We sat down with Ed Glenn, the architect behind East Melbourne’s newest icon, George + Powlett, to discuss the project’s key design features – from materiality to its presence on the streetscape.
What makes this project unique, firstly for East Melbourne, downsizers and for Powell & Glenn?
What makes George + Powlett unique in East Melbourne is that it’s quite extremely rare to get a block of land this shape and size with such good light, aspects and historic fabric.
It’s not something that’s easily repeatable – you often get blocks of land that are long and narrow, or they face south or they’re nestled in amongst different types of buildings. The corner site George + Powlett is built on is exceptional.
From a design perspective, I think from quite early on in the project we had a simple idea to respect the East Melbourne precinct, whilst also delivering residents a big serve of privacy, natural light and detailed design aspects that give the project a cosmopolitan connection.
At Powell & Glenn, we understand that “downsizers” are not downsizing in terms of the architecture and design they are investing in. Not at all. In our experience, clients we work with who are moving away from palatial family homes are looking for the absolute best locations and even higher architectural standards than their previous homes.
We have designed apartments before, but George + Powlett is in a league of its own in terms of location, design and downsizer luxury.
What was your inspiration behind the design?
The study and the type of facade we’ve used has allowed us the freedom to create floorplans that are not bound by external demonstration which is important.
In terms of its external design, George + Powlett picks up on palladium rhythms of East Melbourne’s architecture. We have also incorporated a natural cement render which is something that will patinate rather than deteriorate – it’s a piece of architecture that will slowly nestle in with the Myles Baldwin designed garden around it.
On the south side of the building, one of the very early ideas was that we wanted to create a sense of enquiry for pedestrians passing the development. Creating that sense of allure, we have incorporated a curved concrete wall on the south side of the building which guides people inside. Entering from the south side also means that when you open the front door you start walking towards the trees and the light, which allows the place to unfold the way we wanted it to.
In terms of designing for the downsizer market, what were the sort of considerations you had to incorporate?
I think whilst people are happy to give up the size of the houses they are in, they don’t want to give up that sense of space and the sense of light you get in a freestanding house.
To this end, we approached the design of the project like we would the design of a small house, centring the apartments around courtyards or terraces which allowed us to create the sense of a freestanding house.
Downsizers have generally lived in a few houses and they know how to ask the right questions. They know about northern light, they know about acoustics, they know about zoning, so you need to design accordingly and get those things right.
Do you have standout feature of George + Powlett?
I think we’re all very proud of the curved concrete wall. I like in the way the facade of the building has a sort of austerity to it, but also a sense of lightness and depth. The play between light and depth is something I really like.
The views are also surprising – the MCG, Parliament House, all the way to the city and then over to Richmond and the Dandenong Ranges.
Why do you think in Melbourne in particular there’s such a focus on understated design?
There is an inner life that Melbournians tend to like. They don’t mind the idea of having something that’s quieter rather than ostentatious. Often with our projects we’re very happy for people to drive past four times without really noticing them, but then when they do, they become intrigued.
It’s about creating something that nestles into its surroundings but also has that sense of allure and depth. All of our buildings and surrounding landscapes are deliberately designed to age incredibly well, the quality of the design, the materials, the construction – very understated, very Melbourne.
What were the key materials used?
At all points, we have used natural materials that will improve with age, both inside and out, such as concrete, steel, timber and Italian marble.
On the inside, we tried to create a contrast between small and large format materials – for instance the expansive marble centrepieces in the kitchens which is then contrasted with the delicate mosaic tiles in the bathrooms.
The apartments also feature large-scale wall panels to hang artwork something that our clients won’t compromise on. We have positioned these wall panels in areas where they’re out of direct natural light, so you can protect private collections and also see the aspects against the light and trees beyond.