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For McBride Charles Ryan, architecture should not exist as an urban backdrop, existing merely to bookend the hustle and bustle of city life.

The architects behind one of the newcomers to the Open House program – the Banksia apartments in the Docklands, in collaboration with MAB Corporation – seek to bring “a vibrant, meaningful and legible purpose to the sense of urban place” through projects that reimagine the city, and promote a diverse community.


Inspired by the Australian native flower, Banksia’s circular and organic shapes mimic its form in an unexpected departure from the precinct’s more conventional facades.

New Quay Central Park surrounds the foot of the building and adds 4600 square metres of green space to the area. The architects were careful to reference the natural flora and fauna.


“Every context has requirements,” says Debbie Ryan. “The Docklands needed creativity. That was kind of our driving force for that apartment tower. It was right at the centre of where Indigenous people used to live. They used to get their food there. We wanted some sort of reference to the history of the place, and we wanted it to come from an organic base.”

Marking the entrance is Robert Bridgewater’s art installation, Beaded Samphire. Within the interiors, the colour palette takes on the exuberance of natural hues: purple walls, lime-green lounge, multi-coloured tiles and magenta kitchen.


The building’s oval form – clad in fibre-reinforced plastic– resembles a seed pod in plan, and naturally forces diversification of apartment types, all of which meet the Docklands’ sustainable star ratings system.


Passive design principles minimise energy use. Fixed shading and high-performance windows mitigate heat gain and loss. Smart sensors in communal spaces turn off lighting and airconditioning when the spaces are not occupied. Rainwater is recycled to water trees and gardens.

There is extensive use of Australian timbers (Tasmanian oak, spotted gum, Victorian ash), which not only helps carbon capture, it also makes transporting the materials more eco-friendly.


“Apartment living is quite sustainable,” says Ryan. Designed well and with the right materials, “the energy that’s used is very economical in nature. For a start, one apartment will insulate the next. With a stand alone house, it’s easier to leak energy.”

Arguably the design is also subtly encouraging behavioural change in other ways to minimise the impact on the environment. With the car park tucked away underneath the park, “this is the first building in the Docklands where there’s no visible presence of cars,” says Debbie. What’s more prominent are cyclist facilities, designed to encourage Melbourne’s evolving transport system.


The 2018 Open House Melbourne Weekend is on July 28 and 29. A total of 224 buildings will open their doors to the public this year. There are 87 new buildings in the program, as well as 23 residential properties and 84 in the City of Melbourne. Bookings are required for 75 buildings on

Originally published in The Age on 22nd July 2018 by Miranda Tay
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