Melbourne reaches for the sky

The most suburban city in Australia wants to build the world's tallest tower block. Or does it?

The world's tallest building was given the go-ahead this week. Standing at 1,840ft and 120 storeys, it will seize the height trophy from Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers (1,480ft), the forthcoming Chongqing Tower in China (1,500ft), and dwarf the Empire State Building (1,250ft). Rising at least a quarter of a mile high into the sky, the building will be visible from as far as 50 miles away - on a clear day. On a grey one, its summit will be in or even above the clouds.

The building's size is arresting enough. What makes it truly astonishing is that it is being built not in New York or Hong Kong - or any other densely vertical city where the only way is up - but in wide, open Australia where space could hardly be at less of a premium. And it's going up in Melbourne, the city which traditionally considers itself the polite, cultured counterpoint to beautiful-but-brash Sydney.

Melbourne is elegantly built and eminently livable-in, but it doesn't have an icon. Bruno Grollo means to change that. The well-known construction magnate wants to give his hometown a landmark that will do for Melbourne what the Opera House does for Sydney. So he dreamt up the Grollo Tower, a building so huge that it will not only put Melbourne on the map but also put all the other towers of the world in the shade.

If it's odd that the world's tallest building is being built in flat, genteel Melbourne, it's odder still that it's happening now, just when gigantism seemed to have gone out of fashion. The 1980s saw a surge of skyscrapers and the early 1990s saw a race to build higher and higher with Asia entering most of the runners, and Malaysia winning with the twin Petronas Towers in 1996. Then it was Dr Mahathir who got the chance to say - so to speak - "Mine's bigger than yours".

Bruno Grollo conceived his icon in 1994, and began to plan a tower containing, from the bottom up, a shopping plaza, offices, apartments, hotel and panorama deck. For a design, Grollo went first to Harry Seidler, the Austrian emigre who has been, for 50 years, Australia's leading modern architect. "The idea sort of tickled us, and we had a lot of experience in tall buildings," says Seidler, whose latest building is the huge white Aaltoesque Horizon apartment block in Sydney, developed and built by Grocon, the Grollo family firm.

For the Melbourne project, Seidler designed a 120-storey tower consisting of a reddish-gold glazed core held up at its corners by four pylon-style columns. A model of this marvel of engineering was produced in 1995 but, six months later, Grollo asked the well-established Melbourne architects Denton Corker Marshall to provide an alternative. DCM came up with a slender silver obelisk in glass and steel whose "legs" give it the appearance of a rocket. In 1996, models of both designs were displayed in "Victoria on Show" and visitors to the exhibition were polled for their reactions. Of the 35,000 respondents, 70 per cent said they wanted the tower to be built in Melbourne and 70 per cent of those preferred the DCM design.

This is the tower that Grollo intends to build, in the wasteland of Melbourne's old docklands, within five years and at an estimated cost of A$1.5bn. Last Monday, after a long bureaucratic and political vetting process, the project got the green light from the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, who has made it his mission to make Melbourne a world-class city. Harry Seidler, meanwhile, is maintaining his prior claim. "I have a contract to build the Grollo Tower," he told me this week. "But I think the politics were such that a design by somebody from Melbourne seems to have gone through. Bruno Grollo is a naughty boy as far as I'm concerned." Seidler has a bit of a reputation for irascibility, but he didn't sound too cross about being sidelined. His relationship with Grollo goes back many years.

Now that the Grollo Tower is no longer just a pie in the sky, the realities are dawning. Not so much a skyscraper as a cloud-piercer, the tower will be twice as tall as an earlier Grollo project, the Rialto hotel, which is currently Melbourne's tallest building. And the shadow is lengthening: its radius will be 10km, its average width 50m. It will fall across and down the Yarra river casting a swath of shade over the city's eastern and south-eastern suburbs. Flight paths may have to be changed. The cost to the environment is hard to predict. And who knows if the building will have a viable life?

Deposits are rolling in for the apartments, but public opinion seems to be turning against the project. On Wednesday, Melbourne's broadsheet, The Age, ran a leader headlined "The Grollo Tower should not be built", arguing that "Melbourne does not need the world's tallest building to attest to its greatness". The tower knocked the "baggy green shame" of Australian cricket off the opinion page: the paper reprinted 26 letters on the subject, all but three of them damning it. According to readers of The Age, the Grollo Tower is unwanted, unnecessary, a futile attempt to compete with the world's greatest cities, an environmental hazard, a white elephant (inevitably it will not be the world's tallest building for long), and little more than an egomaniacal bid by Bruno Grollo and his family to immortalise themselves with a gross phallic symbol. (Several people couldn't help mentioning Viagra.) In short, the Grollo Tower will be an embarrassment to Melbourne.

One Age reader, Chris Keating, took a more detached view, pointing out that the Grollo Tower may never be the tallest building in the world. "That honour will be claimed by India with the Centre of India Tower [which] will rise to a height of, roughly, 670m. It is being constructed as a religious centre for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and will be occupied by 100,000 Hindu sages," he wrote. Is he right? I suppose it all depends on who gets it up first.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle