SOUTH CITY SQUARE: A ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION ON LARGE-SCALE PROJECTS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF URBAN REGENERATION

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As Australia’s population doubles to over 48 million people by 2061, questions around the design of our cities are of rising importance. By 2061, 73 per cent of our population is forecast to be living in urban centres. In the move towards higher density living, it is imperative that we deliver superior built outcomes that consider the needs of the end-user, as well as the environmental and social context they sit within.

One project that aims to take an integrated approach to mixed-use development is South City Square: a $600 million urban regeneration project in the heart of Woolloongabba, South East Queensland. A joint venture between developers Pellicano and Perri Projects, the project itself is set to deliver a new lifestyle precinct to the previously industrial suburb, with a retail centre, entertainment and fine grain food and beverage hub, along with six architecturally-designed residential buildings and a boutique hotel. The holistic mixed-use precinct will surround a central, public green square that is accessible to the wider Brisbane community.

The Urban Developer recently sat down with the team from South City Square to discuss the drivers behind this project, the challenges in bringing it to life, and the state of play in the hotly debated inner Brisbane market.               

How did the South City Square journey commence?

Michael Kent, Development Operations Manager at Pellicano: Pellicano has been established in Brisbane for over 10 years and we have a long history of developing in the local market of Woolloongabba. Perri Projects was investigating opportunities to enter the Brisbane market and with an established working relationship with Pellicano it became an obvious choice from a business perspective for the two companies to undertake a joint venture.

With Pellicano being on the ground in Brisbane we assumed the role of development managers and coordinate the day to day delivery of the South City Square vision.

David Scalzo, Managing Director at Perri Projects: We had undertaken extensive research and identified inner Brisbane as a primary growth market for our business strategy. Namely, the forecasted population and economic growth over the next 10 to 15 years, and the enormous planned infrastructure spend were strong factors in our decision. We were looking for a site actively from late 2012 and had an established working relationship with the Pellicano team.

We found Woolloongabba particularly interesting as it had been identified by the government as a priority development zone for the last 10 years. This land on the corner of Logan Road and Deshon Street was the key site within that zone due to its location and size. We knew we wanted to invest in a long-term urban renewal project that had civic uses, public realm and a retail activity centre rather than a purely residential development. This site fitted all our requirements.

Nick Symonds, Associate Director at DBI Design, architecture firm: Our first involvement was prior to purchase at the feasibility stage.  At such an early stage the brief was very open, the question was more, ‘what might we include on this site, what might work?’  We knew the site would feature residential but the initial sketches and analyses really opened the opportunity up for the development of the central square and retail precinct.

We’ve been involved in almost all design aspects including components of landscape architecture, masterplan, the architecture of each of the buildings and the interior design.

Bob Earl, Director at Oculus, urban planning and landscape experts: Oculus started from a blank canvas working with the architects, Pellicano and Perri Projects on the urban design aspects of building configuration, how to approach the landscaping of public spaces, and how the project would connect and contribute to the city and the context of Woolloongabba.

Michael Frazzetto, Architect at Six Degrees, architecture firm: Six Degrees was engaged around a year ago, to look specifically at the ground plane, how the retail precinct will operate and the movement of people throughout the site. Our involvement is essentially on the ground plane and retail shop front design. We determined the functionality of the precinct as the staged rollout occurs; both in terms of how each stage will operate in the short term and how this ties in with the grand vision once the whole site has been delivered in approximately five years. 

What considerations have been particularly important in this project when designing for the local Brisbane market?

Nick Symonds: Aspect, access to open space and interaction with the environment are a few common factors we tend to discuss for the Brisbane market.

Views are obviously a common sales point.  Views represents our desire to connect with the outside world, however we also think it’s important to consider our other senses and how they connect us with the outside environment.  For example, are our windows sized to allow adequate light into the rear of apartments, can we feel the sun within our living spaces, are the windows appropriately shielded at unwanted times?  Can windows open to the sound of our landscape and air outside?

One major consideration for South City Square was the idea of outlooks and privacy.  The design has carefully considered each apartment’s orientation and its views to the outside.  The design also considers privacy of residents to ensure the internal spaces are liveable.

Michael Kent: For us, the most important design decision revolved around how to develop a truly integrated, mixed-use project at the scale of South City Square. It’s not just a residential building - it’s a whole lifestyle precinct. Creating places that respond to the needs of their future inhabitants, and the needs of the already established residents, should be the aim of developers and designers worldwide.  We undertook extensive feasibility studies that identified the needs of this Brisbane catchment – retail, entertainment, shared space, medical, community services such as child care – and implemented them into our design. One of the key innovations that allowed us to create such a large central green square was to design retail across multiple levels, therefore providing more open space at the ground plane to dedicate to community amenity instead. This ensures a better design and liveability outcome for the community at large so it’s an aspect of the masterplan that we are extremely proud of.

A further important consideration for residential developments across all markets is designing for long term living. At South City Square, we wanted a salt and pepper feel so the precinct would be suitable for residents across the spectrum of their lifespan and not skewed to any one demographic. This is key to placemaking, the viability and vitality of any precinct.

Michael Frazzetto: We really leaned on the Brisbane team to understand which lifestyle factors are important to locals and combined this with our extensive understanding of core behavioural patterns. There are patterns that are common across all types of people. For example, people feel comfortable sitting in cafes when they can see lots of other people. We knew that climate is incredibly important in Brisbane, so there is a blurring of the indoors and out with oversized fans in outdoor public spaces.  Within the precinct there are sub precincts that respond to the weather – we’ve created morning spaces with cafés and juice bars, then throughout the day these prominent zonal locations move so you end up with activation from morning until night.

Bob Earl: Creating a sense of urbanity in this project was an important factor, and creating that oasis in the middle. We have a hard edge to the street to give a sense of security to that middle space but also permeability so people can walk down Logan Road and walk through the project – people can come to a public space that is soft and gooey and comfortable. There is an intention of creating a sense of urbanity, but a sense of relaxed urbanity, and a very green sense of urbanity.

The multi-residential market is a moving beast. Issues of over-supply, affordability, lending restrictions, foreign investment and design guidelines are contentious and inspire heated debate among our peers. What insights can you provide into the current and future market?

David Scalzo: For as long as I’ve been involved in the built environment people have been worried about these factors. They’re relevant to any market. If you look at the macro-economic numbers of Brisbane there is no question that new housing needs to be delivered in order to meet the ongoing demand. It’s a maturing market so it’s necessary to have a fluid view on it. In the medium-term there will be a differentiation in people’s selection of projects. As Brisbane is becoming more sophisticated we’re seeing the variance in the stock and a leaning towards quality product.

Nick Symonds: In Brisbane, there are some great examples of quality projects coupled with well resolved design.  But then we see other developments which seem to have been too focused on the short term – unresolved designs and low quality finishes. As we move into a more competitive apartment cycle we will see some of the offerings with limited facilities or lack-lustre designs drop out of the market due to lack of demand.  Instead, we will see developments with strong offerings of amenity, design, and location shine through as buyers become more empowered in their purchasing choices due to the breadth of options available to them. 

Michael Kent: In Brisbane, there have been fundamental changes in the way people live. Over the past ten years we have seen the introduction of quality cafes and restaurants, and a move towards higher density living with people wanting to work and live in proximity to the city and lifestyle amenity. This transition happened in Melbourne decades ago and it is happening in Brisbane now.

Currently there is a higher level of supply than we have seen historically – this is part of the property cycle and the demand will absorb the level of supply in cities with growing communities.  Despite these fluctuations, the evolution towards higher density living will continue, Brisbane’s population will rise and there will always be a demand for quality product with quality amenity in the right locations.

South City Square is marketing itself as a lifestyle destination. What amenity are you providing to add to Woolloongabba’s urban character?

Nick Symonds: The precinct has an extensive retail offering that is divided into two planes. As you enter at the piazza level, there will be an underground supermarket in conjunction with a green grocer, butcher and newsagency – all servicing the area’s needs. At the ground plane, we move to restaurants and cafes to bring people from the outside in. The restaurants under stage five will be built to look straight over the central green space, where you can watch your kids playing on the grass right out in front while you have your meal.

Under stages one and two and three, there will be a different offering again. As well as a medical centre and pharmacy there will be more hole-in-the-wall cafés connecting back to our public realm. The outside edge of South City Square will be dotted with laneways and alleyways that link back to the centre green space. This creates a layered experience and multiple pathways across the development.

Michael Frazzetto: Adding to the urban character of an area is about activating it. You want to make that day to day life easy and enjoyable. We looked at potential scenarios of people on the site and how they would use it. Specifically, in stages one and two we wanted to create concentration points to have lots of people rubbing shoulders – we have interesting cafes, places to grab your paper in the morning. We looked at what would make it popular on a Saturday at 9am, how is it going to operate on a Tuesday at 2pm? We wanted to make sure it would be a dynamic space with pockets of activity during those traditionally quieter times.

David Scalzo: We undertook detailed retail economic studies that indicated there was a current and future retail catchment needing to be serviced and conceived a very forward-thinking neighbourhood centre for the future.

Woolloongabba is an area that has seen some green shoots in terms of a food and beverage scene, but it hasn’t had a particularly concentrated area for public use. One of our aims is to centralise that part of the community activation – this has been done in South Bank and Kangaroo Point but not within the Gabba Ward. There is a diverse demographic in this part of Brisbane – an eclectic inner city community with varied ages, backgrounds, and economics, and they’re all attracted to that inner-city lifestyle. We wanted to create an urban centre where people can shop, be entertained, spend leisure time and then head up to their apartment at night.

One of the main components of this project and indeed, its namesake, is the extensive green space including central public square. Why is this space important and how will it add to the community’s experience of the development?

Michael Kent: Many great precincts from around the world have a focal point. From the outset, we had a vision to create a central urban square to encourage not just residents but the wider community to connect with the surroundings and be inclusive within the broader area.

As we move towards higher density living the traditional private open space is becoming smaller, and the way we use that space is changing. We live in a climate where people want to enjoy the outdoors, be in natural environment, and have locations for families and friends or larger groups to congregate in. Our vision for South City Square was to respond to this and to provide a range of quality spaces for people to use and enjoy.

Nick Symonds: From an environmental and social aspect, it is very important we move to higher densities within our urban centres as this is where all our infrastructure is placed and can function economically.  Therefore, green spaces will become more of a commodity, and the quality of these spaces, in terms of functionally, amenities, and design will need to continue to improve. 

Bob Earl: People want to come out of their apartments into a space that is clean, cool and natural. We also want to be around other human beings; we’re tribal, we want to watch people, we want to be watched. The green space is not just an amenity it’s an attractor of other people. That’s just human desire – to be close to other people – that’s the reason we live in cities.

South City Square is due to be completed by 2022, with first residents moving in mid-2017. 

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