Six Degrees founding director Mark Healy talks about how the firm used its experience in low-rise and mid-scale projects to design a vibrant community, and what the learning curve in designing a mixed use high rise project means for the firm’s future.

Their recently launched Escala, a $130 million mixed-use development in the Docklands precinct saw Melbourne developer MAB Corporation work alongside Six Degrees and take inspiration from Melbourne’s laneway and design culture, to implement their signature leadlight design to the collection of four buildings that comprise Escala.

How has your history with single residential projects influenced your approach to multi residential design?

The Six Degrees approach to designing residential space is pretty much the same as our approach to designing any space. We design for the people who will be using it.

However, unlike a single house, with multi residential buildings of this scale you don’t know who will be living in it when the project is completed. This drives design thinking toward more universal concepts such as maximising daylighting, privacy, or flexibility.

How much influence can architects play in helping shape the identity of an area

Architects can help to shape the identity of an area, but they have to design within a larger structure plan. Although it was a small project, [our] Meyers Place project for example helped shape the laneway culture that is a big part of Melbourne’s identity these days.

The architects are important in all these process, but the most important element is always the people who form a community, because they see and feel the social value in these opportunities.

What was the inspiration behind the Escala design and how did you come to work on the project?

So, the overall project has enormous diversity. Six Degrees has always enjoyed designing large and small projects across a wide field across multiple sectors, so it made sense for us to take on Escala.

The project is expressed as a collection of podium buildings with the tower element being quite separate. Each of the podium buildings has a distinct identity.

There is solid brick, curtain wall, breezeblock, ceramic tile and steel finishes. It sounds fairly busy, but the overall composition will allow the material choices to be expressed as discreet aesthetics.

The most detailed areas are experienced at the pedestrian level, with the next six to seven levels having a different layer of detail, and then the remaining levels having a more restrained expression with concentrated areas of detail that will read at that 20-storey level.

Was there a process of learning for Six Degrees on this project?

The process has involved a lot of learning about how each group thinks and works. Six Degrees has a modest level of tower experience, so we leant on technical expertise to build our knowledge in this area. Likewise, MAB has gained an understanding of what Six Degrees values are, and how they are translated into built form.

Overall the process has been incredibly rewarding. David Allt-Graham (MAB general manager of Residential) shares our belief in design that’s driven by a genuine “first principle” approach, as opposed to whatever might be fashionable in the moment. We’ve never really cared about what’s in fashion.