Ever since COVID-19 hit the world early this year, life for most has been one of lockdowns, restricted movement and working from home, highlighting the importance of simple and quick accessibility to facilities and services. The rise of the 20-minute city is a practical response to the limitations of living in pandemic conditions, and is based on the idea that everything a person needs, from health facilities and schools to shopping centres and community gardens, are available within 20 minutes of their home.

“People are going to want to work and play closer to where they live, rather than getting on a train to go into the CBD,” observes Buchan’s Group managing principal Bruce Shaw. “New mixed-use developments will have to cater for this, pre-empting the rapid progression of the decentralised workplace, as people continue to work from home.”

Based on the 20-minute neighbourhood concept, the Buchan-designed M-City is a cluster of three 12-storey residential apartments, retail precinct, hotel, entertainment complex, hospitality offerings and an eight-storey office building. Spread across 35,000 square metres, the mini-city developed by the Schiavello Group with Multiplex as the contractor, is located on the corner of Princes Highway and Blackburn Road, and features all the amenity, dynamism and character of the CBD, bringing new life to the outer Melbourne suburb of Clayton.

Instead of a common design theme running through the development, Buchan’s project team has envisioned a unique identity for each building, creating a diverse streetscape quite similar to any metropolitan area. While the buildings range from linear to curved profiles, the architecture retains visual cohesion as well as a physical connection at the podium level. The balance between the buildings’ distinctiveness and integration was achieved during the masterplanning process, which allowed the precincts to harmonise with each other without losing the uniqueness of their buildings. 

“The buildings’ different functions are instantly recognisable, but elements from each do tie them together, so they’re not as disparate as to be completely unrelated,” Buchan’s director and principal Peter Lourey explained.

While the ambitious scale and complex program ensure this mixed use development succeeds on the macro level, the thoughtful separation of public and private spaces underlines the human-centric nature of the design at the micro level.

Representative of the growing decentralisation of cities, M-City could inspire similar developments in the region. As a benchmark for future projects of this scale, it also sets an example for living local.

“There’s so much talk around how important remaining local will be moving forward and this project allows for that to happen,” says Buchan associate John Watson.

“Monash University is a stone’s throw away, you’ve got A-grade office space on site, high quality apartments, there’s amenity in the retail and hospitality offerings and if your family comes to visit they can stay in the hotel. It’s possible to create a community out of developments like this.”