A step forward for transformation of Melbourne’s arts precinct

Hassell and SO-IL’s masterplan for phase one of the Melbourne Arts Precinct transformation (MAPT) is going before council on 1 February, as Development Victoria seeks approval for a planning amendment to pave the way for the development.

Phase one of the “once-in-a-generation” project will see the construction of the NGV Contemporary gallery as well as an elevated deck above Sturt Street supporting a new 18,000-sqaure-metre public realm and upgrades to the Arts Centre Melbourne Theatres building, mostly back-of-house.

The masterplan outlines the preferred building envelope for the NGV Contemporary – the design team of which is to be announced in early 2022 – and describes the proposed design for the public realm and elevated deck.

NGV Contemporary will be built in place of the existing building at 77 Southbank Boulevard, and the masterplan proposes a built form with a height of 60 metres, cantilevering over Sturt Street reserve, Kavanagh Street and Southbank Boulevard.

The elevated deck would span the full width of the Sturt Street Road reserve, from City Road through to Kavanagh Street, interfacing with the Australian Ballet Centre along its western edge and connecting with the future NGV Contemporary building to the south.

A step forward for transformation of Melbourne’s arts precinct

The 18,000-squaremetre activated public realm, incorporating space for outdoor dining, art and performances, would be predominantly located above existing built form (The Arts Centre Melbourne Theatres building and car park) and the new elevated deck structure.

“MAPT will enable visitors to move seamlessly from Southbank, the Birrarung and the city through the Melbourne Arts Precinct extending from Federation Square in the north and the length of Sturt Street in the south,” the masterplan reads.

“Featuring creative installations, activations, and performances in the public space, the MAPT will bring the excitement, colour, and inspiration that we find inside Melbourne’s theatres and galleries into the outdoors.”

Victoria’s planning minister is the authority tasked with approving the requested amendment, but it has been referred to the City of Melbourne for comment.

The council’s in-house urban design and landscape architecture team offered in principle support to the vision, noting that the raised public realm had the potential to unify the precinct, which has been historically fractured by geographic barriers.

However, the City Design team also recommended that “more robust contextual analysis, principles, strategies, staging plans and massing envelopes are established.”

In particular, the City Design team said built form encroachment over Kavanagh Street and Southbank Boulevard should be removed to maintain appropriate pedestrian network conditions and that “further rationalization and detail” is required to proposed gateways and connections between the Melbourne Arts Precinct and surrounding context.

Council management are recommending that the Future Melbourne committee advises the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning that further detail is required to be provided in the masterplan before council can support the proposed amendment.