An apartment tower paying tribute to city’s past

Melbourne’s Docklands has a smattering of Victorian warehouses and architectural relics.

However, much of its history has been lost among all the new developments, with numerous high-rise residential towers similar to those that can be found in many cities around the world.

The Escala development in Docklands.
The Escala development in Docklands.

Mixed-use development Escala, designed by Six Degrees Architects and developed by MAB Corporation, is different. The 379 Docklands Drive site was conceived to pick up on some of the finer architectural grain in historic areas, such as Flinders Lane.

“The buildings in Flinders Lane go back 150 years, so it wasn’t about trying to recreate the past, but express that history and layering it in a contemporary manner,” says architect Mark Healy, director of Six Degrees, who worked closely with David Allt-Graham, from MAB, on the project.

“Escala is not dissimilar to an early 20th century streetscape, where the buildings vary in height as well as in the way each facade is different,” says Healy.

Reaching a pinnacle of 19 storeys, Escala has 178 apartments of either one, two or three bedrooms. “We wanted to create a series of apartments with their own personality,” Healy says.

On the main street frontage, where trams pass by, the podium level features a brick facade and a series of arched windows, all of different scales. Another building features perforated bronze balustrades and another, used for offices, has a glazed curtain wall.

Although the towers, with podiums set aside for car parking, are clearly contemporary, there are subtle nods to the past – arched steel windows slightly evocative of the art nouveau period (late 19th and early 20th century), along with a generous dose of exterior tiling that was popular at that time.

Six Degrees was one of the first practices in Melbourne to upcycle, taking elements such as leadlight glass and fashioning them into the present. So, even before one enters an apartment, there is the signature leadlight glass reminiscent of the work of the US pioneers Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony.

Apartments boast some of the handcrafted features of the past.
Apartments boast some of the handcrafted features of the past.

As with Flinders Lane, Escala is a mixed-use development, with about 2500 square metres of retail and commercial space. And similarly, there is also a laneway segment through the site to create a buzz at street level.

Six Degrees was keen to introduce some of the handcrafted features one would expect from the past in the apartments, including leadlight windows in areas such as bathrooms. The flooring also plays on the sense of tactility, such as herringbone timber and mosaic tiles laid into marble splashbacks in kitchens.

Spiral stairs also appear in some loft-style apartments, with the double-height spaces in areas such as living rooms giving them a sense of generosity.

“If you look at the loft-style apartments that architect Le Corbusier developed in the 1920s, they are quite small in terms of their footprint – but they just feel right, in terms of space and natural light,” says Healy, who was inspired by the designer’s modernist apartments in Paris and Lyon.

As well as a piazza for pedestrians, Escala includes a number of communal facilities, including as a rooftop garden, gymnasium and a library, as well as a 25-metre swimming pool.

For those who prefer to ride their bikes to work rather than drive or use the tram, there are generous end-of-trip facilities that include some of the artistry found in the lobbies and the apartments.

“It was certainly a challenging project, particularly as each building and apartment is different,” Healy says.

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