It’s a site that’s set to become home to the tallest tower in the digital precinct of Melbourne’s Docklands, but now its proud past as a junction for a tangle of old rail lines will be kept alive.
The history of the land is set to be honoured with a series of public art installations located around the impending 23-storey building that will evoke the memory of its role as a critical transport hub dating back to the mid-1800s.
“We wanted to contribute to the site, and acknowledge what was there before,” said Howard Mok, design manager of developer Poly Victoria. “The site was formerly a sea of railway lines connecting the docks to the city until they were finally moved away.
“So we wanted to capture some of the drama and dynamic of that history for the future.”
As a result, the $500 million, 91-metre-high office building designed by architects Woods Bagot, and now under construction at 1000 La Trobe Street – with the modern train lines of Southern Cross station only a six-minute walk away – will have three striking artworks visible to the public, each inspired by the old rail lines.
There’ll be a seven-metre sculpture in reddish-to-magenta hues in the courtyard to the rear of the building, another horizontal sculpture in bronzes and greens at the front entry, and a light display running up the facade.
Curator Rebecca Townsend, of Creative Road, worked with Poly Victoria on drawing up a long list of 50 artists who could undertake the sculptural commission and discussed the form and materials and budget the works might take.
“The architecture was inspired by its position at the crossroads of train tracks, and it made sense for the artwork to also refer to its history,” she said.
“The old goods train lines used to go straight through the site and, while you can’t see them anymore, we wanted to make them visible with the artwork. The Docklands have that industrial working history, so that informed the brief for the artists.”
The long list was gradually whittled down to three artists, and each was paid to present their concepts. The group unanimously chose the proposals submitted by Perth-based public artist Stuart Green, who has created works in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and throughout Western Australia, as well as in the Middle East.
Among his best-known works are Husk, Kernel, Returning at an office tower on George Street, Brisbane, the Flux Soleil Tower facade, also in Brisbane, sculptures and wall art at the Atwell Senior College in Atwell, Western Australia, and other sculptures at the state’s Fiona Stanley Hospital in Murdoch.
His designs for the courtyard and entry of the Poly Centre were judged to be the most striking. “His artworks will be very eye-catching with way-finding elements too,” said Ms Townsend. “They’re curvaceous, beautifully sinewy forms – with Stuart known for his curves – and they’re showy but very sculptural and traditional.
“You can see how inspired they are by the movement of the train lines and intersections and junction points. They’ll flow from the interiors to the exterior of the building.”
Opposite the Docklands’ Marvel Stadium, the tower will have on average 2100-square-metre floorplates, with 700 square metres designated to a hybrid co-working centre. It will also have the opportunity for vertical floor integrations, agile working environments and the potential for future business consolidation and growth.
On the ground floor, on completion in 2021, there’ll be a mix of retail, including casual food, cafes, retail services and amenities, both indoor and outdoor, as well as a health and wellness offering.
Mr Mok said Poly Victoria had worked closely with Development Victoria to ensure the tower would contribute positively to the rejuvenation of the Docklands precinct, with the public art a major part.
The building will also be illuminated at night by an artwork from light artist Bruce Ramus, which will light the folds of the north and south facades of the building’s architecture, and have pulsing coloured lights to match both trains coming and going, and weather reports.
Digital Harbour is on the western edge of the Docklands area. It is home to NBN Co’s network operations centre, Telstra’s learning academy and Life.lab, a mixed-use building with a range of small to medium enterprises.
As the former home of the old railway industry, Mr Green is excited about the prospect of rail artworks.
“You always need to embed an artwork in the context of the site and with a new building, it’s good to look at its history and what it will be like,” he said. “I looked at some historical photos and saw a whole series of railway lines that was the starting point for me and it drives the aesthetic.
“So, I have two parallel lines, and where one goes, the other always goes too. The sculptures also have an enigmatic quality about them. With public art, you always have a responsibility to the people who are going to work in the area, and who live nearby, and also to make sure it’s going to have longevity and continued relevance for the next 50 years.”
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