane arterial roads connecting a whole lot of “missing links”.

Factual references available on request – there were too many to add.

20.08.13 in urban-planning cities


Great, if deppressing stuff. Sydney road network history shows that roads authority wet dreams have a habit of coming true.

by Ross Turnbull on 20 August 13 ·#

Whereabouts is the diagram titled “VicRoads wet dream for 2040” from?

by Marcus Wong on 22 August 13 ·#

Marcus, ‘tis from here: http://www.theage.com.au/pdf/Melbourne2040.pdf – a 2012 leak.

by peter on 22 August 13 ·#

Wonderful analysis peter – so basically its to please truck operators and outer eastern suburban voters – though does anyone know whether those voters actually want it in its current form ? Only helps drivers get to airport or footscray quicker.

The thing that bugs me – besides the huge cost wrong priority and not only no rail but making it harder – is that the design is messy indeed, surely they looked at other possibly better designs / routes, but I guess we will never see them.

Cant help redesigning it in my head for instance having the main tunnell continue under the park and flem road and surface adjacent to exist citylink furtger south. More expensive but so much neater. And no new freeway even closer to that huge new apt tower and flem commission high-rise- theres already a sound barrier so if new one is even closer will it be totally enclosed ?

I wonder what paramters they used – probably least cost and least property purchase, so it comes out in the park (free space) rather than further away, also explains the only exit being in the park (with a crazy sunken intersection where one in and one out ‘ramp’ cross – traffic lights ???). Guess they thought all that use of parkland could be brazened out, but cut and cover in the park couldnt, though that would make far less expensive.

I feel like sketching out something thats really more of an arterial road with only a short tunnell under the cemetary – all thats needed is three continuous lanes all along, removing bottlenecks, make it faster tbrough traffic management rather than huge tunnell – widening elliott ave to three lanes each way would prob use less park than the current design !

So its all a fait accompli, instead of the commjnity being led through options – even in the us they often have hearings to discuss options. Its like moscow here – you will be purchased theres no options full stop.

by rohan on 14 September 13 ·#

I’m interested to know why they would choose to use public financing for such a project, rather than a PPP delivery or similar.

If they were able to involve contractors now (and in accordance with state guidelines for construction projects, encourage innovation) there could be a completely different link, which caters for freight, it doesn’t destroy as much green space, it could offer a rail corridor, it could acquire more land and create new green spaces to offset losses, etc. There are plenty of possibilities to deliver a road for freight, and benefit the community as well. The current proposal is elementary at best.

The closed door nature of the process so far, as Rohan has pointed out, has been unsavoury and I feel will cost the state dearly in the future.

by Nick on 10 June 14 ·#

page listing related:   in  Australia   Victoria   Melbourne  

Flinders Street maybes see more

For almost a hundred years, Melburnians have been looking at ways to better connect the city with the Yarra River, which had been rudely taken away from them by the Public Transport corporation. One story is well known, the drawn out Gas and Fuel to Federation Square saga. On the other side of the bridge, it’s been no less drawn out.

Who would have thought that less than two decades after the 1910 completion of Flinders Street station, there would have been calls to start again. That was in 1925, and the reason was congestion. The next attempt was in 1949, when James Alexander Smith proposed to rebuild it and roof over the railway yards. Again, that proposal didn’t take hold. In 1958 theatre architect Neville Hollinshed had a go. He was responsible for the Comedy, the Metro, Horsham Town Hall, and many other buildings. He wanted to see a new station, civic square, and public buildings there.

Neville Hollinshed's design for Melbourne rail yards.
N.Hollinshed, 1958

Woolbroker William Lempiere followed in 1961, and then a couple of years later came a plan that almost made it into being. As The Age described it in 1975 , 60 year old Keith Herbert Jones…

went to see the then Minister for Transport, Sir Arthur Warner, but was told by Sir Arthur to wait outside his office for a minute because he was expecting some idiot who wanted to talk about roofing in the Flinders Street yards.

“I said I was the idiot, but I wanted to roof in the whole station,” said Mr. Jones.

Jones created the scheme over many beers at the RACV club with an [unknown] architect friend. They, “sketched their ideas with their fingers in spilt beer on the bar.” How Australian is that?

Keith Jones' Flinders Street scheme
1963 scheme ( NAA )

The scheme roofed over the yards between Flinders and Queen Streets, demolished the existing station, and provided a new concourse along Swanston Street. a 60 storey skyscraper would grace the new development, surrounded by a shopping plaza podium. Other buildings and hotels would be scattered through the development, and a, “scenic drive on the bank of the Yarra [would extend] form Batman Avenue to Queen Street.”

A few years later in 1969, with the scheme now in the hands of Lend Lease, Local Government Minister Hamer gave the go ahead. After millions had been spent on planning, Transport Minister Meagher told The Age in 1975 that this one wouldn’t fail, as it had funding and parliamentary authority.

But the atmosphere was changing. The ALP, architects, the Anglican Church, the National Trust and retailers were raising concerns. The 1970s brought with it a new awareness about ‘heritage’, and the old buildings were no longer just seen as hindrances to progress.

After a long break, and some underwhelming renovations to the Swanston Street concourse in the 1980s and 90s, congestion was once again enough of a worry to look at a major rebuild. This time round it would have to be self-funded by private development over the tracks.

There is little controversy about the need to develop, as it is getting horribly busy down there, and the Flinders Street facade and dome will be retained. Skirmishes instead erupted over the cloaked way the competition was proceeding. In response to a breakaway initiative by Melbourne architects to hold an exhibition of Stage One entries, Major Projects Victoria issued a veiled threat to shortlisted winners, hinting that exhibiting may result in disqualification. That didn’t go down terribly well in the media, even being reported in ArchDaily.

Possibly addressing this lack of transparency, the latest press release from Major Projects Victoria, dated 23rd April, makes a great deal of the upcoming People’s Choice Awards. People may not have much time to make a choice though if MPV hold to their original programme, exhibiting the developed shortlisted entries on the internet for a short time this July.

“This level of public engagement is the first of its kind. To have a People’s Choice vote in an architectural competition is only fitting giving the importance of Flinders Street Station… We want everyone to have their say on the future of the station precinct.” David Hodgett

They don’t forget to mention that, thanks to Australian Institute of Architects competition guidelines, the jury can’t take any notice of the People’s Choice Award, though they may look at the comments later, “to inform future plans”.

To be continued

Search for previous related articles.

28.05.13 in competitions heritage


To. Be continued?

by Matt wardell on 30 August 13 ·#

That fallen wall - part 3 see more

Perhaps read these first or things won’t make sense: FIRST POST SECOND POST

Late last week I received a batch of photographs taken in 2010 and 2011. The sender wishes to remain anonymous. This was something of a relief as I had been scouring the web looking for high resolution images taken of the rear of the wall – a mesmerising task. So thanks, whoever you are. Thanks also to the two others who have previously provided privately-held images of the wall.

Swanston Street CUB wall - rear view from malthouse
This photo, from a window high in the old maltstore, shows the September 2011 installation of super stops adjacent to the wall.

After staring at these new photos for a while, I wondered if the southern part of the wall was leaning a bit. The photographer remembers, “a slight outward lean of the wall at the time.” So I extended some vertical lines to vanishing point from several nearby buildings to see if I was right.

That showed the South end of the wall was on a lean, but I wasn’t convinced. As the adjacent lamp post is shown on a similar apparent lean I thought the lens was interfering. So I started again and used Photoshop’s new adaptive wide angle lens filter to horizontally correct the horizon, then vertically straighten the lamp post and the wall beneath it.

twisted pier
Having manipulated the perspective so that the lamp post was true, the Southernmost pilaster is still showing a bit of a twist or lean, of about 25mm. This probably isn’t surprising given the lack of restraint, brick expansion, and the three-sided exposure this part of the wall was receiving.

The following photos were all taken in late 2010.

Entire wall 2010
The Northern end of the wall, demolished on the night of March 28th.

Southern section of wall
The Southern half, after some site preparation work (removal of asphalt).

Swanston St wall - panel next to gate.
The brick panel next to the gate

The next panel down, the northern end of the collapse. The gate bracket may have prevented further collapse, but it also caused local cracking. This panel was over-sprayed with new graffiti in early 2013.

North end of collapsed wall
A zoom, showing cracks under the gate bracket (red arrows), and the extent of the wall collapse (blue zig-zagged line).

View south along fallen wall
Southern panels. Note the missing capping bricks on the closest pilaster.

Two southern-most panels
Far Southern panels, note the capping brick that’s fallen away on the left.

swanston street wall cracks
Zoom of previous pic, to 100%. The cracks to the pilaster and end panel mentioned in the Herald Sub existed in 2010.

Cracks in Swanston St wall
Closer inspection of this new photo shows more cracking and lost mortar, especially in the last panel.

Piers vs. pilasters

The vertical columns are pilasters, not piers as I’ve previously described them. The U.S. Brick Industry Association defines a pilaster as, “simply an increase in effectiveness of a wall at a specific location”. Its effectiveness extends only six times the thickness of the wall (about 1.4m in this case), measured from the edge of the pilaster. The distance between each pilaster is about 4.4m, which would mean that the pilaster thickenings were not providing any benefit to a 1.6m span at the centre of each panel.

The authorities

A series of proposals for the site never came to fruition, being stymied by the economic jitters of October 1989 and October 2008. Things came close to happening in 2008, when the asphalting behind the wall was scraped up, and an archaeological dig took place.

The Capital City Zone 2 C126 amendment was issued that same year by the then Minister for Planning, Justin Madden. Apart from exempting the development from public notice and review (in the interests of speeding things up), it stated that a planning permit was not required for, “site preparation and retention works including security fencing, site offices, bulk excavation and piling, footings, ground beams and ground slabs”.

The site was the first major development in town to be “taken in” by the Minister for Planning, in 1989. After several permit applications in the 1990s and 2000s, in May 2012 the current minister issued another permit with conditions for Building 5, then going with the name “Portrait”.

The permit required the lodgement of a Construction Management Plan explaining how the developers would go about demolition and construction in a safe and considerate way.

“Prior to the commencement of the development, including demolition or bulk excavation, a detailed construction and demolition management plan must be submitted to and be approved by the Responsible Authority.”

Five months later in October, an updated planning permit was issued for the same development, in response to a new application by ARM Architecture on 5th June. Oddly, the revised requirement for a demolition management plan did not need to be lodged before demolition took place. Perhaps this had been deemed to have taken place already, or that it was too minor that it didn’t require a permit?

“Prior to the commencement of the development, excluding demolition or bulk excavation, a detailed construction and demolition management plan must be submitted to and be approved by the Responsible Authority.”

Grocon completed a Construction Management Plan for Stage 1, which is behind the maltstore and doesn’t include the street frontage.

The only hoarding application I could find was lodged in April 2003, at the City of Melbourne. It was withdrawn four days later. It was for the “erection of advertising on the existing hoarding.” No further details are available online.

The council released a carefully-worded statement on Tuesday. Here’s an excerpt:

“We can confirm that the City of Melbourne has not issued a permit for the structure attached to the wall… There are four relevant legislative frameworks – Planning, Building, Occupational Health and Safety and Local Laws. There are intricacies in the way in which these interconnect and overlap. These complexities are likely to be considered by the investigating authorities.”

The council doesn’t say if the billboard should have required their permission, only that they didn’t issue a permit. They go on to underline that they aren’t responsible for the site, noting that the building site was private property, and that the Minister for Planning issued the planning permit. The Minister has previously said he hasn’t ever issued a permit for a hoarding either. This is a bit of a worry – the Minister is responsible for building sites all over the CBD which may have similarly confused boundary jurisdictions.

Signage normally falls under regulation 52.05 of the Melbourne Planning Scheme. Clause 52.05-4 mentions the sorts of signs for which permits aren’t required.

“A sign with an advertisement area not exceeding 2 square metres concerning construction work on the land. Only one sign may be displayed, it must not be an animated or internally-illuminated sign and it must be removed when the work is completed.”

There is other advice from the City of Melbourne saying that two advertising signs are permitted, each 2m by 1.2m. Hoardings are to be between 1.8m and 2.4m high. As the sign was approximately 3.2m high and 200 square metres in area, with another sign of about 29 square metres on the stacked containers, this one definitely required a permit from someone. As part of an application, the owner has to lodge details of the, “height, width, depth of the total sign structure including method of support and any associated structures.”

Clause 52.05 does refer to safety, but only to say that a sign shouldn’t distract or slow drivers. This perhaps doesn’t fulfil one of the clause’s purposes: “To ensure that signs do not cause loss of amenity or adversely affect the natural or built environment or the safety, appearance or efficiency of a road.”

A summary of sorts

I’ve read here and there that I’ve been overdoing it a bit, that sometimes walls just fall. I have overdone it, at some cost, but partly out of fear that no one else would and the issue would quickly fall out of the news. So I’m glad that the mainstream media picked out several items from the first post. Depending on where you read, different final conclusions have been made already. The wall fell because of the strong gust / the hoarding / the cracks. It was a combination of all three, and many more reasons that have their roots in events decades ago. This wall did not “just fall”.

The brick wall was an inbetweener. Not quite of the site and not quite of the street, it became invisible to owners and authorities. It was nobody’s business, a forgotten relic poorly built and not maintained. But it was a useful relic for keeping the curious out of the CUB site, for their own safety. Not that it stopped them – most of the useful photos of the wall were taken by urban explorers and graffiti enthusiasts.

The wall’s context has changed out of recognition since the closure of the brewery in 1987. Firstly Elders demolished the brewery behind it in 1989, exposing it to Westerlies it had never had to deal with before. The buildings that abutted the wall at its Southern end were also pulled down.

In more recent times, a large apartment building was built directly across the street, tram works and a super stop installation have taken place, and the bitumen area immediately behind the wall was dug up then used as a tip for mountains of spoil. Then it was all removed. There was also a decade long drought and a number of half decent earth tremors. That’s a lot to deal with for a wall that had been ready to fall for quite a few years.

Competing and overlapping jurisdictions have led to confusion about who was meant to be doing what and when. There are quite a few aspects that any inquiry will have to cover. Rather than having multiple internal inquiries, some held by bodies that may be partially liable, a better way would be to have one independent public inquiry. It is the general public who have been let down here, so they should be able to have faith in the inquiry and know what is going on during it.

Just a few questions

  • Why was a hoarding placed on a wall showing evidence of cracking? Was the wall inspected?
  • Why place the cracking panel under further stress by strapping a lightweight wall to its South end?
  • Where is the regulation requiring that hoardings and signs and their supports have structural integrity?
  • Why was a building permit (apparently) not sought for structural work (the hanging of 1.6 tonnes of plywood to an unreinforced brick wall).
  • Vacant and derelict sites increase in danger as they age. Who checks this and what are the owners’ responsibilities?
  • What are the rights of Responsible Authorities to access and inspect derelict private properties? Do they?
  • Why have the heritage-listed Maltstore and bluestone buildings been allowed to deteriorate into such a dangerous state since the brewery closed?
  • Why wasn’t a building order or emergency order slapped on the unsupported wall at any time in the last 24 years?
  • Where is the site dilapidation report?
  • Where is the 1989 demolition permit and demolition management plan?
  • Was the original wall designed by a structural engineer? Did it have a permit or was it built illegally?
  • Were the different brick types that made up the wall, some probably older and recycled, tested when it was built? Will they be tested now? And the mortar while we’re at it.
  • What is the immediate intention for examining the foundations to the wall, which are the only part still intact?
  • Can CUB or Elders provide any photography of the wall between its construction and the 1989 site demolition?
  • Which part of the wall was hit by a truck in the 1980s, then quickly repaired?
  • Why do we have two authorities in charge of planning in Central Melbourne, unable to work out where the line is between them?
  • Why did the rest of the wall get pulled down hours after the collapse, preventing a microscopic sort of examination of the bricks and mortar?

( This post is posted as a draft on Thursday night, and revised and completed on Sunday )

12.04.13 in buildings 


That fallen wall - part 2 see more

A week ago three people died while they were walking down Swanston Street. One was a French research fellow at Monash. The other two were a young brother and sister on their way to the footy. I published a post about the wall that collapsed on Sunday, gathering together what I could find from publicly available web pages. I didn’t expect the level of reaction I got. I was contacted by all sorts of mainstream media outlets, many in search of speculative comment. My investigations were made not because I consider myself an expert in walls and wind, but because I knew how to do it relatively quickly, and because I wanted to do something.

This was an accident of the “waiting to happen” variety. No one wanted it to happen, but no one seems to have done anything to prevent it happening either. The organisations involved, the way they interact, and the regulations governing them all, could do with some improvement. But conclusions should be left to the inquiries. We should be watching these inquiries, demanding an independent one, and making sure they have all the information they can get to work with.

On Thursday I happened to pass the site again. Once again it had altered. A bulldozer was scraping up the debris while a man hosed the dust down. A WorkSafe officer was taking photos of what remained of the footings. A group of random people were gathered at the makeshift shrine, paying their respects .

Here are some further observations about the wall – they aren’t conclusions. The previous post is here.

wind and contour overlay
Overlay showing ground (2009), contours, approximate wind direction, and approximate positions of the collapse (red line), the mounds on March 28 (green ellipses – about 1.5m high), and the 7.2m high stacked containers.

The billboard and the brick wall

redbaron_012 2012
Wall from North East ( Red_Baron_012 )

The red hoarding was built in October 2011, after a rebranding of the development by Cornwell from ‘Portrait’ to ‘Swanston Square’. WorkSafe visited the hoarding on October 12th to inspect the installation, following up concerns about the lack of a pedestrian management system. NEWS

The height of the brick wall was about 2.5 to 2.7m on the street side, depending on where you count bricks. The hoarding extended above the wall by about 250 to 500mm. It varied as the top of the hoarding was sloping while the brick wall stepped down the hill at intervals. The land drops by about two metres across this 78 metre street frontage.

Brick - lightweight wall connection
Rear view, January 2013. (supplied by R.Liao)

The bricks composing the wall were of two types – extruded “wire-cut” bricks with hollow perforations, and older pressed bricks stamped with “CITY BRICKS”. City Bricks, now absorbed into Boral, had been pressing bricks since 1923. This mixing of bricks suggests that the wall could have been built from recycled bricks of varying ages, compressive strengths, and abilities to withstand moisture.

Brick types

The freestanding wall had piers at about four metre intervals along the rear side, which might have been useful buttressing against winds off Swanston Street. [ design guide PDF ] But these piers were not reinforced or tied into a footing, and were much wider (2 bricks) than they were deep (half a brick). It might be more appropriate to call them decorative pilasters, making the wall look more substantial than it actually was. The outer skin of the wall was apparently not bonded to these piers at all. A photo shows how one pier failed in the gust of wind.

Aun Ngo - Meld Magazine
Left: View from apartment block across street (crop). ( Meld Magazine / A. Ngo) Right: North end of wall – pier imprint on odd concrete upstand – perhaps this predated the brick wall? Also shows that the bricks continuing down in front of the wall were in direct contact with the concrete. (PJ)

These ‘piers’ ‘supported’ twin-leaf wall panels with all bricks laid in the same direction. There was no cavity between the two leafs at their base, though there appeared to be a small one further up. This could have allowed the internal faces of the bricks to trap damp lower down.

Swanston street brick wall cavity
Possible cavity or bowing showing in distorted telephoto image, March 28th ( Herald Sun / H.Blair )

The Southern end of the wall ended at one of these piers. This pier once abutted a rickety timber paling fence. In late 2011 this fence was replaced with a new steel one for the red hoarding. This new fence appears to have butted into the brick wall, and may even have been supported by it as not much else appears to have been holding it up. The hoarding was fixed to both the new fence and the wall, so any wind load placed on the elastic lightweight wall could have transfered to the rigid brick wall through the hoarding. This has been covered in the comments below the first post, and since by media.

Lightweight wall Alex Coppel
Left: Southern end of brick wall abutting lightweight hoarding. There is a noticeable bow in this pier, but this could be lens distortion. The horizontal member of the lightweight fence appears to be fixed to the top of the pier. ( Herald Sun / Jem Richardson ) Right: Metal framing of lightweight wall where it abutted the Southern brick pier (ADL NOW / Alex Coppel)

Rear of wall at south end
Another photo showing the lack of support at the North end of the lightweight hoarding. The supporting steel post is to the right. (ADL NOW / Alex Coppel)

Cracks to north end of wall
North end of wall (9 News). Much blurrier inset: Google 2009

On March 28th, a 9News bulletin panned over a vertical crack visible at the North end of the remaining wall, without comment. News Ltd has also found photos of diagonal cracking along the rear of the southern portion of wall. News Ltd found this shocking, but as the wall had no control joints or reinforcement, probable moisture problems, and.. who knows what in the way of footings, it’s hard to be surprised. News Ltd’s photos also show black matter at the base of the Southern wall segment. Hopefully this was a damp proof course (which I can’t see anywhere else) and not some kind of mould. From the Swanston Street side, there is also black staining visible on the internal face of the wall which does look more like a mould colony, indicating rising damp.

Black goo
TOP: Black stuff? December 2012 (Herald Sun / Jes Richardson) BOTTOM: Swanston street side, March 28 (SBS/AAP)

At the Northern end of the collapse, there is a suggestion of what may have prevented the collapse from continuing further. A sliding gate rail is fixed into the wall at the point the collapse stopped. Then again, the fixing may have caused cracking, weakening the wall so that it failed at this point.

northern extent of collapse
Northern extent of wall collapse, showing rusted door rail and fixing ( ADL NOW )

This part of the wall also seemed to have succumbed more to mortar problems than elsewhere. The front face of the wall showed efflorescence between the paint-sealed bricks, and the local pier, taller than the others, was quite uneven and looks to have eroding mortar. The end capping piece is an extruded brick on end, allowing water to penetrate with ease.

Left: Google Street View 2009 showing pier at Northern end of failure. Right: Northern end of failure, 2010. ( twitterpic by @funkineering )

Until 2012 the brick wall was partly shielded from Westerlies by a mound of earth and overgown grasslands. This was replaced with a much larger mound in February, after the overburden scrape. By March 28th, all mounds had been shifted and the area was flat. Clear new photos showing the location of this mound last December, and the nature of the land around it, have been sent in by Rita Liao.

Rita Liao 2012
Rear of wall, January 2013, affected area in rectangle. This also shows the asphalt and fencing that were removed in March. (R.Liao / butterpaper)

Rita Liao 2012
Rear of wall, January 2013, taken from beside the malt house (R.Liao / butterpaper)

Earth Mound A Wurster
A photo at Flickr shows the mound in 2011. (AR Wurster ). Another at the Herald Sun shows it there in 2008.

Some time after 1967, a brick wall was built from the Queensberry Hotel right along to the remaining two terraces (557-561 Swanston Street, but shown as 45-47 Madeline St in the plan below). Terrace houses used to stretch the whole way up to the Queensberry Hotel, but had been gradually done away with bu CUB. A timber fence later replaced the two last buildings, which were demolished soon after the brewery closed. The removal of these buildings exposed the end of the wall to the elements and removed a boundary wall that may have been acting as a return.

Overlay MMBW and google maps carlton
1896 MMBW plan overlaid on Google map, red line showing collapse area, blue shaded areas indicating 19th Century cellars. (SLV)

Trade Quality Control office - CUB
Trade Quality Control Office, at 557 Swanston Street, shown as 45 Madeline Street in the map above. This building contained an 8 foot deep cellar. The doorstep and the bluestone pavers in front of this office at the right of this photo still exist. (1987 CUB video, 2013 PJ)

Here are some further images plotting this part of the street through the ages.

queensberry hotel on corner of madeline street
A view from the north c.1870s. Patrick Fagan’s Queensberry Hotel is on the right and buildings along the line of the wall are to the left of the hotel. (SLNSW )

1938 Carlton CUB
Swanston Street in 1938, with the Queensberry Hotel at the right. Terrace occupants included residents and a diverse set of businesses: the Swanston Battery Service, a Chinese herbalist, a silver-plater, the Maternal and Infant Welfare Division, the Air League headquarters, Peter Kaye’s appliance shop, and the CUB Personnel office at No. 561. ( SLV / Lyle Fowler )

CD Pratt aerial - crop
Aerial photograph from 1946 showing two storey terraces the length of the frontage. ( SLV / Lyle Fowler )

1952 view of Swanston Street wall from North East.
A 1952 aerial view from the North East. ( SLV )

1953 aerial CUB site
1953 aerial from the North West ( SLV )

site in 1963
Buildings adjacent to Ballarat Street & Malt Store, 1963. At the time, these buildings at 557 – 561 were used by the Manufacturers Bottle Co. ( SLV / Lyle Fowler )

Here’s a low-res 1968 aerial photo , and another from the year after.

Swanston Street 1979 - Wolfgang Sievers
To date, this is the only photo I can find of the wall prior to the demolition of the brewery, taken in 1979 and showing the “top yard” behind the wall and the buildings at the South. This is the blurry online version. ( NLA: Wolfgang Sievers ).

The Malthouse

The adjacent malthouse has been in a state of neglect for decades. Built in 1904 and out of use since at least 1987, it too has moisture problems. Moisture is trapped and spreading behind the paintwork added some time before 1988. Demolition of the abutting pier in 1989/90 without any remedial work didn’t help things. I hope that the deteriorating condition of this building is quickly examined in case it too poses a risk to passersby.

Malt store water ingress
Water penetration at the Malt Store

The Brewery

The first brewery on the site was established in 1858. In 1907 a merger of six breweries formed Carlton & United Breweries who then operated from the site. Numerous owners performed building works on the site over its 129 years of production.

The brewery was used only for keg production after 1949, and was closed in 1987. A three part video documents the closure, which makes reference to an outdoor ‘top yard’ used for empty keg deliveries. It had an entry from Swanston Street. From a process of elimination, I’m assuming this to be the yard behind the fallen brick wall.

Rita Liao 2012
Rear of wall and ad containers, showing old asphalt, now removed. January 2013 (R.Liao / butterpaper)

The authorities

The Australian asserts that there is a “squabble” between the City of Melbourne (CoM) and the Ministry for Planning over who is responsible for the wall. It comes down to a matter of definition – whether the wall is a free-standing hoarding (ministry resposibility), or a street advertisement (council). This wall is both.

The Minister says he didn’t approve the hoarding, and the council was “unable to locate paperwork relating to any application”. The Australian believes the council approved the immediate demolition of the rest of the wall. LINK

In its report of 14/03/13, Heritage Victoria list what is included within the site’s heritage registration.

  • 1. All the buildings known as the former Carlton and United Brewery buildings B1 and former Malthouse B2 marked on Diagram 26 held by the Executive Director.
  • 2. All the land marked L1 on Diagram 26 held by the Executive Director, being part of the land described in Certificate of Title Vol. 7620 Fol. 130 and Vol. 4617 Fol. 290.

On Tuesday 2nd April, City of Melbourne issued a press release stating that would not comment further, “at this time”. CoM

More wall zone photos through the decades

This section will be updated as any new photographs are found. The photos at the linked Flickr pages can be clicked on to see much larger versions.


  • Southern end of hoarding – white and about 1.8m high. Incorrectly dated. Flickr


  • Black paling fence at south end Flickr


  • Photo showing glimpse of rear of timber fence at South. FLICKR



  • Southern timber fence from street (part). FLICKR
  • September: More photos of the red-shrouded woman (by artist urban cake lady) pasted to the wall. View full size for extreme close-ups of the Eastern brickwork at North point of collapse. FLICKR1 FLICKR2
  • October: Tram ride footage – black brick wall Video


  • Rear of timber fence (large). ARTYGRAFFARTI
  • ~Early 2011: New livery – a fabric(?) panel. (Google)
    Swanston banner
  • April: Signage: “New City Living Carltonbrewery.com.au”
  • April: “Portrait” signage and stacked containers in place. Click to view.
    Carlton Reflection
  • November: Red wall just visible. NEWS
  • November: Glimpse of rear of wall. FLICKR
  • December: News Ltd sources new photos dated December 2012 showing minor cracking on the rear of the some Southern section of the wall. This photo also shows lightweight wall abutting the Southern pier. NEWS 04.04.13


  • January: distant aerial video shows pink stacked “SQ” containers. Video
  • February: Glimpse of red wall form south. Flickr
  • Sept 2012 rear view showing piers and mound. Flickr


  • January: Bike-mounted video shows wall clearly. Video
  • March 28: Wall collapses at about 3pm.
  • March 28: 9News footage shows cracks at Northern end of wall where it abuts the Queensberry Hotel lot. Video
  • A good gallery of images taken from the rear side of the wall, immediately after the collapse, is available at Adelaide Now

CUB site development timeline (potted)


  • Merger of Elders and Henry Jones (IXL) gives CUB a stake in Elders. NEWS


  • Elders buys its shareholder CUB.


  • Brewery closes in June.
  • Council trades plot ratio concessions for community benefits (60 apartments, underground parking, preservation of historic buildings, a podium to the tower).
  • Site rezoned by council.
  • Site value jumps.
  • Site control taken by Minister for Planning due to importance to state.
  • November: Elders Investments buys 25% stake in developers Hudson Conway


  • February: Elders IXL / John Elliot’s Melbourne Wintergarden development (architects Perrott Lyon Mathieson), including a 35 storey blue glass office tower wins planning approval from Minister for Planning. A plaza replaced the podium, most parking was above ground, and the apartments were marked “Stage 2”. Council were disappointed and worried that the minister’s takeover of the site set a precedent. NEWS LINK & PHOTO

Architecture graduate Paul Morgan, on behalf of a group, describes loss of podium as “architecturally regressive”. “Responsibility for the symbolic sense of the city has been abrogated by the State Government… The character of the city is being left to the developer and the architect.”

  • Hudson Conway’s Lloyd Williams, site developer, denies that there was ever an agreement with council.
  • October (Black Monday): Elders delays $400M glass tower NEWS indefinitely


  • Pacific Central Development planning application prepared by Ashton Raggatt McDougall architects. DPCD


  • RMIT purchases site for $25M. NEWS


  • December RMIT prepares to sell, during financial crisis. NEWS


  • RCH considers site for new hospital.


  • Site on shortlist for new ANZ HQ. NEWS
  • October: Grocon buys most of the site for $39M from RMIT. Expects to start $800M development in late 2007. Project architects: NH Architecture. NEWS


  • January: Masterplanning working group meetings begin, which include representatives from RMIT, City of Melbourne, DPCD, and the State Government architect, and appearances from Heritage Victoria and National Trust.
  • June: Grocon announces competition winners, including ARM & DCM. NEWS
  • July: RMIT and Grocon apply to Minister for Planning to prepare an amendment to expedite planning process for this site. DPCD


  • March: Minister for Planning Justin Madden exempts himself from notice of amendment clauses of Planning and Environment Act 1987 in respect of this site’s C126 amendment. One reason is that, “the critical timeline for development of the project would not be met through the normal permit application process.” Minister Madden noted at the time that due to the number of agencies involved (DPCD, Heritage Victoria, VicRoads and the City of Melbourne), he would become the “single point of planning approval”. DPCD
  • C126 Amendment states: “A permit is not required for: Site preparation and retention works including security fencing, site offices, bulk
    excavation and piling, footings, ground beams and ground slabs;…” DPCD
  • March: Intention to build, archaeological dig NEWS1 NEWS2
  • March: Aerial photo. FORUM
  • April. From Bouverie Street(?), geotech begins. FORUM



  • Kmart to be anchor retail tenant of $1.2B development to start in early 2011.
  • September: Grocons sells apartments despite no planning permit having been approved for building 5 (than called Portrait). NEWS

This post has been continued: PART 3 is here

EDITS: 10/4/13: add new image links, minor corrections, 12/4/13 lens distortion note, 26/5/23 new images.

07.04.13 in buildings 


Hi again Peter. Great work on this. Keep it up.

A few general thoughts after reading some of your latest updates. Hope these can add to the discussion:

- a cavity? Yikes! Substantially weaker than a solid wall. – mounds and other obstructions can slow the wind but can also accelerate the flow locally – damp can weaken certain types of brick. Particularly if underfired. But.. – a membrane type damp proof course can substantially weaken a wall by providing less friction and less bond than a mortar joint. An over fired, pressed brick can have a very smooth surface, which can also reduce bond.

by Greg Killen on 8 April 13 ·#

Hi Greg, great to have your struct. engineering input.
I’m not sure that was a cavity – may have been the lens – it didn’t look like one in some other pics but all too far away to properly see.
I was thinking along the lines of a mortar DPC – what was the norm back in the ’70s?
Can the level of firing be gleaned from the darkness of the brick?

by peter on 8 April 13 ·#

That fallen wall see more

On Thursday afternoon two young pedestrians were killed by a falling brick wall in central Melbourne, and another 18 year old was ferried to hospital in a critical condition but died on Easter Sunday.

This article tries to assemble some of the publicly available information on this wall, it isn’t trying to point the finger anywhere. The initial reason for doing so was that the newspapers missed quite a bit and got some things wrong. Please note that this article contains imagery and descriptions which may be distressing.

Grocon, the police, WorkSafe, and the coroner are all launching investigations into the collapse. But on the night of the accident, the full length of the partially-collapsed brick wall was removed and thrown in a heap. The stacked advertising containers next to the site of the collapse were also pulled down and rotated so that the Swanston Square branding didn’t show. The site in no way resembles what was there before the incident.

In the haste to remove everything to do with the sad event, the tidy-uppers neglected to remove the blood stains on the footpath. They were not even cordoned off on my visit a day later. Such haste at what is possibly a crime scene is troubling. I hope it was all with the permission of the council, police, and coroner. They have hardly had any time to make a detailed investigation into the structure of the wall that was left, and now they can’t.

Interactive imagery from Google Street View, dated 2009:

View Larger Map

There has been misinformation in the news. The brick wall in question was not heritage-listed, nor was it a century old. It was not even there in 1967, when the area was occupied by a row of shops. The brewery was unfortunately not well photographed by CUB, whose sole set of publicly available online photos was taken from the rooftop in the 1920s – not very helpful. The wall was probably built as part of major rebuilding works that took place in the Sixties – a photo shows what might be the continuation of this wall into the malt store.

CUB malt store in the 1980s
Malt store in the 1980s, showing brick arch over laneway matching fallen wall. ( SLV image )

CUB site eastern shops on Swanston Street - SLV H2011.52/74
1945 view South down Swanston Street, showing CUB and buildings where fallen wall was. ( SLV image )

Image from CUB rooftop 1920s showing Swanston Street
Across CUB rooftops in 1920s, showing Swanston Street shops circled at location of fallen wall. ( SLV image )

The Adderley Smith Blues Band posing in front of the Queensberry Hotel, 1967. Some shops at the location of the wall are at the left of the photo. (credit: Len Weigh )

Looking at the wall on Good Friday, what remains of it, the rear two-thirds sat along a badly poured concrete strip footing, the streetside third of it continuing downwards in modern wire-cut brick for several courses. The wall appears in news photos to have fallen forward off its concrete perch.

Area of collapsed wall, taken the day after (March 29 2013)
Area of collapsed wall, March 29th 2013. (PJ)

CUB site base of brick wall
Zoom in to 7News footage, March 28th

The wall fell for a length of at least 15m. It was anchored at the Northern end of the fallen section by a hefty Parallel Flange Channel with ties into the wall. This PFC is one of two still flanking an old vehicle access way in the wall that was covered by the new hoarding. There was nothing holding the all in place at the Southern end.

North end collapsed wall
Northern end of collapsed wall – bricks now removed. (PJ)

South end of wall
Unrestrained Southern end of collapsed wall. (Google 2009)

The wall may have been laterally supported at some stage if it was part of a larger structure continuing on towards the Malt Store.

Photographer Len Weigh, who graciously supplied the Adderley Smith Blues Band photo above, provided me on Sunday night with 174 images he took of major tram works in Swanston Street in 2008. He wonders whether the integrity of the wall may have been affected by the tram works, which involved four jack hammer vehicles working together. Following are a few of his images showing the then black wall in the background. Further major road works occurred over two weekends in late 2011 when a tram super stop was installed and the road realigned.

Len Weigh 2008

Len Weigh 2008, Swanston Street tram works

Len Weigh 2008, Swanston Street tram works
All photos Len Weigh, 2008

Grocon bought the site from RMIT in 2006. At that time it was covered in ageing and weedy bitumen. Until this year, not much was happening. There has been a lot of activity on the back side of the wall in recent months. Grocon have stated that there was no construction activity happening at the time of the incident, but site preparation has been taking place in earnest.

In January, the asphalt and topsoil (“overburden”) was scraped up, including asphalt very close to the wall. [ 2007 2013 ] In February, a large mound of fill appeared behind the wall, presumably consisting of this overburden and tailings from the La Trobe archaeological excavations which finished at the end of last month. This month most of the mound disappeared. Heavy machinery would have been required to put the mound there, then to take it away. The ground around the stack of containers, immediately North of the collapse, appears to be flooded in TV helicopter footage.

Glenn Wilson Feb 2013 photo of CUB site
Late February, 2013. ( Credit Glenn Wilson )

Archaeological dig at CUB site, with hoarding and mound in distance
February view Eastwards from archaeological dig towards the East, showing mound and hoarding. ( VHD )

9News photo 280313
Mounds gone, March 28th, 2013 ( Credit: 9News )

Possible flooding at collapse site
_Possible flooding around site of collapse, March 28 ( 10 News video )

The entire length of the wall was recently covered in a 12mm plywood hoarding, constructed in early 2012 or before [ May 2012 photo ]. It’s now lying in shards in the debris. This was fixed to the brick wall through thin vertical straps, possibly on ‘top hat’ furring channels which are present in the debris. The hoarding extended beyond the top of the wall, to even out the steps in it, but also creating a sail of sorts. The straps created open vertical cavities the length of the wall. All of this would be visible had the remainder of the wall and hoarding not been removed on Thursday night in the interests of what – safety? cleaning things up? Lateral braces would have done the job.

Zoomed image of CUB site hoarding
Zoom of the archaeological dig image above, showing the hoarding extending well beyond top of the brick wall.

CUB collapsed wall- news image
Photo from a 7News helicopter showing the hoarding being lifted on March 28th.

Discarded hoardings of remaining wall, March 29th.
Demolished hoardings from the remaining wall, and furring channels. March 29 2013. ( PJ )

The two stacked 40 foot shipping containers raise another possibility. At about 7.2 metres high, they act like a building as far as wind is concerned. The failed wall was one of the only stretches of the Eastern boundary without a structure to deflect the wind – and so took extra funnelled wind because of it.

Images showing location of container advertising.
Two images showing the location of the three stacked shipping containers used for advertising. Left: Late February (Glenn Wilson). Right: March 28th (news).

Rotated containers
The containers disassembled and rotated so that the Swanston Square advertising is not visible. March 29th, 2013 PJ.

Lots of questions are raised and I hope they are answered by the four separate investigations. Hoarding collapses are not uncommon in Melbourne, though they should be. Last year I took photos of two in a single bike ride in February. Luckily they didn’t hit anyone. They weren’t reported.

Fallen hoardings Feb 5, 2012
Fallen hoardings in Elgin Street and Wellington Street, February 5, 2012. ( PJ )

From an admittedly quick reading of the current regulations, there seems to be a gap in hoarding regulations when construction or demolition has not commenced, and where hoardings are not the “over-the-footpath” type [ CoM Code of Practice PDF ]. The City of Melbourne encourages solid hoardings rather than open chain wire ones – “to secure a building site and
form a barrier against noise, dust and debris” – but for WSW wind gusts of up to 76kph, like Thursday’s, the more porous the fence the better. Before the new hoarding was installed, there were many gaps to allow the wind through.

Many Codes of Practice have become redundant following the advent of the new performance-based OH&S regime in 2004. Try finding one for the construction industry that hasn’t been archived: WorkSafe Victoria Search. There is a new federal code of practice for demolition , but it seems to cover states other than Victoria, and again misses this situation where there is no construction or demolition taking place. All these codes place the worker at the centre of attention rather than the general public – I guess that’s WorkSafe’s remit.

Compare this tangle of code in Victoria with somewhere like Alberta, where the safety of passersby is up front and central in new regulations. This is because three year old Michelle Krsek was killed by flying metal in 2009 while walking past a Calgary construction site with her family in strong wind conditions. It shouldn’t have to take a death… or two three to wake people up to dangerous sloppiness.

Alberta safety code

[ article edited 31.03.13, three additions; 01.04.13 link added, wind speed lowered, minor amendments, further reference links added; 02.04.13 furring channels, super stop construction, and possible flooding added; 08.04.13 minor deletion ]

Part 2 of this post, dated April 7th, is here

31.03.13 in buildings 


The wooden hoarding to the left of the masonry wall was fixed to the masonry wall. This section of plywood could conceivable have been blown by a gust of wind and acting as a lever pulled the masonry wall over.

As you have reported the City Council local laws require a permit for the construction of building site hoardings. The construction company should have applied for a permit to construct the new advertising hording and the City Council Engineering services should have inspected it.

If the wooden paneling was designed in such a way that the panels allowed for independent movement or a control joint they might not have applied levered pressure to the masonry wall causing to to tumble.

You need to look at the photos showing the parts of the wall left standing and the design and quality of the construction of the left wooden section.

The 2009 Google Street view photos show a fill in panel that was structurally separate from the masonry wall.

The city council, the developer, engineer and the company that built the hoarding share responsibility for this tragic accident.

by Archimedies Leverage on 31 March 13 ·#

Try building a wall to scale out of Leggo bricks and subject it to a wind load. (Grand design or Air-crash investigation style)

Next attach a piece of solid cardboard to simulate the hoarding and apply the same wind loading, The wind would catch the hoarding and lever down the wall from the unsupported left hand side. It only needs to move a few cm and the walls integrity is compromised.

If you look at the remaining concrete foundations there is no sign of rotation or foundation collapse. The most likely suspect is the hoarding.

Council by-laws require a building permit for the construction of a hoarding. The City of Melbourne should have plans and details of the hoarding and hopefully also inspected it.

The walls mortar may been weakened by the construction of the tram stop but the most likely case is the left hand edge of the wall and the open hoarding combined with the extra height.

by Stuctural Model Under Load on 1 April 13 ·#

You are right. The fact that the hoarding was fixed to the wall without a break joint would have added pressure and leverage magnifying the wind load placed on the unsupported masonry wall.

There was inadequate lateral support to the structure.

This should have been identified by the City of Melbourne who should have inspected the site as part of the building site permit process.

The hoarding on the western wall is stronger construction and had solid support, but it also has a large span that is unsupported. Ideally there should be support bracing every 5-10 meters.

The fact that the plywood hoarding was fixed to the brick masonry wall without lateral support on the southern edge most likely was the cause of the walls collapse.

The previous hoarding was a separate unit and as such allowed for independent movement.

The increase in height is another factor that would have contributed to the walls collapse.

The design and engineering of the hoarding needs to be inspected and subject to a thorough review and engineering wind load testing to determine if it met industry standards set down for the City of Melbourne.

I hope the owner, developer, engineers and city council have good insurance cover as the underwriters could conceivably not pay out in what will be a very expensive law suit and compensation claim against all parties involved. Watch them run for cover and avoid owning up to their responsibility. Shares in the project site will undoubtedly be effected.

by Anonymous on 2 April 13 ·#

Perspective see more

I was just cycling home from the Bob Mould concert at the Corner Hotel, with an extra ring in my ears beyond the usual tinnitus, when I was reminded of something, that I dwelled on for the rest of my ride. It was just another rental truck…

20 years ago I was working in my father’s home office, while studying architecture in Auckland. One of his clients drove up onto the lawn, unannounced . He was called Duncan I think, quite a lovely man. He wanted to give his company’s logo a quick overhaul, and for some reason thought his architect was the best place to go. My father and I assisted him for about an hour, and then he was off, with some coloured pencil sketches on the back of recycled paper. He thought the current logo was a bit Seventies, heavy, and dated. We helped him add the colour and sense of distance to it that he wanted. Though I had my reservations, as the old Budget Rentacar logo was one of my favourites. I’m not sure who did what, as it was a while ago.

Even further back, in 1986, I was doing work experience in an advertising studio responsible for the local Ansett account. I can’t remember any stand alone graphic design studios at the time. They put me in a corner with coloured pencils and asked me to come up with an ad for Ansett. I went for something with a little perspective, a runway. Not too uncommon in the 80s, as I did like triangles. I’ve just realised how uncannily close to the ‘new’ Budget logo it was. There is some extra irony as Bob Ansett used to own the Budget brand in Australasia.

Maybe I was more involved that I remember in the ‘renewal’ of one of my favourite logos. I would like to think I was at least responsible for the retention of the old font, which I vaguely remember arguing for. That was the beginning and end of my graphic design career. Anyway, now I am reminded of that sunny morning in a suburban Auckland office every time I see that logo, pasted on trucks all over the globe. Funny how the tiniest things you do can end up following you for a long while.

Googling for images of the logos, I found out that it was just been updated again, for the first time in ages. Now the font and the colour have gone. Looks a bit weak to me.

Budget 1970s – best I could find – it was black with orange strips representing tire tracks.
budget 1970s logo

Budget 1993 – straight outta Milford, Auckland
Budget 1990s logo

Budget 2012 rebrand
Budget 2012 logo

  • By the way, I have no idea why the Auckland office was able to rebrand the company. I think it was a moment in time when the power in the corporation swung over this aways.
    • Dad if you’re reading, please feel free to correct me!

13.03.13 in graphic-designers 


To infinity and beyond see more

“I want architectural excellence and height … I want buildings that inspire Victorians. If this can be done in the right place, and with beauty, then the sky’s the limit.” Matthew Guy, April 2012

Tower Melbourne
Tower Melbourne – approved November 2012

Continuing in the Melbhattan vein… it’s mildly amusing if developers insist on adding cred to their towers of dogboxes by naming them after more considered New York locations. But what if the Minister for Planning was thinking along the same lines. A Manhattan of the South! It appears that he is. In early 2012 he announced a “Grand CBD”, stretching from Richmond to Fishermans Bend. The Herald Sun labelled it a “Manhattan-style” metropolis, and quoted Planning Minister Matthew Guy, who believes height restrictions need to go to, “make Melbourne an icon in terms of Western cities.” To be an icon these days must mean that a city has to be really big.

Some hint that the proposed relaxation of height controls, already relaxed in the ’90s by Premier Jeff Kennett, is aimed more at Chinese investors and developers wanting high density high-rise. The Age recently noted that, “some established Chinese business and political leaders in Melbourne caution against importing an Asian model of super high-rises and shaded city streets, of “ghost towers.” A ghost tower is one in which apartments are bought as an investment, and not occupied – land banking in the sky.

Is an ‘iconic’ Western city what Mr Guy thinks it is? Or is he building what an iconic Western city once was? James Howard Kunstler would think he is out of step. In this podcast (21 minutes in) he reminds us that apartment blocks had their beginnings in Paris and that their New York equivalent was the result of a craze, assisted by elevators, to imitate 19th Century Paris.

“I’m not a champion of towers and skyscrapers, and I tend to think that the really tall building, that is buildings over six or seven stories… that will really turn out to be a phenomenon of our time, of the 20th and early 21st Century, because you really needed a cheap energy economy to make that possible. But I think that the nett effect will be that we are going to end up with an idea of an optimum scale of the city, and it will be under seven storeys.” James Howard Kunstler

There’s more on the energy inefficiency of living in the sky at Fifth Estate.

Reading many of the minister’s press releases about recent tall buildings that he’s approved, you could be forgiven for thinking that he isn’t so much interested in the grand scheme as he is in more immediate objectives such as job creation and attracting investment to Melbourne rather than somewhere else.

This laissez-faire Brusselisation of Melbourne’s core is proceeding at a gung-ho pace. The 70-odd storey Tower Melbourne was approved by the minister in mid-November. No one in the media noticed for a month – perhaps because the ministry’s planning register is rather effective at burying approvals. While the site has no building height restrictions, it does have a plot ratio limit of 12:1. This building is more like 60:1.

Then on the Friday before Christmas, as the citizens of the metropolis shifted their focus to things sandy, Premier Ted Baillieu released Securing Victoria’s Economy: Planning. Building. Delivering. On page 39, he gets to planning. Its aim is deregulation, the removal of red tape and “green tape”. One item among many other eyebrow curlers is the, “making of new criteria for the Minister for Planning to act as the Responsible Authority to approve major developments with the potential to make significant contributions to the economic future of the state”. No details on what that means, but I think I get the gist of it.

“Continuing reform of our planning system to increase opportunity and productivity will maintain this advantage [in economic confidence] and ensure a strong construction sector.” Matthew Guy, November 2012

How his current powers might be expanded is hard to gauge, given that his department is pretty busy as it is. The following large developments have recently gained approval directly from Mr Guy in recent months, in the City of Melbourne alone. This is an incomplete list cobbled together from various online sources. I am imagining City of Melbourne planners sitting at their desks, glumly sharpening pencils while all the action (or vandalism) happens up the road. Maybe they’re reading the planning scheme’s urban design provisions for the central city[ PDF ] and remembering the good old days when they use to mean something.

February 2013

  • 50 storey office building
  • Y4, 839 Collins Street Docklands / multi-storey office tower
  • 272-282 Queen Street / 50 storey office building
    “The redevelopment site is located in an evolving area where planning policy encourages development that supports a vibrant and economically competitive central city while making efficient use of existing infrastructure.” Matthew Guy
  • 54-56 Clarke Street, Southbank / residential tower

January 2013

  • 250 Spencer Street (The Age) / 6 towers 39 to 63 storeys / 3,000 apartments
  • New Quay, Docklands / 43+16 levels / 425 apartments
  • 568-580 Collins Street / 67 storeys / 588 apartments
  • 245-263 City Road / Southbank 46+51 storeys / 786 apartments
    “The Southbank area is characterised by a mix of use and large apartment-style towers and bq. I believe this proposal would sit comfortably in this area.” LINK

December 2012

  • Y3, 839 Collins Street Docklands / 21 storey office tower
  • 706-738 Bourke Street / 24 storey building for Medibank Private
  • 559-587 Collins Street / 26 level office tower
  • 35-47 Coventry Street / 21 level apartment tower
  • 42-48 Balston Street, Southbank / 2 x residential towers
  • 374-380 Lonsdale Street / multi-storey office and residential tower

November 2012

  • Tower Melbourne / 71 or 68 storeys / Elenberg Fraser ( permit )
  • 450 Elizabeth Street / 62 storeys / 541 apartments
  • 316 Queen Street (Celtic Club) / 48 storey residentil
  • 4C, 735 Collins Street / Multi-storey commercial building

October 2012

  • 316-322 Queen Street / 48 storey mixed use.

It isn’t guaranteed that all these approvals means there will be a lot of construction coming our way. Some of these properties will be put back on the market at a higher price, with the permit. Because of the inflated price, the incoming owner needs to increase the number of floors, and so on. The AFR wrote about these phantom buildings in 2011, mentioning the Balston Street development which was again approved last December.

This free-for-all may soon run its course, considering the allegations of croneyism and racketeering at both state and council levels, and the upcoming state elections. But these flats will be well out of the bag by then.

06.03.13 in urban-planning urban-design


A lack of zeal see more

Driving past Waiheke Island’s new library construction site last month, I raised a bushy eyebrow on seeing the hoarding announcing Mainzeal Group as main contractor. I hadn’t seen their name anywhere for a very long while. I had thought they had been laid waste to on Black Monday, 1987. But I am an infrequent visitor to Auckland, my old home town.

The other eyebrow was raised today, seeing Mainzeal Group has gone into receivership, finally. It was apparently the country’s 3rd largest builder, with many new builds in Auckland and repairs in Christchurch on the books. The company’s collapse came as quite a surprise to everyone except the board. So there will be an awful lot of collateral damage.. not only have subbies probably lost any money due to them, all their tools are locked into sites around the new Zealand.

Mainzeal logo

Mainzeal emerged into my consciousness during the boom times in Auckland in the mid 1980s. It was a good time for architects, but an appalling time for anyone interested in the city beautiful. There was not much left of the pedestrian-friendly Victorian Auckland by the time I departed in 1995, it had all been laid waste to for cheaply built towers and at-grade Wilson’s car parks. I saw a few too many of my favourite buildings disappear, and this became on of the 16 reasons I left Auckland for Melbourne.

Mainzeal brought about a particular hatred in my teenaged self. I, and many others, thought Mainzeal were scum for illegally knocking down His Majesty’s theatre and arcade in Auckland in 1987. That arcade was something any city would kill for. I think they paid something like a $500 fine.

Robin Morrison’s beautiful photo of the lost arcade is linked to here as I can’t reproduce it. When questioned by police as to why builders were all over the site in the middle of the night, Mainzeal said they were removing some seats from the theatre. By morning the whole lot was razed, and for years after there was only an at-grade car park and pie cart to replace it.

A year later, the equally covert overnight demolition of Brown’s Mill was carried out without even bothering to turn off the power and water, or removing artworks stored in the building. I was so annoyed that I cut the article from the paper, and very weirdly happened to have it sitting on my table today, 25 years later…

Brown's Mill demolition

10.02.13 in builders heritage


Yay! I thought I was the only one be celebrating MainZeal’s demise due to their appalling behaviour in the 80s. They deserve only part of the blame though; they were acting under instruction of the building’s owners and no doubt another company would have taken the contract if Mainzeal had demonstrated integrity and/or a spine. In part it still rankles because decades later the site on Elliot St is still just an ugly hole in the ground instead of a gracious row of 100 yr old merchant buildings. That does not mean I don’t feel for the sub-contractors. I do. It tells me the core values at Mainzeal didn’t change much over the last 25 odd years.

by mark yelspal on 20 February 13 ·#

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