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    Hadid's Melbourne tower approval reignites discussion about architecture's economic value

    Nathan Johnson

    Zaha Hadid’s first Melbourne project has been approved for development by Victorian planning and sparked new conversations about the value add of good design to the economy.

    Four hundred and twenty apartments and 10,000sqm of office and retail space will be injected into Hadid and Plus Architecture's 54-storey skyscraper at 582-606 Collins Street, bringing with it new construction jobs and additional housing for the CBD.

    But while “jobs” and “housing” underscore the recommendations for just about every significant planning approval, the emphasise on Hadid’s project has been a little different.

    For starters, the skyscraper’s form is strikingly different to anything in Melbourne and will bring the 2004 Pritzker Laureate’s recognisable fluid, organic and parametric architecture styles to the city’s skyline. The publicity surrounding the building is also compounded by that the fact that 600 Collins will be Hadid’s only Melbourne building and one of the final projects she worked on before she died in late March, 2016.

    The project is expected by many to become a tourism destination for Melbourne, and has thus placed attention on the benefit of architects and good design to the economy.

    WHAT'S ARCHITECTURE REALLY WORTH?

    Hadid’s tower has been called iconic, inspirational and a landmark, and it hasn’t even broken ground. Vanessa Bird, Victorian Chapter President of the Australian Institute of Architects, also expects that the tower will become a major visitor drawcard for Melbourne and she jumped at the chance to emphasise the value architecture brings to the Australian economy.

    "The drawing power and attraction of good design has a huge value to the economy," she told The Age.

    Bird compared Hadid’s tower to Sydney's Dr Chau Chak Wing Building by fellow Pritzker Laureate Frank Gehry to estimate the effect the building will have on tourism.  If her comparison does ring true, and Hadid’s building becomes as popular with tourists as Gehry’s, then we can expect the future yearly value of the 600 Collins to tourism to be in the vicinity of $46 million.

    She also emphasised this argument by pointing to Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House which more than $600 million annually in tourism dollars.

    BROADENING THE SCOPE

    The publicity surrounding Hadid’s building, and its expectations as a future tourist landmark for Melbourne, do somewhat fly in the face of a recent research report prepared by the University of Technology Sydney for the NSW Architects Registration Board.

    Measuring Up Innovation and the Value Add of Architecture explores new ways to measure the contribution of architectural services to the broader economy outside of its role in the construction industry.

    It suggests that the value of architectural services to the economy is structurally underreported by around $1 billion per year because architecture as a practice is too narrowly defined within the architectural services profile offered by reports linking the profession to the construction industry. 

    But while the potential for Hadid’s building to bring in significant tourism dollars has been recognised publicly, that’s about as far as the reporting has gone. We know that it will cost $300 million to build and that it’s going to create thousands of new jobs, but the figures surrounding its potential economic contribution stop there.

    The UTS report suggests that estimating the tourism contribution of significant buildings is overlooked because it is an expensive and time consuming process. It also suggests that by doing this, we’re missing important information that could be used as a way to inform budgets, return on investment, time frames and the contributions governments at all levels are willing to make on the design component of buildings which have the potential to “pull” visitors to an area.

    What the report highlights, and what Bird was alluding to in her interview with The Age, is that a more sophisticated understanding of the economic value of significant architecture throughout Australia will also encourage stakeholders to increasingly invest in design driven development. 

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