Tower plan above heritage building praised

By David Schout

Heritage activists have lauded an approved 19-storey office building atop the historic German Club as a “positive outcome”.

The $24.5 million office building, approved by the City of Melbourne in June, will be set back 1.5 metres from the front and 5 metres from both sides of the 132-year-old building on Alfred Place.

Melbourne Heritage Action president Tristan Davies said his group was particularly pleased that “key interiors” would be retained and that the proposed tower was set back an “appropriate distance from the façade”.

Mr Davies said the collaborative outcome between the owner, builders and council “should happen more often”.

The applicant was Seafirst Australia, an investment company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s sister Janet Calvert-Jones, alongside her husband and sons.

Situated at the “Paris end” of Collins Street, the German Club was built in 1887 as a single-storey structure before being purchased by the Naval & Military Club in 1918, which then added an additional three storeys.

It is known for its Victorian interior, grand timber staircase and concert/lecture hall which, according to the Victorian Heritage Database, was said to have been the lecture venue for “Melbourne’s most distinguished German resident” Baron von Mueller. 

These days the commercial building houses restaurants and office space.

The new 19-storey building will consist of “boutique” office space that will allow small businesses to occupy an entire floor rather than co-exist with other entities. 

City of Melbourne planning chair Cr Nicolas Reece said it was pleasing the applicant didn’t “push the envelope”.

“(The plan) responds very sensitively to the foundations of the German Club,” he said.

“It’s not, as we see too often in this place, a bland glass box on top of a heritage building. It’s actually a design that references the Old German Club and Alfred Place.”

“This is a very important part of the city, the Paris End of Collins Street. Any application that comes before us in this part of the city is reviewed with a very close eye. It’s pleasing to see that this development proposal not only fits within the planning scheme but delivers for Melbourne in some important ways.”

Councillors noted that while the interiors of the German Club were not protected under the heritage register, it acknowledged the “dignity” with which it was being treated.

Mr Davies said this was an area that needed to be addressed in future.

“There are at least a dozen interiors in the City of Melbourne that are at least moderately significant which really should have some protection. Hopefully it’s something the council can address eventually,” he said.

“This is definitely a very significant place that reaches that local threshold and should be protected.”

Seafirst purchased the German Club in 2006 for $11 million.  

Once redeveloped, the site will sit 23 storeys and 80 metres high.

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