It’s a piece of land the same size as a netball court but it’ll soon have a needle-thin, 57-storey building rising from it.
Welcome to 466 Collins Street, where work has begun on what will be the world’s fourth-thinnest residential tower (number one is in New York).
Approved by former planning minister Matthew Guy, the Collins Street tower would never be allowed today, thanks to tougher rules put in place by the Andrews government last year.
Designing it and convincing the skyscraper-friendly Mr Guy of the benefits of a 200-metre-high tower on a site with 11 metres of street frontage was the easy bit.
Building it, that’s the real challenge. And for that the architects and builders have come up with an innovative solution – they’re fabricating sections of the tower off site and then lifting them into place with a massive crane.
"It’s the hardest site we’ve ever built on," says project manager Tim Price, who is overseeing construction of the 258 apartments.
"It’s 11 metres wide and 40 metres deep and has a cantilever component of another 4½ metres," says Mr Price.
"It’s little more than the size of a townhouse block."
That cantilever will take the tower over the front of the heritage-listed Western House on the corner of Collins and William streets.
The facade of the 1908 building has been retained but everything else on the site has gone, making way for foundations for the tower going down seven levels.
Builders Hickory have built a two-level platform over St James Lane, a narrow corridor off Williams Street, and on top of that they’ve installed a seven-story "luffing" crane, the largest of its type in Australia.
It can lift up to 50 tonnes – three times the standard load.
But it will still have its work cut out. To build the tower, the crane will have to lift thousands of tonnes of pre-formed building sections over Western House.
Using prefabricated sections will reduce the number of deliveries to the site and the number of crane movements needed to build it – a distinct advantage in Melbourne’s busy CBD.
And it also means it’ll be quieter than a traditional building site.
At construction’s peak there will be 14 semi-trailers delivering to the site a day and 15 smaller vehicles – but this, Mr Price says, is a fraction of what would be required on a normal site.
Hickory has built modular projects in central Melbourne before but this is not a pre-built tower.
"We’re not lifting up finished units but we are lifting prefabricated structure and facade," says Price.
"That reduces by about 1000 per cent the number of crane lifts. But we’re still plastering inside, we’re still pouring floor slabs."
Getting the massive tower on the tiny site approved earned developer Lorenz Grollo a fortune without building a thing.
His company bought the site in 2013 for $10.5 million and, with a permit from Mr Guy in hand, sold it two years later to developer Jeff Xu at Golden Age Mr Xu for $25 million.
Apartments have sold well, Mr Xu’s company, Golden Age, says although one penthouse is still being marketed for $3.5 million.
Kristen Whittle of architects Bates Smart said his design would not now pass the rules for city skyscrapers.
But he maintained it was possible to build tall towers that would benefit everyone – if they were properly designed.
"Good design, I believe, can resolve issues with massing and high-density impacts," Mr Whittle said.
Mr Price agrees that the tower got approval during "a moment in time when the planning rules were quite progressive".
But that has just made all of those involved in its construction determined to show it was not an inappropriate approval and that a skinny tower can be a great one.
"Even though it’s a small site, no-one’s given us a free kick over what we need to comply with."
The tower is expected to be finished in 2019.
Clay Lucas, The Age, Monday 31 July 2017.
Read the original article on The Age here.