New Australian Luxury

Most high-rise apartments are fairly predictable, there’s only so many ways one can stack a series of almost identical glass boxes. However, Banksia at NewQuay, Docklands, developed by MAB Corporation and designed by McBride Charles Ryan (MCR), is literally ‘one out of the box’. Stephen Crafti takes a look inside.

Inspired by the native banksia pod, this 18 level building has been designed to maximise its water and city views to the south, and of the soon to be completed, half a hectare park to the north. Unencumbered by neighbouring apartments, Banksia offers a serene yet distinctively inner-city outlook.

This strong contemporary statement responds beautifully to the Australian bush, rather than mimicking international styles. It’s not Paris, London or New York, but proudly Australian without resorting to clichés of the outback. Those who recall the swinging 1960s may recall the Gabezo Hotel, located in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay (now apartments). Novel for that time, the Gazebo brought in a level of both sophistication and glamour to the harbour city.

Banskia is certainly not trying to emulate the Gazebo. However, its circular form, with its distinctive curved fibreglass balconies, set this development apart from others bordering the watery vistas along Docklands Drive. The ‘crown’ at the apex of the tower also sets up a sense of intrigue, well before the threshold to the lobby is crossed with a customised screen by leading sculptor Robert Bridgewater.

There have been a number of trends that have become quite repetitive in apartment developments. The first point of arrival is a glamorous lobby/foyer that is rarely used. At Banksia, the scale is relatively modest with the double height space featuring curved walls and a crazy bluestone floor. As with some of the great post-war modest buildings, there’s an element of surprise rather than presenting everything in a ‘quick grab’. So rather than unused lounges and armchairs, there’s simply the pleasure of arriving and glimpsing through the rounded edges to the water views in the distance.

While the ‘draped’ treatment of the fibreglass balconies and ‘crown’ evoke the banksia pod, MCR’s design also cleverly maximises the water and parkland views. And unlike most apartments that ‘struggle’ to gain premier views, virtually all of the one, two, three and four-bedroom apartments enjoy unimpeded views, some capturing the city skyline. How is this possible? The reason for this is due to the skewing of the lift core by 45 degrees to enable water views for apartments on the north side of Banksia, as well as from the south. Those few apartments that don’t benefit from these water views have ‘box office’ seats on the park. The avenue of trees bordering the park on either side will also strengthen the connection to the landscape.

The shape of the building not only creates a sculptural presence in the park, but also sets up a myriad of apartments configuration within. So rather than simply rectilinear rooms leading to one balcony, there are a variety of rooms, some angular, responding to the form of Banksia. As well as small terraces leading from second and third bedrooms, there’s also a larger terrace than allows for alfresco dining.

Finishes in the apartments are considered, without being lavish, unless of course it’s one of the two penthouse apartments (380 square metres or half a floor) or sky homes (240 square metres) that have been customised to suit individual tastes. For this writer, the materials used by MCR, are in the main simple and well considered, not overly pretentious. Terrazzo floors, stainless steel splashbacks in the kitchen and mirrored cupboards in the bedrooms and dressing areas both reflect light and capture the water views. Storage is also generous, something that’s often missing in apartments. Having the main and secondary bedrooms on either side of the open plan living areas also allows residents to have ‘their own space’.

While everyone dreams of living in a penthouse, those with one-bedroom have a sense of generosity rather than miserly allocation of space. Having unfettered sight lines, combined with irregular-shaped terraces, obviously extends the sense of space.

One of the great surprises at Banskia is the treatment of the communal rooftop gardens and swimming pools on level 18. Complete with ponds, sunken gardens and sunken lounge areas, evocative of the 1960s, there’s a sense of pure escape. Traversing stones over a pond to reach a plunge pool is pure fantasy, but one that’s beautifully realised by MCR. Those looking for simply stacked boxes in the sky, a media room buried in the basement, and a few barbeques dotted in a roof garden will be extremely disappointed!

 

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