Bates Smart and SJB's two new towers in the heart of Melbourne's financial quarter - 550 Bourke Street and 181 William Street - reflect an involved dialogue with the city's eclectic architectural history. Varied in scale and texture, the built context is formidable.
Bourke Street has a conventional "sealed" foyer, while William Street is cast as an extension of the streets outside, giving a sense of proceeding inside through streetscape. Internally, the foyers are cast as the central components of two podiums that are visually distinct from the office slabs above. At William Street the podium relates both to the warehouse opposite and also to the loggia level of Bates Smart's St James Centre. At Bourke Street, it links more strongly with Charles Bebro's delightful red brick building of 1911 twenty-five doors up, and functions at an earlier urban scale.
The podium levels at Bourke Street are animated, opened and softened by a patterning of colour and texture in the building's windows. which serves to evoke the older buildings nearby while belying the large and imposing foyer within. An element of playful emerges when you realise that half the apparent volume is the work of a large mirror screen set just behind the second bank of lifts. As at William Street, the counter is a large cantilevered structure, appearing to float in the foyer volume. The ceiling is dominated by Stephen Hennessey's set of zinc light baffles, soft in demeanour and lightly scaled. The lift wells are linked in this feather scale by fans of light played on them at their cornice. A set of tubular sconces dispersing their light into "flowers," marks the east foyer wall, again in attenuated and delicate scale.
The parallel foyer at 181 William Street's picks up the movement and scale of the street, drawing this inside its columns and plate glass walls. The use of an emphatic cantilevered awning, and a free set of ground floor columns in elevation, enables the building to successfully round its obliquely descending street corner. This was something that BHP House, based on being viewed in a pure Miesian piaza , could never do. The external expression of William Street's foyer is in two episodes (rather than the five internal bays), comprising a white-finished colonnade a white-finished colonnade supporting the main tower slab and denoting the steady pedestrian movement immediately inside. The street corner mass, clad in a dark basalt colour that picks up on the warehouse and BHP House, is cantilevered over the pavement and while set in line with the street corner, working as a distinct cornering element. This engages with another oft-neglected Melbourne problem. Since World War II, Melbourne's large city buildings have generally been reluctant to tackle the city grid in kinetic terms, preferring to passively fill in right-angled corner lines. In contrast, earlier architects had invariably provided a crucial cornering element, both to "round" each corner and to set up sn opposing, usually diagonal force line set in tension against the city's regular grid.
Foyers are contradictory in nature and this has often created problems in architectural modernism, which so heavily favoured purism in final expression. The architects handle this well, by exploring an ensemble of two distinct foyer genres: traditional for Bourke Street and streetscape for William Street. The Bourke Street foyer sets up a single beckoning statement along with a physical obstacle - the weather sealant revolving door. And so the foyer makes a statement of grand entrance while ushering you towards the lifts. The entry possesses a quick-slow-quick rhythm of recognition. This foyer is cast as a crucial statement of the building and is brief and transitory in spatial experience. The foyer of William Street marshals the same kinetics of entry, followed by a pause in the foyer, then the hurry onto the lifts and up to the higher levels. But it draws in the street by mimesis, generating pedestrian movement on its inside pavement and through the internal bays that flanks its west walling like a set of building fronts.