We had the rare privilege of spending time with one of Australia’s most innovative architects, Karl Fender. Karl and his close-knit Fender Katsalidis team have had their design stamp on Melbourne’s most elegant and striking towers and apartment projects, from FK’s early works such as the Melbourne Terrace Apartments and Republic Tower to the fraternal residential skyscrapers, Eureka Tower and Australia 108 (under construction). More recently, Karl was the lead architect on the newly-completed $290 million Jaques in the inner-city suburb of Richmond transforming an industrial rock crushing business into imaginative and thoroughly contemporary apartments.

In Karl’s words, “When we first decided to compile the book, we intended to chronicle the first ten years of the practice up to 2005. Our business work schedule saw the book project set aside until book publishers Uro became interested in it and the project grew a new life, and we added another decade or more to the story.” The book does more than timeline FK’s most influential work, and it does so against the tapestry of Melbourne’s rapidly developing architectural landscape and its mix of historic and contemporary buildings. “I think we’ve been privileged to live in a city that has gone through such a transformation process over last 35 years. Admittedly, we have been a big part of that narrative. What I like most about  what I see today is that the city is no longer a sterile commercial environment but a lively, wholesome, welcoming place teeming with people from all walks of life.”

Karl harbours mixed feelings when nay-sayers talk of Melbourne’s advancing vanguard of tall towers – those that say that tall buildings promote isolationism and create abominable wind tunnels and cut out natural light to ground level. For Karl, the debate should not be around the rationale against tall towers but the sensible discussion around typology and what constitutes sound typology. “Emerging cities, historic cities like Paris and London and other kinds of cities all have the need for tall towers in their proper context.” Karl draws on a term closely associated with Melbourne – that of liveability. “Rather than debating whether tall towers are right or wrong, we should be debating those typologies which promote or deter from liveability. To advocate that tall buildings are evil of themselves is plain wrong. Tall towers offer a breathtaking, safe, convenient and practical way of life.”

In the context of tall towers, Australia 108 will in a matter of a few short years, become Australia’s tallest residential tower. Construction is well advanced, and sales were incredibly strong for its apartments. Unlike the more rectilinear forms prevalent in Melbourne, Australia 108 was designed to be deliberately sculptural and complicated. The tower observes some social obligations that Karl demands of all his projects. The first is the need to have a comforting scale that blends appropriately or be contrapuntal in an interesting way but at the same contribute to the sensory fabric and vibrancy of the city. “I think the way we design the ground level with pathways, foliage and public art provides opportunities to enrich the public experience. I believe that Australia 108’s 10-storey vertical garden will radically improve the city’s visual appeal at ground level. The Council is also undertaking public improvements to Southbank Boulevard to transform it into a lush boulevard which will blend very nicely with that of Australia 108’s vertical garden.”
Much of Australia’s design excellence draws from Karl’s business partner, Nonda Katsalidis who first identified the site some years ago with all its possibilities and formed a development team. Later on, the site was purchased by the Singaporean company, World Class Land a leading developer of luxurious residential and commercial property in Singapore. “Our Singaporean purchaser loved our design and as they became more familiar with the design development and marketing, became committed towards value adding and improving the building every step of the way. As far as I am aware, there was not one item which was engineered out of the final design.”
Australia 108 will have an extraordinary sculptural intervention about two-thirds up the tower which resembles a starburst. Within the starburst, a section containing all the communal facilities for the building with fantastic views of Melbourne. An engineering marvel in its right, two swimming pools will be built within the starburst which will be unusual for a Melbourne building.
Eureka Tower, with its public observation deck, has already captured the imagination of the Australian public. “I think as a tourist attraction, Eureka Tower is a very palpable gift to the City of Melbourne. Its sculptural form, which looks different from different angles demonstrates great design imagination. So many buildings suffer from extruded repetitiveness. Both Eureka Tower and Australia 108 are good examples of where sculpture meets building design.”
It’s hard to imagine that Karl and Nonda began its practice over 25 years ago and started the trend towards stylish apartment design long before it became accepted practice. The early works such as Melbourne Terrace and Republic Tower display a keen design sensibility ahead of their times which made them stand out from the cookie cutter-style apartment buildings produced by other developers. Karl and Nonda’s reputation attracted a following and projects after that were all keenly watched.

Jaques Richmond
Karl’s inventive mind and reputation were called up by the Melbourne based successful development company, Riverlee Group to transform the former Jaques Bros foundry, an engineering business that built rock crushing machinery into an “adaptation, modification and contemporary reinterpretation of the Richmond site’s former use.’’ In keeping with the historic fabric of the site, materials such a brick, copper, timber and steel were all used to enrich the appearance of the façade.
Contrary to urban myth, not all large-scale residential projects are dominated by foreign sales. Across three stages, 70 per cent of purchasers were owner occupiers with the majority of buyers living within a five to seven kilometre radius to the site. Less than six per cent of customers resided overseas.

Of the many practical amenities featured at Jaques Richmond, the most stunning is the central landscape courtyard area designed by Tract. Says Karl, “Tract set out to create an exciting artistic effort visible from the balconies above. Residents see an interesting set of geometric patterns in-filled by plants and timber decking. At night time, the view becomes even more arresting.”
Karl’s design sensibilities are deeply evident in Jaques Richmond. Jaques Richmond is a brilliantly calibrated blend of heritage and contemporary design thinking.

A review of the finished project last month reveals a design that is incredibly in tune with the building typology around it. Etched steel memorial panels designed by Garry Emery have been installed on the original red brick entry tower to the site, providing the community with detailed information on the Jaques family, the site history and the machinery, as well as paying tribute to AFL legend Jack Dyer. The retail laneway that runs through the site has been named Dyer Street, paying homage to this local football identity which further deepens community links to this old factory site. Karl granted The Asian Executive a personal inspection of The Penthouse at Jaques Richmond with its commanding views of Melbourne. Every aspect of this uber luxurious penthouse has been meticulously thought through and represents the very latest thinking in apartment design.

Jaques features a temperature controlled wine cellar, a stunning fireplace, Gaggenau and Liebherr appliances, high-quality stone and bespoke timber finishes as well as artful recessed lighting throughout.

The glass wall between the master bedroom and ensuite bathroom elegantly separates the two spaces, and residents can opt to leave the glass wall transparent, or turn a switch that renders the glass opaque.

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