The striking Dock 5 tower – you may know it from the kink in its side and its purple ‘crown’ – was one of the first new buildings to go up at the redeveloped Victoria Harbour. Stefan Mee from John Wardle Architects, one of two firms behind the building’s design, reflects on the project six years on with Rowena Robertson.
Nowadays contemporary buildings are everywhere you look at Victoria Harbour, but not so long ago things were a little quieter. It required some visionary architects to take those first steps towards building the modern incarnation of this part of Docklands.
One of those firms was John Wardle Architects, which designed the Dock 5 tower – now a proud ‘elder statesman’ of the precinct. A collaboration with Hassell, the building was completed in 2007. “For us it was a really fascinating project,” says Stefan Mee. “We closely considered interesting aspects of the site, in particular the water and the history of the Docklands.”
The water was central to the concept for the building. The architects brought the tower as close to the harbourside as it could, and were keen to have as many apartments overlooking the water and facing north as possible. This was achieved by creating ‘inflections’ in the plan – shifts and turns that open up a range of views across the apartments. (Next time you pass the building look up and you’ll see the jutting concrete floor plates.) Consideration of the water and site is seen in formal elements of the building too: “You get these ribbons of balustrades that work along the edge of the building that are almost a little bit sail-like, as if the breeze was impacting on the building somehow,” says Stefan.
While the finished tower makes a strong statement against the skyline, John Wardle Architects’ main interest was making the building from “the inside out,” particularly as the brief called for the firm to think about the apartments as homes. The architects treated the site as if it was going to contain a single dwelling, factoring in views and the relationship to natural features such as waterand sunlight. “As the planning of the apartments developed, that influenced the outside of the building, so there was a constant to and fro between resolving the two,” says Stefan. The history of the site is alluded to within the building.
A stunning artwork by Sydney artist Dani Marti in the main foyer, made from concrete casts of a rope sculpture that also sits in the space, is a nod to the ropes that once tethered cargo ships to the docks. The cladding around the lift core references containers stacked on top of each other. An early concept for the building included a crane sculpture that seemed about to grip onto the ground level of the building. (The actual cantilevering, upper ‘crown’ of the building was craned in.) The ground level is one of the most successful features of the building. A glass chamber pushes activity out onto the promenade, while the level as a whole features a mix of retail and home offices.
Stefan has been impressed by how the Harbour has developed since the days he worked on the Dock 5 tower. “Back then there weren’t a lot of other buildings around, so we were really trying to imagine what it was going to be like. Now at Victoria Harbour there is a finer grain of activities starting to happen, and a sense of community."
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