Lessons from the new Emporium in the heart of Melbourne’s retail core


Maintaining the vitality and primacy of Melbourne’s CBD has been a key component of planning strategies for decades, with a key component being the retail core (the spine between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets, from Flinders Street Station to Melbourne Central).

The City of Melbourne has been working on strategies for over 20 years to increase the activity within the CBD and a major opportunity presented in 2007 for the redevelopment of both the Myer and David Jones Department stores. Yet, Melbourne’s most recent development – Emporium – is even more important.


Key lessons from a once in a generation opportunity
The Emporium redevelopment involves a balance of urban context and heritage with design and modern retail objectives. There are a myriad of lessons from this once in a generation transformation:

  • The previous built form was an eclectic mix of old buildings and inconsistent floor levels that had been pieced together over 100 years. They were totally unsuitable for a modern integrated retail development and could not meet current building requirements.
  • To retain major heritage facades  of up to 40 metres in height, whilst the built form behind had to be demolished, required major retention structures.
  • There is a substantial level difference between Lonsdale Street and Lt Bourke Street. The design needed to provide seamless movement for pedestrians without having to change levels.
  • The development created an opportunity to develop clear pedestrian linkages between Lt Bourke and Lonsdale Sts creating new arcades that  completes the north-south system through the retail core of Melbourne
  • Natural light was brought into the development, which can often be an issue with heritage buildings

Blending heritage and form
The balancing of these aspects has been a challenge, but has been very successfully resolved in the way the Emporium redevelopment design will deliver a transformation from a collection of old buildings at the heart of the retail core into what will be a new piece of the city that fits seamlessly into its context.  It has enabled a modern interpretation of the old Myer Emporium with a new Emporium Melbourne.

The design provides a great balance between retention of heritage facades and new built form. It creates modern retail frontages at the eastern end of the development that respect the urban principles of building to the street, and allows a showcasing of major new tenants.

The use of laneways was also pivotal.  Melbourne has a history of retail arcades and laneways. The Emporium development delivers pedestrian connections through a number of arcades that were previously service lanes that did not connect through to Lonsdale Street. It also widened Caledonian Lane and introduced new service tunnels below Lt Bourke St to facilitate a consolidated delivery and loading arrangements for almost a whole city block
The Emporium development will deliver some great outcomes for Melbourne when it opens in the first half of next year, recreating and re-energising this central piece of retail core of Melbourne.

This article first appeared in the Urbis Think Tank. Urbis is an interdisciplinary consulting firm offering services in planning, design, property, social planning, economics and research. Working with clients on integrated or standalone assignments, Urbis provides the social research, analysis and advice upon which major social, commercial and environmental decisions are made. With over 300 staff Urbis is uniquely positioned to handle projects from the simplest to the most complex.

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