What Docklands Needs to Become a Better Suburb

By Urban Melbourne on 17 Apr 2014
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I recall venturing into Docklands over a decade ago, thinking what a wondrous experience those in charge could create over time.

How times change.

Peddle Thorp recently released a swag of new designs on show for the first time via their website. One of these is a concept for the Docklands Aquatic Centre, which would see an integrated facility located between Etihad Stadium and Victoria Harbour.

As a standalone concept, the sinuous facility looks great although one thought sprung to mind. Does Docklands really need another large, isolated structure that has little by way of interaction with passers-by?

“The intimacy of the CBD’s laneway network is a success because the average person is confronted with sensory overload.”

Etihad Stadium, parts of Yarra’s Edge and AXA’s 750 Collins Street amongst others already take that mantle, serving as Dockland’s Achilles’ heel.

Naturally the question becomes this: what does Docklands really need? This question is asked in respect to advancing the precinct in the eyes of the common person, who for lack of interest or experience, tends to dismiss the area out of hand.

Concept for the Docklands Aquatic Centre

The proposed Docklands Aquatic Centre
Photo: Peddle Thorp

Up until recently I would have thought community facilities were a must, yet they tend to serve the wants and needs of a vocal, local population – and fair enough.

The most recent planning application for Lend Lease‘s Victoria Harbour is a Boating and Family Services Hub.

Designed by Hayball, this odd duo will meld under the same roof, providing services such as consulting rooms, workstations, playgrounds, function areas, boat storage and rigging spaces.

As part of Victoria Harbour’s civic precinct, two more development lots have been set aside for human services buildings. These are all great initiatives located in one pocket of Docklands, but they won’t generate markedly increased foot traffic through the precinct.

What does Docklands really need? Intimacy… pure and simple.

When so many of Docklands’ buildings are large, independent and isolated, the result is a rather sterile, disconnected experience.

“Does Docklands really need another large, isolated structure that has little by way of interaction with passers-by?”

The intimacy of the CBD’s laneway network is a success because the average person is confronted with sensory overload. Sights, smells and constantly changing shopfronts stimulate and entice, coaxing them into an enjoyable experience.

The generic aluminium-framed street level glazed facades of Docklands simply disappoint.

It’s no coincidence that NewQuay’s waterfront and Lend Lease‘s Merchant Street area are the most frequented as the pedestrian experience is dynamic, green (Merchant Street at least) and interesting.

Some may say Harbour Town Docklands pursues the model of intimacy and diversity. Yes it tries to, but it also succeeds at being cheap, isolated and dare I say gimmicky – no authenticity there.

Can Docklands generate intimacy

Docklands lacks the inner city’s inviting laneway culture
Photo: Australian Traveller

Can Docklands generate intimacy? Mmm… no.

While so much has been spoken about what could and should be done to enhance the Docklands experience, nothing tangible has eventuated.

The cost to retrofit massive swathes of inactive street frontage is prohibitive and I just can’t help but feel Docklands will retain the feel of a large suburban office park at the foot of the CBD.

Is there a solution? Aside from demolishing a few buildings and starting over, I think there would be better luck with Fishermans Bend!

This article was originally published on Urban Melbourne.

About the Author

Urban Melbourne is an independent source of medium and high density urban projects in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victorian cities. Their passion is to shine a spotlight on all the developers, architects, builders and members of the community at large that are actively engaged in and support Melbourne and Victoria's future growth needs.

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