The Effective Urbanist

Roger Poole, one of Australia’s celebrated architects, shares his take on designing innovative and sustainable buildings to reflect the everchanging urban life

Issue: Mar 2011

Federation Square

He leads one of the world’s oldest architectural firms, Bates Smart - established more than a century ago in 1853. He is known as the man who has an innovative and enduring approach to architecture.

Roger Poole, the Executive Chairman of Bates Smart is one of Australia’s most effective urban and architectural designers.

Roger Poole
Roger Poole, one of Australia’s leading architects, is credited for his contribution to the development of large practice culture in Victoria

Poole has led Bates Smart to create increasingly innovative buildings which reflect the needs and dynamics of contemporary urban life. The multi award-winning Federation Square in Melbourne as well as the new urban neighbourhood for Melbourne, Freshwater Place which combines residential, office, and urban facilities are grand examples.

Poole graduated in Architecture from the University of Washington after which he completed research studies for the PhD in city planning and urban design at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Commercial work aside, Poole has contributed, on a pro bono basis, to the work and governance of the Committee for Melbourne, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, the Property Council of Australia, and one of Melbourne’s leading independent schools.

Widely acknowledged for his strong focus on strategic leadership, the culture of Bates Smart reflects his mission to identify, develop and empower talented younger leaders so that the practice can adapt, grow and endure.

Freshwater Place
The award-winning Freshwater Place in Melbourne developed by Australand, a subsidiary of CapitaLand, is a unique and comprehensive urban redevelopment project that transforms and integrates the entire Southbank precinct

For all his outstanding achievements, Poole was made a Life Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects by the AIA National Council in November 2010.

INSIDE: You are known as one of Australia’s most effective urban and architectural designers, committed to an innovative and enduring approach to design. Which of your projects best encapsulates your design philosophy and approach?

POOLE: As a design architect I always look forward; we are always learning and developing new possibilities. Hence the best project is always the next one! I am very proud of what we have achieved in the past few years; I will mention three projects.

Crown Metropol
Standing at 100 metres high and overlooking the Yarra River, Crown Metropol boasts 658 luxurious rooms and features an infinity pool that’s touted as the best indoor swimming pool in Australia

The first is Freshwater Place - which transformed a riverfront industrial site into a new vertical village where about 1000 people live and 6000 people work, soon to rise to around 9000. It has become the centre of Melbourne’s Southbank district.

Second, the new Crown Metropol hotel, largest in Australia, where we were given total design responsibility from urban design down to every artwork and cushion cover. The project has won many awards and has achieved exceptionally high occupancy after only about a year’s operation.

The third is Media House, a workplace designed to help transform great newspapers into multi-platform digital content for the 21st Century.

INSIDE: What would you consider your most challenging project so far?

POOLE: I find that when people are serious about investing a great deal of money, they focus on the project and the challenges come to us. Nothing we do is easy. Challenges come in different forms – political, technical and design.

My greatest political challenge was arriving in the middle of the process of designing City of Dreams, which is an integrated resort, in Macau. As such, we needed to provide leadership to an existing team of architects in a diplomatic way, to reshape the master plan so that the complex would work for everyone. We did all of the interiors for the six-star Crown Towers and associated gaming areas.

Media House
Media House, Fairfax Media’s new US$100 million headquarters in Melbourne, has a high tech, transparent design that incorporates a long and grassy forecourt and includes a plaza, café and auditorium

As for technical challenge, it is hard to surpass 150 Clarendon Street, where we transformed a large private hospital into Melbourne’s finest residential building, facing a park.

Though everything else was new, the columns were obviously impossible to move. A lot of ingenuity was required to achieve precise planning. Later in the process we were able to get a permit to extend the whole tower by 10 metres. This produced a better-looking building and we gained 3000 square metres of net saleable area, which pleased our clients. The challenge was that we needed to move the corner apartments out five metres on either end, but we could not move the columns. Even more ingenuity was required as by then some of the apartments were committed to purchasers. In the end, everything worked out quite well.

150 Clarendon Street
At 150 Clarendon Street, the structure was inherited from a former hospital

Our Capitol project in South Yarra, which combines a 38-storey residential tower with retail and office, is our latest design challenge. Using a unique shape consisting of two juxtaposed ovals, we created a landmark complex which was given special permission to exceed the then-current height limit by ten stories.

INSIDE: At Bates Smart you support a culture that enables your employees to work and live ethically. For example, your work culture addresses the effect one has on the environment. In your design of buildings, how does sustainability come into play?

POOLE: We want our buildings to have a strong relationship with nature and the natural world. This philosophy incorporates but transcends sustainability and energy efficiency. We want to look beyond star ratings to human well-being.

Whenever possible, our design process uses research-based insights to inform design strategy. Working on healthcare buildings, we have found evidence that our sense of well-being is maximised when we are exposed to abundant natural light and sights of nature. The new Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne will break new ground in designing for comprehensive well-being while incorporating responsible environmental performance.

Royal Children’s Hospital
Due to complete this year, the Royal Children’s Hospital will include other energy saving features such as solar panels, bio mass fuel boiler and collection and re-use of rainwater

INSIDE: And in what way is it a groundbreaking design that incorporates environmental performance"?

POOLE: As the new home for one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals, the RCH is designed to enhance well-being for children, families, staff and visitors – everyone who is affected by the new environment.

According to my colleague Kristen Whittle, the Bates Smart director who led the design team, the brief and site of the park created the opportunity to pursue a design in which nature would nurture; where recovery would be faster and well-being enhanced through accommodating children, their families and staff in a building that would embrace and reflect the best of nature. The project seems to emulate the soft fascination of nature to bring the park into the building and establish an external appearance that helps bring the building into the park. The team’s goal was to awaken the senses by creating form and texture that are a clear analogy to nature and working to reproduce a man-made nature in buildings.

171 Collins Street
171 Collins Street - the “natural six star” building integrates a new generation of workplace environment linking Collins Street’s luxury and sophistication with the intimacy and vibrant atmosphere of Flinders Lane

INSIDE: What latest sustainable ideas and technologies does Bates Smart harness to deliver sound environmental outcomes in your buildings?

POOLE: We stay on the leading edge, but not the “bleeding” edge of sustainable design. We are designing 171 Collins Street for Cbus and Charter Hall as a “natural six star’ building, using under-floor air distribution to achieve the outstanding environmental performance with very natural air flow and high levels of human comfort.

Conventional VAV (Variable Air Volume) systems have limits when it comes to advanced environmental performance. It is difficult, if not impossible, to reach “natural six star” level (equivalent to LEED Platinum) by blowing conditioned air down from the ceiling. Under-floor air distribution utilises natural air movement patterns to produce an outstanding work environment. Air is introduced at low velocity through the floor, sometimes with a measure of personal control to suit different preferences. Air moves through the inhabited zone and is taken from the workspace at ceiling level. Not only is this air movement more natural than ceiling distribution, the air that passes through the workstations is clean which subsequently reduces the incidence of employee absence due to illness.

The technology is widely used in Europe, and is gradually gaining support in Australasia. While early access floors had a hollow sound, today’s systems are stable and solid. A second major advantage is that electrical reticulation is also done under the floor, speeding staff redeployment and the introduction of new technology. We innovate for sustainability, but we do not experiment with unproven technologies.

171 Collins Street
The courtyard garden with an outdoor pool in Poole’s Victorian house provides a realm of tranquility needed for inspiration and creativity

INSIDE: We are always curious what a world-renown architect’s own home look like. Could you please describe your home for us?

POOLE: I live in the inner Melbourne suburbs which were built in Victorian times. As a gesture to the neighbourhood, we retained the Victorian house on the front of the site and designed an extension which is a series of glass pavilions grouped around a courtyard garden with an outdoor pool. The extension is contemporary but echoes the calm symmetry of the original house. Although we work collaboratively in all our projects, everyone needs time for reflection and the development of new ideas. For me, the calm and contemplative view into the garden creates the right balance of energy and reflection needed to find convincing solutions to design problems.

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