Each year, Ankrom
Moisan awards a travel scholarship to employees. An opportunity to travel near
or far while studying and researching design trends helps increase firm
knowledge and gives us a more holistic view of design. Scholarships have been awarded in the past to study a wide range of topics: from senior housing in
the Netherlands, to multifamily housing in South America, to healthcare
solutions in some of the United States’ most urban areas.
Nelson recently used the scholarship to travel to Australia. Here, she
describes her experience.
In the last decade, there has been a resurgence in the development
of tall buildings. Ankrom Moisan has designed numerous towers and completed
hundreds of feasibility studies, through which we have honed our thought process
around tall building design. As urban centers continue to attract new
residents, and with limited space in our cities, tall buildings will only
become more prevalent in our city skylines. I wanted an opportunity to study
tall buildings and bring lessons learned back to AMA. With this in mind, my
tall building research brought me to Australia.
Why Australia? Australia contains some of the most
architecturally innovative tall buildings that are within the height range of many
projects Ankrom Moisan designs – between 200-400 feet. Furthermore, the major
cities in which we practice—Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco—are all
climatically linked with the major cities of southeast Australia: Sydney and
Melbourne. The architectural strategies applied to tall building design in
Australia directly apply to the buildings we design along the West Coast.
In his essay, Architecture
and Society, Paul Goldberger writes, “The best architecture always comes
out of specific circumstances, not out of ideological predisposition. We are
looking to advance the art of skyscraper design by looking not only at the
tallest and most technologically advanced, but also at the buildings that seem
to emerge out of the cities of which they are a part and, in turn, enrich those
cities” (1). A skyscraper cannot act as an isolated object. It must
respond to its surroundings and act as an upward extension of the city.
is about the making of community and place. Today, more than any point in
history, architecture is also about showing social and environmental
responsibility. This is the challenge of the 21st century, and this is the
challenge of the tall building. In my travel and research, I sought to
understand what makes a tall building relevant for the people and places we
design for. There are several ways to evaluate the strength of a tall building:
form and proportion, physical and cultural context, as well as program and
technology. While my research used many of these metrics to evaluate tall
buildings, the most successful projects contributed to this idea of
placemaking. In other words, they shared two key tenets:
forge vibrant connections between the public and private realm by blurring the
boundaries between them, and they reinforce the pedestrian experience by
creating human-scaled elements to balance the tall, verticality of the tower
and the horizontality of the ground floor.
In my opinion, one of the most successful tower projects
in Sydney is Anz Tower, part of the complex known as Liberty Place. Located on an
urban site in the Central Business District, this 44-story office tower
contains 55,963 square meters of office and 2,800 square meters of commercial
space. There is one single residential penthouse apartment partially located on
levels 43 and 44. The typical floor plate is triangular, with its hypotenuse facing
the Sydney Harbor.
A key component of the project is the space surrounding
the tower itself. With frontages on two major streets, the designers were
tasked with creating a mid-block connection through the development. The base
of the tower opens onto a public plaza, filled with a mix of permanent and
temporary seating. A smaller stand-alone café is nearby, offering a human scale
element to the space. The entrance to the tower is mediated by a five-story
carved opening into the building. This covered space is filled with an
expansive white neon piece of artwork hanging overhead, further creating a
transitional element between public and private space. Another café, with
seating spilling out onto the plaza, is the last element before the street
itself. This ensemble of elements: public art, a mix of seating opportunities,
a small stand-alone building, and an active retail component all help contribute
to the intimacy and success of the project. It is a space you want to spend
time in; the tower itself seems to disappear.
Another successful project is
Barangaroo South, a large-scale, carbon-neutral urban development located at
the western harbor edge of Sydney’s CBD. This 54-acre project includes
residential, retail, and commercial buildings, as well as a network of public
open space. Due for completion in 2022, I was in Sydney as the first wave of
new construction was finished. This included Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ International Towers Sydney T1, T2,
With over 320,000 square meters of prime office space, these towers are
some of Australia’s most sustainable high-rise office buildings. With Tower 1 at
49 floors (712 ft.), Tower 2 at 43 floors (584 ft.), and Tower 3 at 39 floors
(551 ft.), they are reshaping Sydney’s skyline. Each elliptical-shaped tower has its own façade
expression, a mix of colored and shaped fins marching vertically along the skin.
They are both visual and functional: each fin gives the tower its own identity
while providing solar shading to the tenants within.
Each tower sits on a three-story podium, giving a
much-needed human scale to the 39+-story buildings. These plinths were conceived
as carved piece of ground, with the street finishes taken inside past the
thresholds to draw people to the interior. The podium is mediated to an even
more intimate scale with the addition of single or double-height glassy
threshold spaces, acting as the literal and figural front door to the lobby of
each project. These entrances fit naturally with nearby, smaller-scaled retail
and commercial frontages. As a pedestrian walking on the streets of Barangaroo,
I always felt comfortable and engaged with the streetscape. The verticality of
the towers only came into play when looking up
The last project I studied that so successfully engages
the pedestrian is in Melbourne. The former Carlton Urban Brewery (CUB) Site is
a complex urban renewal project that occupies a full city block at the northern
edge of Melbourne’s CBD. While still under development, the 172,000 sq. ft. site
holds a mix of adaptive reuse and new development projects, including office,
education, and market-rate residential. While the buildings are somewhat
disjointed in the sense they are a mix of architectural styles and design, the
relationship between each project contributes positively to their surroundings and
the pedestrian experience.
For example, the 33-story Swanston Square apartment
building features, on one side of its façade, a striking portrait of William
Barak, an elder of Melbourne’s Indigenous
Wurundjeri tribe. The the north and west façades features brightly colored
orange, yellow, and green orbs, meant to represent a topographic map. The
contrast between this and the white, horizontally-oriented fiber cement panels
of the portrait is jarring. So it goes with the adjacent 20-story Bouverie
Street Apartments. The west-facing façade features a grid of multi-colored,
V-shaped solar shading panels running across its face, while the east façade is
composed of contrasting colors and floral patterns adorning the soffits and
roofs of the projecting apartment bays.
these two buildings is a winter garden with views facing down Swanston Street,
Melbourne’s central civic spine. This sheltered public space features a
glass-covered, three-story frame structure and is divided by raised planters. This
pedestrian-scaled open space allows the towers to completely recede into the
background, making the space feel intimate and gracious at the same time. This serene
public space connects directly to both apartment towers, as well as to the
commercial spaces at the ground floor.
these two towers alone would not create this familiar, welcoming appeal without
the balance of low-rise, three- and four-story buildings that sit around them. Along
Swanston Street, the iconic heritage Malt Store Building was renovated and
preserved to house a mix of office and retail. Originally built in 1904, this three-story,
red brick building buffers the Swanston Street apartment tower and creates a
comfortable street frontage for pedestrians. Directly adjacent to the building
is a large, two-story open air portal, inviting people to enter the series of
public and private spaces, or simply to take a mid-block shortcut across the
site. The additional projects completing the masterplan are very much in the
same look, feel, and scale. Pixel, a four-story, 12,000 sq. ft. carbon neutral office building was one of the
first to be completed on the site. Featuring a multi-colored and faceted louvered
façade that wraps the entire perimeter of the building, its development kicked
off the north end of the masterplan. It was designed to engage with the
adjacent low-rise buildings at this portion of the site and set the stage for
the future buildings to come. The CUB site complements the existing network of
buildings and public spaces. It reinforces the pedestrian experience by
preserving and allowing low-rise buildings to exist at the perimeter of the
site while allowing the towers to infill the interior.
the central takeaways of my research is that towers need to work on three main
levels to be a success: the skyline, urban experience, and occupant experience.
Much of this success occurs at the “groundline”–when the lines are blurred
between public and private space, and human-scaled elements are brought down to
the ground plane.
projects in Sydney and Melbourne are quite different architecturally, they all
create a human-scaled experience, welcoming and comfortable places for people
to come and go, or sit and stay. These towers all make their mark on their
respective skylines, yet the design of their ground floor was of equal, if not
- L.S. Beedle (ed.)
,Second Century of the Skyscraper (Van Nostrond Reinhold Company, 1988), 114.
- “Tall Buildings,”
Architectural Record, November 2015, 133.