Melbourne's High-Rise Future

Larry Parsons
Director of Design
Ethos Urban, Melbourne

Plan Melbourne foresees Melbourne growing from 4.5 to 8 million by 2050, confirmed by census data showing a 300 people/day increase. This growth obliges a dramatic construction effort and, since many of Melbourne’s strategically placed suburbs are protected by planning controls, much of the growth will be upward. Central Melbourne has nearly 50,000 apartments under construction or in the application pipeline. There are nine towers over 200 meters and up to 24 more on the way. Sites under 1000 square meters accommodate 70-story towers with FAR’s over 50:1. Height is also reaching suburban activity centers. There are seven proposed buildings over 20 stories in distant Box Hill, and a 58-story tower in South Yarra.

In 2016, the State Government approved amended central city planning controls to guide this development frenzy and stabilize expectations. The reintroduction of floor area ratios requires proposals over 18:1 FAR to provide agreed public benefits. Mandatory setback controls improve tower spacing and amenity outcomes, but notably there is no overall height limit in most of the central city. New design standards protect the amenity of shrinking apartment layouts. Recent applications already show improved outcomes.

A cooling in the high-rise residential market, partly due to restrictions on foreign investment. sees a welcome return of office tower and hotel applications, as well as the arrival of build-to-rent. These longer-term investments and a more demanding local market signal higher-quality towers. The outstanding challenge is the redevelopment of ageing residential towers, due to their fractured ownership.