Prefab High Rise Halves Construction Time

Author, Stuart Marsland

Prefabrication design is leading the next generation of efficient high rise construction. This significant shift is being made possible due to a larger industry move towards prefabricating by design; where buildings showcase a construction system that’s built to reflect the design, rather than use a prescribed prefabrication system. The subtle result is that prefabrication becomes the tool, rather than the driver, which formed my key message at the prefabAUS annual conference in Sydney last year. It’s also driving a move towards newer systems based on skeletal and high rise solutions, with new and broader considerations on overall programme time, night working and an on-site volumetric framework for finishing trades.


Photograph by Craig Moodie. Image supplied by Hickory.

These considerations were also employed in our recently completed La Trobe Tower, in Melbourne’s CBD, illustrating that prefabricating by design can provide a stronger result than traditional construction. At 133m high, the 44-level building features Hickory Group’s new HBS prefabrication delivery model. By following a different path from previous systems, with a new agenda and a new approach to prefabrication, this building was successfully delivered nine months quicker, reducing the total build time to 19 months.

For the client, the expedited construction enabled settlement of apartments nine months earlier than expected. There was no compromise on the design and no need for the client to realign their expectations at any point during the process, with the implication that prefabrication can deliver a wider scope of projects, such as high rise, more quickly than ever before. Today, La Trobe Tower has the prestigious title of Australia’s tallest prefabricated building.

A strong example of the shift toward prefabricating by design at La Trobe Tower was the approach to floor heights. The older systems required a 3.2m floor height, but this was adapted in the HBS model, which reduced each floor level to 3m, aligned with ‘traditional’ construction.

Further efficiencies in high rise construction were also demonstrated. In a standard system, each floor’s concrete sections can take days or weeks to dry out and cure, adding time and cost to the overall build. Using the HBS system, the core and lower three floors were constructed using traditional methods, with in-situ concrete and in ground works, while the prefabricated modular elements, including external facades, steel frames, walls and concrete floor were already in place and followed a logical construction in manageable sized segments.

Once each completed floor was in place, bathroom pods were installed before the next storey was installed, with internal walls and kitchens constructed in-situ. The entire front and rear of the building was one single element on each floor, which eliminated the typical boxy composition, and allowed for a creative façade expression. The overall site was a safer working environment, as the walls were already installed, enabling electrical and internal works to be carried out sooner without safety barriers.

Today, it’s becoming harder to differentiate between a conventional or a prefabricated construction. While, arguably, every form of construction contains some element of prefabrication, there are plenty of products that are pushing the boundaries. Another example is CLT, cross laminated timber, which is helping to permit fast and efficient construction. Used mainly for walls, ceilings and roofs, CLT reduces many of the weaknesses of previous timber products adding greater fire resistance, noise and heat insulation.


Photograph by Scott Burrows.

We believe the benefits of prefabrication will become more commonplace as it gains traction in the marketplace. With full stakeholder and team consent, the sky’s the limit and the client is the ultimate beneficiary.


Integrating Heritage

Rothelowman Principal Stuart Marsland shares why he believes heritage assets should be celebrated in contemporary design.

Complex site constraints provide restrictive parameters for Architects to work within, but often create an opportunity for project differentiation. While heritage assets can posture a challenge to designers, their historical narrative can be reshaped and celebrated, resulting in an integrated outcome for all who use the building.

From an architectural perspective, at Rothelowman we love the challenges created by complex sites. Our first aim in every instance, whether heritage or not, is to create high quality space, sculpting volumes and forms. When you work with a heritage building this actually becomes easier because you have context to work with. Formal and historical influences which come with a site have accumulated meaning and association through longevity and previous uses. This provides a readymade architectural vocabulary as a colour balance to the new insertion.

In most cases people bring a set of positive associations to the retained heritage elements. There is a responsibility to honour those associations and history. At Rothelowman our team enjoy working with complex site constraints to create unique projects, so we relish the opportunity to integrate heritage structures.

TipTop Factory by Rothelowman

Tip Top, Brunswick East VIC

Consider what we did with the Tip Top building in Melbourne. We were presented with a 1.4-hectare site in Brunswick East defined by a great example of Dutch art deco industrial architecture from the 1940s. Working with the site’s 65-year history as a commercial bakery we complemented the strong horizontal polychrome brick work with bold volumetric shapes of our own. Legibility of the restrained new structures as volumes in their own right emphasised the strength of the existing forms. At Tip Top we opened up corners, allowing heritage buildings that were previously smothered by unsympathetic extensions to once again read in the round.


Hawthorn Hill, Hawthorn VIC

Hawthorn Hill is another great example of how seemingly hard constraints actually become strengths which form part of a development’s story. This site – in a prestigious suburb and with two heritage buildings – had scared off many developers over the years until Equiset approached us wanting to truly celebrate the history of the site. Working with a Salvation Army Hall and a 19th-century mansion on the site, we were able to create an architectural design where both were preserved, celebrated and represented. The mansion became the front entrance to the residential development; everyone who enters Hawthorn Hill passes through this stately home, which gives the development the feel of a genteel members’ club. For the client, this was an asset when it came to creating an identity and narrative for the residences.

Julius Pizzeria by Rothelowman

Austin, South Brisbane QLD

In Brisbane, Austin is a residential project with a significant hospitality and retail offering at ground level. At its heart is the restoration of a 1920s railway workshop, which was stripped back to reveal its previous expression. The original historic elements connect through an activation of ground level retail and lobby spaces to the adjacent, and underutilised, Fish Lane behind. This has created a bustling entertainment and hospitality spine that links with the West End beyond. Rising above the heritage base is a tower of crystalline glass, which allows for uninterrupted panoramic views and responds in scale to the adjacent CBD skyline. This bold marriage of heritage and contemporaneity was named Australia’s best residential high rise development for 2015.

Increasingly clients are discovering what a great asset heritage and unique elements can be, presenting a powerful narrative that can be literally woven into their offerings from the ground up.

Designing density for blue chip suburbs

Design that emphasises local context is the solution to overcoming concern from local council and residents who worry new multi-residential developments may detract from the character and overall appeal of prestigious suburbs.

The need to respect and respond to the context of the existing built environment may be one of the most important rules towards sensitively developing apartments in established suburbs.

The benefits of creating low to mid-rise apartment dwellings in established inner and middle-ring suburbs are well documented, in terms of both urban planning and supporting the cultural health of citizens. These developments meet the demands of buyers, mainly downsizers and first homebuyers, who have lived in established suburbs most of their lives and wish to remain in these areas for years to come.

At Rothelowman, we are currently developing a number of projects that both explore and honour their social, architectural and historical surroundings. In doing so, we are creating dwellings that gel with and attract the local people.

When designing an apartment building a strong focus is needed on the contextual, specific and unique elements of the site to connect it with the area, a generic formula is no longer enough.


Graceview, Turramurra NSW

Graceview, a five-storey apartment development located in the established middle-ring Sydney suburb of Turramurra, exemplifies this design philosophy.

This building takes its design cues from its neighbouring sites – the heritage-listed brick-built church, St Margaret’s, and Cameron Park. Architecturally, Graceview responds not only to St Margaret Church but also to the many large brick houses that characterise Turramurra.

Careful to preserve these much admired community spaces, our contextual design response was to build this 54-dwelling project around six beautiful, volumetric brick forms. These low, integrated brick towers respect the height of the church and sit back from the park, amid the foliage, in a manner that is unassuming yet sculptural.

Graceview gave us the opportunity to tell a tale in brick. Working with this local heritage material, as architects we were able to listen to the local story and incorporate this narrative into the design. As a result, people who have lived in Turramurra their entire lives have responded to the project in a very positive manner.

In projects such as Graceview, we are exploring new ways to provide neighbourhood connection. We are seeing higher levels of owner-occupancy from downsizers and first homebuyers looking to stay in the suburbs they already know and love. This in turn drives higher quality architecture.

For our recent development Canopy in Melbourne’s beach side suburb Elwood, we wanted to provide the experience of living in a beach road mansion, in keeping with the suburb’s ocean lifestyle.

Located in a largely single residential area, we designed Canopy as a four-storey development across two modern, geometrically inspired buildings to offer an aesthetically pleasing and proportionate response to suit the eclectic, existing architectural environment.

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Corde, East Brisbane QLD

Graceview and Canopy are just two examples of Rothelowman projects that pay homage to their location and site history. Other examples include The Glass Factory in West End (once home to the Decorative Glass Company), Light + Co in West End (formerly The South Brisbane Gas & Light Company), Tip Top in Brunswick (previously home to Northern Bakeries and later Tip Top Bakeries), and Corde in East Brisbane (which pays tribute to the Forsyth Rope Works site located adjacent – formerly the only rope manufacturer in Queensland).

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Tip Top, Brunswick East VIC

It is our belief that by providing these strong links to site history and in our design, we cannot only preserve the history of established suburbs, but support population growth and future generations in a sustainable manner.

Campus Style Developments: A Model for New Apartment Living

Whilst much of the recent focus in residential design has centred on high-rise buildings, Rothelowman has recently been commissioned to design a number of midrise, campus style developments on large brown field sites. Significant additions to the existing urban fabric, the design and delivery of these complex developments requires a sophisticated understanding of both the buildings and how the spaces between the buildings function.

Well-designed campus developments offer enormous potential to deliver high quality, high value dwellings in a manner that is entirely consistent with current thinking about the future direction for our cities. A series of carefully orchestrated buildings and outdoor spaces can support city and community life in many ways, providing opportunities for recreation, work, retail and culture. Adding this complexity and diversity to the fabric of our cities delivers the kind of sustainable, high quality place making that is rightly seen as a real positive by planning authorities and future residents alike. Projects like these that are stageable present a lower level of town planning risk and are proving to be a prudent strategic choice.


Acacia Place, Abbotsford VIC

Multi building developments bring with them an inherent complexity – understanding the role that each piece of the puzzle plays is important. In the same way that we expect spaces within a building to have a specific use, so too the space between the buildings must be designed to accommodate a clearly defined function in order for them to be successful. In Melbourne, for example, there is a tendency to assume that the inclusion of a laneway in a development will automatically result in a busy, vibrant alley. However, the truth is that without the right combination of elements the laneway will fail to activate. The real answer lies in understanding why some of these in-between spaces are successful and others aren’t in order to design around these conditions.

When considering a site strategy for a project in Abbotsford, we identified the need for access between the banks of the Yarra River and Victoria Street. We proceeded to design the three stage development, Eden, Haven and Sanctuary around a new central spine which now connects the city to the river. Whilst crossing private land, considerable care has been taken to make sure the new pedestrian route reads as public space to encourage its use by the general public. Lined with offices, restaurants, the apartment building entrances and exercise studios, Acacia Place has quickly established itself as a catalyst for a cohesive and identifiable community.

In Coburg we are working with our client to produce a masterplan for a vibrant, sustainable new city quarter. Focusing on the local context, the plan seeks not only to add new urban space and buildings but also importantly looks to build on and reinforce the unique qualities that already exist. These may include adjacent land use patterns, local culture or existing heritage fabric. The plan has been carefully constructed to ensure the viability of the proposed commercial land use and to deliver excellent amenity for a mixture of townhouses and apartments.

As evidenced by sites we have worked on in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, campus style developments can deliver outstanding and desirable places to live. We believe that successful redevelopment of larger brownfield sites will play a critical role in delivering the sustainable cities of the future.


Reinventing the Townhouse for Australia’s Shifting Cities

Rothelowman Principal Jeff Brown explores the townhouse as a resolution to housing an increasing population.

Architect-designed townhouses are essential to support sustainable population growth in our rapidly expanding capital cities. Large-scale, master-planned townhouse developments in urban infill sites provide an option for increased density that offers an attractive solution to rising land value while creating a greater number of affordable dwellings in central and/or well-serviced locations.

ABS data reports two out of three Australians live in a major city, with population growth exceeding predictions. Rather than catering to this growth via urban sprawl, where outer-city suburbs/residents are often under-serviced due to the enormous public cost of civic infrastructure, townhouses allow for greater diversity of residents in established communities while adding to the available housing stock. Townhouses are the missing piece of high quality inner-city ­living – an architecturally designed product for those who prefer not to live in an apartment, not specifically due to spatial concerns, but lack the budget for stand-alone housing in desirable, well serviced and well located areas/suburbs. Concern regarding population growth and sustainability present additional reasons for choosing this higher density housing model.

The trend we’re seeing in our own practice is driven by a market gap for dwellings that are more sustainable and affordable than larger detached houses. At Rothelowman we have witnessed significant growth in the volume of townhouse projects we are designing. From January 2015 to March 2016 we designed 2,384 townhouses, a marked increase from the previous year. With this trend comes a greater appreciation for the typology’s versatility, necessity and market acceptance.

For consumers, large-scale master-planned townhouse developments are not only a financially viable housing alternative, they also provide access to transport corridors and inner-city amenities. Data published by Urbis indicates young professionals, in particular, value proximity to education, entertainment and employment over owning large properties. While perfect for young workers, townhouses also provide the flexibility to cater for varying demographics, from families to downsizing retirees.

In Brisbane, Rothelowman has designed the staged master-planned development Summerlin to transform negative perspectives around townhouses based on the poorly designed, mass-produced boxes of decades past. Summerlin’s master plan develops an existing industrial site in the suburb of Banyo (within 15km of the CBD), transforming it into a residential community through the creation of new internal streets, laneways, vegetated pedestrian links and communal open space parklands. The architecturally designed townhouses of Summerlin employ a ‘critical regionalism’ that pays homage to the surrounding vernacular of simple, hand-built homes with generous setbacks. Reflecting this, materials chosen for Summerlin include painted weatherboard, rendered masonry and raw brick as an interpretation of the local vernacular. Banyo is surrounded by some of the most biodiverse parts of Brisbane and Summerlin’s design complements this with a 5000m2 park featuring recreation spaces, dense planting, storm-water treatment and pedestrian links.

In the middle-ring Melbourne suburb of Doncaster, where median house prices have reached over $1.2 million (, the Rothelowman-designed townhouse development Williamsons Road is a perfect example of how we can offer a growing population high-quality, medium-density residences. Comprising two, three and four bedroom townhouses – a total of 106 dwellings – the mixed housing typologies have enabled new residents to move into the tightly held area, accessing its quality amenity and infrastructure without detracting from the character of the suburb.

In protecting character, amenity and location remain important. Where large detached housing has become less of a priority for city dwellers, we are seeing a return to a pattern that was established in the early history of Australia’s urban centres and capital cities. Terraced housing was introduced to Australia in the 19th century, based on architectural typologies that had been developed in areas of Europe to meet the already burgeoning challenges of density and urban sprawl. Establishing townhouses as a solution to demand isn’t a novel answer then but one that has been tested over centuries.

For developers, master-planned townhouse developments can create a density that meets the demands of rising land value yet balances it with a desire for quality sustainable, active, green and thriving communities that are attractive and highly livable for residents. Lotus Terraces, Rothelowman’s latest townhouse project in Woollooware (24km south of Sydney’s CBD), creates a village-like atmosphere through the design of a community centred around a green common to be shared by all.

The key to explaining this critical typology within developing future cities is skilfully balancing urban amenity and proximity to cultural infrastructure with space and affordability. It is getting these balances right that makes creating a new generation of top quality master-planned townhouse developments absolutely critical for the cities of tomorrow.

The Commercial Value of Differentiation

By definition, a product without differentiation is a commodity and commodities are rarely sold at a premium.

A project, be it commercial, residential or retail, isn’t about selling space; it’s about selling the intangibles – the opportunities, the lifestyle and the economic prospects these spaces can provide.

Differentiation is most effective via the communication of a compelling design story – a unique selling proposition that enables our clients to distinguish themselves and their products from competitors, entice greater demand and induce a higher return on investment.

The successful communication of atmosphere, ambience and lifestyle is achieved with our in-house design team, who by exploring different possibilities, uncover relevant, emotive and credible design stories. This iterative process achieves a stronger result both in terms of the ideas that are generated and the buy-in they are likely to have amongst the client, town planning authorities, project marketers and eventual buyers. This phase is crucial, and although it must be done quickly, it cannot be rushed as this may result in false economy. Once presented to and approved by the client, the first true opportunity for this story to capture value is with the town planning authority.

The ability to narrate a project’s community benefit is often underestimated. In many cases, it is also important to reduce the client’s project risk by minimising objections from the general public. If the project can be presented in a credible way, with a quality design story and a captivating scheme, it is more likely to result in a better outcome and greater mutual benefit for both the client and the community.

For residential, retail and commercial projects alike, the next audience involves selling/leasing agents and operators in the case of hotels. If the key messages are convincing, the project will attract greater attention from marketers, increasing the opportunity for faster sales and stronger prices. The project will not only look good, it will be underpinned by a legitimate narrative that consumers will identify with in favour of other projects put to market. It is clear that with a compelling story, projects have a stronger driving force that will last the distance. Communicating these messages effectively will lead to successful differentiation and result in an outcome worthy of repetition.

Habitat is a prime example of a project that leverages site context as the basis for its design story. The development’s aesthetics, materiality and functionality are each informed by the narrative that has been created around a sound wave. The result is a truly unique and engaging façade that translates through to the building’s interiors.

The Role of Interiors in Communicating Workplace Culture

Rothelowman Interior Design Associate Principal, Andrew Wales, explores how quality workplace interiors can add to the productivity and image of a business. 

Workplace interior design plays a critical role in enhancing the productivity and image of a modern business, visually communicating its culture and boosting morale among clients and staff who frequent these spaces.

As users enter the main areas of a company’s building, the combination of layout and furniture should convey visual signifiers about the style and method of work conducted. For example, an open plan office with no partitions may indicate that staff works collaboratively in teams.

The recently completed fit out at the RPM Real Estate Group is a prime example. The new office designed by our team is visual proof of RPM’s recent growth and the modern approach to real estate that’s undertaken.

Located across two storeys (levels three and five) of a commercial South Melbourne building, the design of RPM’s new headquarters supports the company’s high proportion of mobile workers, while reflecting the approachable nature of the business.

The design acts as a metaphor for the company’s values: intelligent, people-oriented, sophisticated, well-connected with an unrivalled knowledge about their industry.

The layout of the new headquarters replaces the traditional four-wall offices with a series of workstations to encourage increased collaboration between the 60-team members working on the 900 square metre site.

Another project that clearly shows the nature of the business and its people is the Rothelowman designed Turrisi Properties headquarters.

Located in Brisbane, the space seeks to embrace the subtropical environment by bringing the outdoors in.

Not only is this in keeping with Turrisi’s inherently Queensland brand, the natural ventilation minimises the need for expensive and environmentally unfriendly air conditioning.

As the modern workplace continues to evolve, these design subtleties are an increasingly important part of the workplace, allowing businesses to more strongly convey their message and services.