Over the past three decades the Melbourne based architectural firm of Denton Corker Marshall has firmly established its built presence in the city, often in spectacular fashion. From large urban sculptural pieces (the red and yellow cantilevered beams that make up Melbourne International Gateway) and transportation infrastructure (the 490-meter-long Bolte Bridge) to public cultural facilities (Melbourne Museum), the firm has created many of Melbourne’s now familiar landmarks. Projects such as TAC House (Melbourne, 1989), Governor Phillip Tower (Sydney, 1993) and Brisbane Square (2006) have also proven the firm’s ability to produce high quality commercial high-rise architecture that is aesthetically interesting.
Completed in March, 1991, 101 Collins Street represents a Postmodernist vision of Art Deco and Neo-Classic design. The skyscraper, clad in polished Spanish granite, rises 57 storeys to a height of 256 meters (including spire), making it currently the 4th tallest in Australia. The Deco reference is expressed in the form of vertical, buttress like forms that project from the centre of each facade, stepped towards the top of the building in a manner that recalls many classic pre-war skyscraper designs.
*AT&T Building, image courtesy Wikipedia
The dramatic foyer space is a Postmodernist exercise in both whimsy and luxuriant material craftsmanship. The space was designed by American architect John Burgee who, in partnership with Philip Johnson from 1967 to 1991, produced some of the most prominent buildings of the Postmodern era including the AT&T Headquarters in New York (1984). Incorporated into the lower right side of the large podium structure, the entrance alludes to a classic portico structure with black granite framing four free standing Doric columns. Visitors enter the building via a glass and stainless-steel curtain wall into a lavish lobby that resembles, in both material extravagance and dimensions, an ancient Roman temple. A large pattern of concentric circles decorates the marble floor, flanked on either side by gold leaf panelled bays featuring still pools. Water features prominently throughout the ground floor with additional pools, lined by more travertine Doric columns, running along either side of the lift core structure. Art is also a conspicuous element with sculptures, painting and photography thoughtfully placed throughout the space, in addition to a dedicated gallery near the Little Collins Street entrance.
The overall effect is impressive, if more than a little indulgent. I find the exterior architectural design to have aged far better than the interior which, to be fair, given its context of having being created at the end of the excessive 80’s, remains reasonably tasteful. The Postmodernist affectations may seem a little silly nowadays, but that was nearer the point even at the time. After the severe seriousness and strict formalities of Modernism, a little playfulness was required and Postmodernism provided some architectural comic relief. As far as quality design and architectural integrity goes, however, the firm of Denton Corker Marshall never took to the task in anything less than a serious manner, as their built record attests to.