Shaping our city

Queen and Collins: a Melbourne icon reborn for the future of work

1 May 2023

Pause on the corner of Queen and Collins streets to gaze up at a Melbourne Award-winning feat of urban design. Drab cubicles and flickering fluoros begone – this is a next-gen workplace with neo-gothic flair.

Queen and Collins is the brainchild of the team at Kerstin Thompson Architects, in collaboration with BVN Architecture, and the winner of our 2022 Melbourne Award for Urban Design.

The place is a network of reimagined spaces and laneways, offering a characterful home for a community of like-minded businesses embracing flexible, futuristic working culture.

A modern, multi-storey internal space with large pillars and metal staircases.
An atmospheric space at Queen and Collins, photo by S Cairns

The Queen and Collins website describes its offering as “preposterous luxury”. But beneath the glamour and the buzz of business innovation there lies a heritage gem lovingly transformed by a passionate team.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see something we’ve toiled over for months and years start to take shape in reality, and for others to start to inhabit the place,” said Michael Blancato, Associate Principal of Kerstin Thompson Architects.

“Until that point, a space or a building just exists in drawings and models, and there’s often a moment of crisis where we ask: did we get this right?

“It’s satisfying to see something start to work as anticipated and, even better, for people to use it in unexpected and interesting ways.”

When asked about his favourite part of Queen and Collins, Michael’s answer is resounding.

“The stairs! There are a few connected flights of stairs just inside the Little Collins Street entrance into the building, and about halfway up there’s a spot where you can stand to have a great view down to the ground floor entry and see out to Queen Street beyond,” Michael said.

“It’s a great little perch, where you can watch all the action of people coming and going, but still have a little quiet space to yourself.”

The initial brief for Queen and Collins was to “reposition a commercial asset”, but Michael’s team saw the opportunity to dive deeper and create something extra special.

The result is a premium example of adaptive reuse that celebrates neo-gothic heritage, brings people together and enhances our sense of place. Projects like these will become more and more important as our city grows.

“Our cities can’t keep growing at the fringes; at some point, we will reach (or already have reached) a tipping point where the cost in terms of both dollars and carbon footprint of ever-outwards growth can’t be justified,” Michael said.

“We will need to find new ways to accommodate this growth within inner and middle-ring suburbs, where existing infrastructure, services, and amenities should be able to better support growth and change.”

“At the same time, we need to be brave enough to accept that a degree of change and adaptation in these established areas is needed to allow our cities to remain vital.”

A courtyard with a large arched and stained-glass window.
A historic courtyard, photo by D Swalwell

We recognised the outstanding Queen and Collins project by awarding it our 2022 Melbourne Award for Urban Design.

“We are thrilled to win this award, and honoured to be considered amongst a number of outstanding projects completed in Melbourne in the past year,” Michael said.

“We do think our project does offer one example of how to sensitively update existing buildings through both careful new construction as well as focused preservation and we hope this offers some inspiration to others in position of power and influence to consider the same.

“It’s about taking the slightly harder path of careful reinvention, rather than either blanket prohibition of any change, or wholesale demolition of a still-useful structure.”

A courtyard adjoining floor to ceiling windows of a modern building interior.
A lofty meeting place, photo by D Swalwell

Looking to the future, Michael and his team have many more projects on the horizon, including the launch of the expanded Melbourne Holocaust Museum in Elsternwick.

About the Melbourne Awards

The Melbourne Awards are our city’s highest accolade, celebrating the inspirational Melburnians who dedicate their time and energy to making this city a world leader. Applications for the next round of the awards open on 22 May 2023.

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