Traditional Custodians of the land
Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation
Lonsdale Street Melbourne
Uniting Church of Australia
Social Innovation Consultant
OCULUS Landscape Architecture
The Wesley was a 2011 proposal prepared at the request of the Uniting Church for the redevelopment of The Wesley Church site on Lonsdale Street.
The precinct, renamed by our team as ‘Wesley Village’, was split into several compartments – the church, the tower, the northern village buildings, and Nicholas Hall.
The Wesley Village scheme was proposed in answer to the growing need for funds and future proofing of the institutions assets. It was envisaged as an urban project celebrating renewal and encouraging and embodying participation. It provided the framework for fulfilling the UCA site wide vision in creating and retaining a welcoming, non-judgemental, and open community space.
The underlying building form was generated through relationships to the existing context, the demands of the market and the challenges of the site.
These challenges at the time included height limitations due to powerful neighbours and an existing envelope from a previous iteration of thought. The UCA had major concerns about over development and lack of vision in the scheme. Protection of views and presence of the spire and heritage buildings drove Decibel to consider a building that holds the eastern edge of the site like a sculpted crystal, a precious rock and chamber, hewn from the background of the city.
Within the chapel is a quote that forms one of the keys to the Wesleyan congregation – “I am the Light of the World” – this statement, written in stained glass itself prompter our consideration of an intriguing connection between the church’s moral and spiritual position and the desire to create an architecture that seeks to reflect and enlighten our culture.
Decibel proposed that the Wesley Tower was draped in an ephemeral second skin of light.
We proposed a veil as a 21st century interpretation of stained glass – creating a surface that forms an environmental protection, provides solar harvesting from the western wall, and forms the podium and entrance identity.
This Veil of Light sweeps over the building form to protect and embrace the Manse building and is conceived and developed as a woven tapestry of light- dichroic, multi-valent and always alive.
The interstitial space between the church and its ensemble of buildings captured the essence of the site. The way that light is filtered through the trees, and around the spire of the church was core to our development considerations.
The proposed master-plan and tower enhanced the quality of light within these liminal conditions, illuminating and enlivening the ground plane, and making the campus a positive and active urban node and path.
At an urban level the architecture of the church, the crystalline tower and its ephemeral veil reinforce ideas memory and reinforce place within a dense urban setting.
The prevalent urban figure of the spire, and Joseph Reed’s significant English Gothic style has maintained an elegant proportion and line within the extreme shift of urban morphology since its creation over 150 years ago. Our scheme sought not only to preserve the important space around the Church spire but to reinforce it as an important “sign” within the urban fabric of the contemporary city.
The proposed tower’s geometry drew its key lines and urban axes from the Church spire and its lines of influence. These determining lines shaped the volume of the crystalline tower, pushing and folding the surface in deference to the power of the Church and Steeple.
We sought in the generation of the new tower form to reinforce, highlight and cradle the silhouette of the spire, creating reflections in form and light.
The Wesley scheme was considered and generated around four key principles:
– The creation of an urban oasis to hold, protect, fund and enhance the future of the Church and congregations and their historic campus buildings and trees.
– To conceive of such a project with the core values of Community, Sustainability, Safety and Innovation woven into the fabric of the scheme.
– To design and develop the proposal in a collaborative manner, both professionally and artistically guided, responsively integrating input from our community and client stakeholders.
– To create a truly magnificent, sophisticated and elegant architecture that inspires us all, grounded in a landscape of Kindness and generosity.
The surface of the Veil may be woven with metal meshes, dichroic glazing and solar cell technology. Colour and light were woven through the surface in the form of tiny LED’s, refraction and reflection of sunlight creatde a coloured and dappled light directed to all areas of the site.
The proposal sought to open up the ground floor plane and articulate the flow between the Little Lonsdale Street and Lonsdale Street.
This north south linkage, and the structure of the site demanded a tower core situated against the eastern boundary. The articulation of the landscape is one based on fluid dynamics, of the flow of water slow and fast, space as channels and pools. This allowed us to create and hold very still moments around such significant artifacts as the heritage listed olive tree, and the spaces between legacy buildings.
This earlier approved 2008 scheme consisted of a simplistic stack of programme, relatively inefficient in today’s office market, and effectively a bland backdrop. Our development started to review the options such that we created and massaged a series of tower forms, introducing various degrees of podium articulation, and finally settling on a form and urban configuration that provided robust solutions to the market demand, the site challenges and the architectural aspirations.
The urban context of the form is one that establishes a series of low rise village forms, allowing the development overall to mesh with the context of the Lonsdale Street buildings to the South, and the low level historical buildings to the northern Little Lonsdale.
The Wesley Tower is hewn to create a deference and genuflecting form that responds, reacts and focuses on the Wesley Church and Steeple.
The form of the building is generated from the geometry of the church itself, the angles and planes of the existing structure have been referenced and extrapolated to reinforce and echo the line and axis of the spire.
The re-imagined Nicholas Hall create a remarkable eastern window that soaks in the glory of the Church, and draws inspiration from the great modern halls of Melbourne. The heritage fabric of the Wesley was to be the hero of every element in the dB(A) proposal for this key historic site in Melbourne’s city centre.