Charter Hall’s $1.5 billion precinct at 555 Collins Street in Melbourne epitomises human centred design and points to a future of frictionless offices.
“Instead of setting out to create architectural monuments to the city, Charter Hall’s goal has always been to create workplaces and spaces that put our tenant customers front of mind,” says regional development director Simon Stockfeld.
555 Collins Street, which gained development approval in April, is the latest example of this philosophy in action.
The project in Melbourne’s mid-town is being brought to life by Charter Hall in collaboration with Gensler and Cox Architecture, and will comprise 84,000 sqm of Premium grade office space and more than 2,300 sqm of retail across two stages.
The first tower of 50,000 sqm across 34 levels will house up to 5,000 workers when completed.
But this is no ordinary office. Instead, the building will play an important role as a talent attraction and retention tool, which means “it needs to be a place where people feel connected and there is a genuine desire for them to come together,” Stockfeld explains.
“When we work under the principles of human centred design, we’re not just designing a building – we’re designing a living, breathing, ageing ecosystem,” explains Gensler principal and strategy director Lara Marrero.
“By seeing the 555 Collins St development as something bigger than just a building, our strategies and design teams were able to develop a space that will become a platform for people to truly innovate and connect,” Marrero adds.
Solving said and unsaid needs
Marrero points to Henry Ford’s famous quote: “If I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”
“When designing environments, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of allowing people to define what they want based on what they know. But consulting the tenant customer and community and hearing their challenges, rather than just their wants, allows us to solve for both their said and unsaid needs,” she explains.
In response, the design team developed a “macro user journey” that Marrero says “redefined the entire building experience, from arriving, to discovering, learning, and moving around within the building, all the way to leaving and re-engaging with the space”.
“At every touchpoint, we considered the space, service, activation strategies, partnership opportunities, and operations and maintenance support to establish a platform that empowers Charter Hall to serve the needs of the people – both now and in the future.”
The building’s ground plane will feature a ‘market hall’ and amphitheatre for tenant activations and events, as well as ‘third spaces’ that will provide flexible working options for tenants.
These third spaces are “facilitators of unexpected social interactions,” says Cox Architecture director Simon Haussegger.
“With a strong platform, we enable a community overlay that can promote anything from information sessions or town halls to yoga and walking meetings. We’ve started to see how our spaces can meld to our users’ needs, not the other way around,” Haussegger says.
Haussegger says the design team spent months “understanding the needs and desires of our community” which then “allowed us to shape the architecture around the user”.
It’s not just a building but an entire precinct that will enhance Melbourne’s mid-town, Haussegger adds.
“The connection and extension of the public realm and retail vibrancy at ground level also creates linkages within the site and helps bring to life that broader masterplan. It was important to us that we’re building on a wider vision for the area, not just creating a great workspace.”
Haussegger says extensive consultation with the local authorities informed the design process and “allowed us to create something that’s context-specific and relevant for the future of Melbourne”. For example, the heavy sandstone and bluestone on the lower levels echo the architecture that stood on the site before.
Frictionless and future-proofed
Charter Hall has spent many years designing next-generation buildings, like 130 Lonsdale Street in Melbourne and GPO Exchange in Adelaide, that have been well ahead of the curve on wellness, technology and place making.
Stockfeld says the past few months have reconfirmed the importance of “frictionless, resilient workplaces”.
Tenant customers have a new appreciation for “a lift that is automatically called from our workplace app Charli, a parking gate that opens without having to lean out of the car, an app to pre-order your coffee, or real-time data on energy and water consumption for tenants”.
Charter Hall has now “zeroed in” on the “welfare side of the equation”.
“Beyond removing friction, we are now finding new ways to improve indoor air quality and remove touch points to assist our tenants with a safe and productive workplace,” Stockfeld explains.
“It’s one thing to say you’re creating a future-proofed building, but it’s another altogether to integrate technologies that continue to provide meaning and adapt as the landscape evolves.
“Not only do tenants want a better experience for themselves, their teams and their visitors – they want solutions that will be relevant five years after completion and well into the future.”