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Right North facade with typical Vista and Metropolis apartments below and Atlas penthouses, looking up from LaTrobe Street.

Rocketing into Melbourne’s stratosphere, Nonda’s latest apartment tower again lifts values and standards for the neighbourhood and the national housing industry – proving that up-market and innovative design is profitable.
Photography by John Gollings.

Project Description
Tower is a 36-storey residential development which rises from a five-storey mixed-use podium on the corner of Queen and LaTrobe Streets, Melbourne. The mainly three-bedroom apartments vary from 150 to 600 sq m and the complex includes a restaurant, gymnasium and 25 m lap pool. The architecture is a dynamic composition of elements in off-form and in-situ concrete, clear glass balcony balustrades and high-performance tinted glazing, and stainless steel, with bold bow-shaped forms projecting to the north and south.

Comment by Norman Day
Quickly, cities change.
Take Hong Kong, for example. Just 12 months ago it was moribund, retail activity was slow, shops closed, building activity almost ceased – the return to China had been marked by a lack of commercial confidence – and there is nowhere more commercial than Hong Kong.
Now the city is buzzing with cranes and deals being made on all corners, in cafes, in lifts and on the ferries. The creation of the SAR (special administrative region) brought with it big new building projects, and planned is a new Asian Disney World and a “tallest building in the world.”
Melbourne works like that too. Jeff Kennett’s Melbourne, at least, heralded a building boom for the city (not outside Melbourne), including the Casino, MCG, Docklands Stadium, Federation Square, Aquatic Centre, Museum, Entertainment Centre, Aquarium – and a great number of high-rise housing buildings. One of these, and probably the best high-rise architecture to erupt in KennettTown, is Nation Fender Katsalidis’s Republic Tower, which is built within a height limit zone of 20 metres, but is in fact 100 metres high, compliments of the previous Minister of Planning, Rob Maclellan.
When the building was under construction, it was presented to the public for sales (which happened very quickly, such is the attraction of NFK’s architecture), using a large poster showing the building erupting from the ocean like a giant missile. Now complete, that image is a reality, especially approaching Republic Tower from the east end of the city, where it emerges from the rolling topography of LaTrobe Street just like a NASA rocket. Shapely fins and dark glass underline the structure of the building, the cantilevered balconies and inset sections of the building skin appear like muscles on an organism.
Like most Katsalidis-designed buildings, this one has a tripartite arrangement. The base contains an entry porch, restaurant and carpark entry: each element is arranged with a level of priority, so the carpark gate is tucked in behind the building, out of sight. As with his earlier architecture, the carpark forms the base of the building, which enables the housing units to sit well above street level with high views into the city and above the noise and car exhausts.
A restaurant is located on the street, with direct and independent access, and the entry is understated; simply a glass door and security panel, with a small foyer of stone and textured wall tiles. Lifts open straight off the foyer, and they too show the trademark NFK concern for materials and textures.
The building fronts a main city corner, and the architects (who were part of the development team for this project) have dedicated a three-storey curved wall to public art works. Murals are placed on the wall at intervals during the year, so what appears to be a large advertising sign is in fact a community art board.
The middle third of the design (which contains most of the building functions) is a shaft of housing units. Most floors contain variable plans, allowing individuals to design their own internal layouts, like skyscraper shells. Some units are single level, others are like a terrace house in the sky, and the variation is limitless, depending on the dweller’s choice.
Inside the apartments, like that of Karl Fender located on Level 24, the fitout varies according to taste, but there is the common experience of a shared city view and large window-walls. Active views and relatively few solid walls allow for owners to rely on the city backdrop as their ‘wall hangings.’
Fender’s apartment, a two-level ‘terrace’, has the living and dining sections located on the lower level, with a studio, kitchen and balcony, and bedrooms and bathrooms above. A stark black stair joins the two, and the whole unit is rigidly fitted out with black carpet and stone floors and sheet white walls.
Like any good multiple housing development, this one recognises some of the theories suggested 70 years ago by Le Corbusier – that the tower should be a vertical suburb of mixed uses – where shops, offices, cafes, services and relaxation areas share the location. Although very few buildings have ever been constructed with that total commitment to fusion and variety, and despite many buildings in larger world cities operating in that way – by default – Republic Tower approaches Corb’s dictum. At least Republic shows signs of flexibility, with a gymnasium and lap pool placed on Level 33. The act of sweating and swimming while you overlook the metropolis is a symbol of modernity. Just as machines were models for architecture, the body as a machine was inherent in Corb’s sketches of New Man boxing a punching bag, and Koolhaas’ athletes over New York shooting oysters at Level 40.
The theory is factual at Republic Tower.
The apex of NFK’s tripartite arrangement is sculptured in shiny metal, with exaggerated, cantilevered fins and dark glass. A stainless steel cap acts as a pointer in the sky, like those traditional icons of New York – the Chrysler Building and Empire State.
Like those symbols, Republic has excited the debate about city living. On one hand it is a place for individuals and groups to live and work, but it is also an exercise in urbanity and urban design especially.
The building reinforces a tall, central city plan: the inner grid of Melbourne is like an island, like a Manhattan. In that context, these high-rise towers montage as the city design: together, not separately, they are the aesthetic of the city.
What distinguishes Republic Tower from most of its neighbours is the confident expression of structure and building that is evident in the design, along with the unremitting act of providing good living spaces.
NFK’s work is distinguished by its expressed buildability: it’s almost an ‘architecture for architects’ culture, where the structure of beams, columns, steel and concrete – and the materiality of tiles, glass and textures – are composed without further complexity. Techniques of erecting buildings at this scale, such as overhanging waste bins, vertical braces and diagonal struts, have become the design manifestation, along with a healthy leadership role played by these architects in adroitly marketing their ideas.
There is no deeply mysterious text beneath this design, no intended theoretical position about architecture, building, sustainability – or fashion, for that matter. Republic Tower is quite simply a distinguished piece of construction, a flagship for buildings produced to house people in a dense city.
By comparison, it is a handsome construction, surpassing similar high-rise housing built recently in and outside Australia.
Norman Day is an architect practicing in Melbourne and Adjunct Professor of Architecture at RMIT
Republic, Melbourne
Architect Nation Fender Katsalidis—design director Nonda Katsalidis; project director Bill Krotiris; project architect Joseph Paonessa; team Bruce Filley, Nigel Fitton, Holger Frese, Chris Godsell, Kathie Hall, Wayne King, Robert Kolak,Angus McKay, Rainer Strunz. Developer Republic Tower P/L. Builder Multiplex Constructions. Consulting Engineer Simpson Kotzman. Structural Engineer Barry Gale Engineers & Partners. Building Surveyor Philip Chun & Associates. Acoustic Consultants Marshall Day Acoustics.

This page Looking along LaTrobe Street towardsthe north and east facades at Queen Street.
On the corner is ‘Protein Lattice’, an artwork by Patricia Piccinini for the Visible Art Foundation.

Top Looking up to the west-facing penthouses.
Bottom Upper north elevation of The Republic with a balcony of the Katsalidis-designed Melbourne Terrace (1994) at left.

Left LaTrobe Street facade of the ground floor restaurant, with the north side of the tower above. Right Looking north along Queen Street.

Top Balcony detail of a Metropolis penthouse on Level 29. Centre and bottom Interior views of a Metropolis penthouse.



Published online: 1 Jan 2000


Architecture Australia, January 2000

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