Urban.com.au - August 14, 2019
Q&A: Clarke Hopkins Clarke’s Polaris Town Centre enters its final phase
Written by Nicholas Failla, Urban.com.au
Clarke Hopkins Clarke challenged the idea of a typical suburban neighbourhood shopping centre and transformed it into an engaged, lively, mixed use community, thus creating Polaris Town Centre.
Creating the walkable 20 minute neighbourhood on the former uninhabited Larundel Psychiatric Hospital site was not only a solution to community growth but the restoration, preservation and revitalisation of the Heritage buildings that lay in disrepair for over a decade.
With heritage character charm, Polaris Town Centre represents one of Melbourne’s first examples of ‘main street’ master-planning providing housing diversity, community facilities and walkable, green space though it is not complete just yet. Clarke Hopkins Clarke proudly present the final two instalments to the Town Centre which through its 15 stages has spanned 10 years of thoughtful and adaptive development.
The final stage of ten townhouses that make up Eclipse, Polaris has been released, bridging the gap between the modern and heritage apartments appealing to an increasingly mixed demographic.
As Clarke Hopkins Clarke have been conscious and careful in protecting and retaining an environmental focus, Eclipse has been designed so that all heritage trees along the street frontage during the construction process are kept untouched.
The Eclipse townhomes are the final piece at the end of a long developmental process to form the Polaris Town Centre. A blend of modern, heritage and contemporary architecture forms a diverse community aesthetic and each Eclipse townhome will echo with the colours of its natural environment of iconic gumtrees and parkland outside.
Introducing the last installment to the award-winning community-building project, Lunar townhouses and apartment complex, a refreshing perspective for modern living. Located in the heart of the Polaris Town Centre, Lunar brings a collection of 41 one, two and three bedroom apartments with upsized floor plans and enhanced finishes for low-maintenance living.
Set amongst the vast green space, Lunar residents will be able to enjoy the convenience and nestle comfortably in the fabric of the community within walking distance of cafes, restaurants, specialty stores and a supermarket at Polaris. The townhouses are awash with natural light and the complex is surrounded by green space to which residents can enjoy via their private balconies or courtyard gardens.
Lunar introduces a refreshing new perspective of modern living as more Australians move into mixed use precincts, admiring the 20-minute neighbourhood model. Polaris is close to LaTrobe University and serviced by a prominent tram line, providing connection to the Melbourne CBD.
What drew you to Bundoora?
Dean Landy: We were the design architects selected by Dealcorp, which secured the former Larundel Psychiatric Hospital site from VicUrban. Dealcorp had a very clear vision for the site and it was our role to interpret that vision into the masterplan. We have then been able to work with Dealcorp over the last eight years to develop each stage of the development.
What was the biggest trend you noticed in the area?
Dean: More and more people are now selecting where they live based on the lifestyle choices and surrounding amenity. This is a growing trend everywhere, and it was a fairly new trend in Bundoora when this project originated. It’s about creating walkable, people focused places that are well connected, convenient and have a distinctive sense of place that people can be proud of. We believe Polaris delivers on all of these key elements.
The other emerging trend when this development commenced was an increasing demand for apartments. This was initially driven by a student market, but as the development matured, Dealcorp has been able to offer a more diverse range of apartment options to better accommodate a high number of owner-occupiers, who enjoy having everything at their doorsteps.
I grew up in Reservoir and when studying at LaTrobe University, my family and I would frequent Polaris Shopping Centre quite often. Growing up in the North, we were used to shopping in underutilised centres with vast car parks and poorly maintained buildings and there was always an uneasiness. Is this something you noticed when designing Polaris and did you realise the beneficial impact it would have on locals?
Dean: The intention of Polaris from the outset was not to repeat the generic suburban shopping centre formula that was typical for these areas – generally single-use destinations and more focused on cars. We’ve tried to create a true mixed-use urban centre focused on people. The idea of introducing under-croft carparking, pedestrian-only laneways, urban squares and access to green spaces was all about breaking the mold. The built form is a key element in creating a true village centre look and feel. The upper-level apartments provide better framing of streetscapes and also provide more passive surveillance after retail hours.
What were your experiences with local town centres?
Dean: ClarkeHopkinsClarke has been actively involved in the design of many new town centres across Australia. In our experience, the best town centre design draws on the lessons of the great pre-war planning era, as like you see in Yarraville, Elwood and East Ivanhoe, and contextualises it to meet contemporary vehicle demands, single ownership structures, retail habits and spatial requirements. We’ve found that what differentiates a new local town centre from just another shopping centre is a sense of place and character, as well as a reconsideration of the urban built form.
How does it feel to see Polaris Town Centre mentioned in high esteem amongst global works in Hoyne’s book The Place Economy Vol 2?
Dean: Polaris is only a small project compared to some of the exemplar projects discussed in Hoyne’s The Place Economy Vol 2. But I think it’s an important case study. At the end of the day, it’s these medium-scale, mixed-use local town centres that have the potential to impact the most number of people on a day to day basis by providing more affordable housing and better access to public transport, encouraging more walkability and increasing social interactions. Given that every major city around the world is dealing with urban sprawl and discussions around densification, more projects like Polaris have real potential to improve people’s quality of life.
The northern suburbs have incredibly car dependant areas. How important was it for ClarkeHopkinsClarke to establish a walkable, activated and integrated community?
Dean: Walkability is already a big focus in urban planning and real estate marketability, and that’s set to increase. Two inter-related trends will drive demand for more mixed-use, walkable urban development in all areas of greater Melbourne. The first is the rapid decline in millennials’ uptake of car ownership and drivers’ licenses. More and more young people see cars as expensive to buy, often inconvenient to park, and expensive to maintain and fuel. Public transport, Uber, cycling and walking are now the preferred options of many.
The second is the increase in lifestyle and amenity requirements of many groups, from millennials to baby boomers. More people want to be within walking distance of shops, great coffee, healthcare and schools. This also translates into demand for more walkable neighbourhoods. The health and wellbeing benefits of walkable communities are now more widely understood. People have realised that it is a lot more enjoyable to be part of a community that’s framed around a walkable lifestyle.
As Polaris developed, did the designs and plans for Eclipse and Lunar apartments and townhouses change over time?
Toby: Residential homes are always the key drivers of designing for a community. Lunar and Eclipse are among the final residential insertions at Polaris Bundoora, which has been evolving over eight years now. Our approach has been to provide a diverse environment with high quality, varied typologies.
Both Lunar and Eclipse have such a strong feeling of home. How important was bringing that warmth to the design?
Toby: As with every home, we aim to achieve a sense of belonging, connection and openness, with light filled, inviting spaces. That starts with open living spaces, cosy bedrooms and ample storage. We build up warmth and interest in every dwelling by incorporating layers of textured materials, from stone to timber grain to tones inspired by the surrounding eucalyptus trees.
With Lunar and Eclipse being among the final instalments to the Polaris Town Centre, what makes them special?
Toby: Creating the final instalments of a project is like the writing the closing chapters of a book, so we wanted to make an impact. Polaris has been a rewarding experience for us and we wanted to ensure we left a great legacy for residents and our long-term clients. With Lunar and Eclipse, it was about leaving a careful footprint on the remaining sites. Minimal impact to the heritage apartments. Placing townhouses where we could retain as many of the existing trees as possible. Ensuring that the idea of apartment living isn’t marked by small, cramped spaces, but large, open living areas and lovely vistas. Architecturally our language was simple – structured forms and layered interest through angled roof forms and natural materials, with a strong connection to the local vernacular.