How a simple idea inspired the design of Southbank's latest tower

Just one golden idea can be enough to form the design theme behind giant architectural projects. It could be a colour, a shape or a single motif, but most importantly, it must be unique.

The vast beauty of nature often provides the answer. Earthy materials such as timber, metal and stone are timeless and can be seen in the bluestone of St Patrick's Cathedral and the sandstone at Federation Square.

Drilling down to a building's purpose can provide the framework of design - take the soccer-shaped roof at AAMI Park and the curving roof of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, which some say was inspired by Louis Armstrong's trumpet.

But it was the simple concept of a pleat that became the theme behind the first stage of Southbank's newest skyscraper project, Melbourne Square. Smooth folds and tucks are integrated into the exteriors and interiors of the towers that will house more than 1000 apartments.

Building an entire design theme from a detail as modest as a pleat was tasked to designers at Cox Architecture and Carr Design Group, who worked together to produce a seamless look throughout. For inspiration, the teams turned to Japanese fashion guru Issey Miyake whose Pleats Please range is defined by sculptural shapes and precise folds.

"So one kernel of an idea started us on a journey that led us to investigate how the pleat and fold could influence spaces in different ways," explains Chris McCue, director of architecture at Carr.

"We really took the idea of different sorts of pleats and folds in fashion and how that could apply to a wall plane or a ceiling or a piece of joinery or a kitchen bench.

"Even though it sounds like there's not much to that one idea, I think there's a lot of exploration into how that idea can be explored in the journey of all the different design processes."

The lobby announces the pleat theme with its sculptural timber ceiling that interlocks and undulates across the space. It continues in the private dining rooms where folds are incorporated into a triangulated wall mosaic and in the ceiling above the swimming pool where fold lines steer the eye towards expansive views.

In the apartments themselves, folds are articulated in the natural stone across the island benches of the kitchens. "It's the power of the single idea that we're always looking for in our architecture and our interiors and I think Melbourne Square is a good demonstration of that in that one strong idea can permeate all different spaces and tie it together in a cohesive way," McCue says.

"The selection of finishes are really muted because you've got this one hero element."

The clean lines of Melbourne Square's pleated facade will be created with a modern take on the bay window. These windows will add a new dimension to apartments and capture views, says Phil Rowe, director at Cox Architecture.

"The pleated facade is set up to have glancing views away from each tower and it effectively creates a contemporary bay window," he says.

"That was the design inspiration for the pleated facade, so you get a different aspect within your space, rather than looking directly out."

Built on a former car park, the towers that make up Melbourne Square will range from 38 to 73 levels. The second and third stages of the development will see the construction of an office and hotel. By the time it's finished in 2020, the project will include a supermarket, cafes and a childcare centre.

"We created amenity that was lacking in the Southbank precinct such as supermarkets, providores and neighbourhood-based cafes," Rowe explains.

"Southbank is very tourist based. This is more focused around the neighbourhood and a living environment on a day-to-day level."

The $2.8 billion mixed-use development by Malaysian developer OSK Property promises to bring some much-needed greenery to a concrete-dominated pocket of Southbank. Melbourne Square, which is bound by Kavanagh, Power and Balston streets, will include a 3700-square metre park and will occupy a fifth of the total land area of the development.

The park will be complemented by a network of gardens that will feature promenades, plazas and a staircase next to a cascading water feature. The park will present an eye-catching display of colour from plants around the world.

Having so much room to play with has been a refreshing point of difference for Rowe and his team.

"Part of the problem with apartment developments that have happened in the past is the sites they've had to develop on have been reasonably small," he says.

The park will be complemented by a network of gardens that will feature promenades, plazas and a staircase next to a cascading water feature. The park will present an eye-catching"The opportunity that has come to us with this site means we've been able to create great open space and that is unique, particularly to the neighbourhood of Southbank."

Southbank's cultural must-sees

Ballet. The Australian Ballet begins it s presentation, Raymonda tomorrow night at the Arts Centre. Melbourne Age. news. Photo by Angela Wylie. September 18 2006. SPECIALX BALLETThe Australian Ballet at The Arts Centre.Photo: Angela Wylie

The Arts Centre

Melbourne landmark and the city's premier performing arts centre, the Arts Centre is an iconic place to be. Last year it staged more than 4000 performances and events for more than 2.7 million people.

Melbourne Theatre Company

If you're going to see quality theatre in Melbourne, chances are you're headed to the MTC. Screen luminary Geoffrey Rush will tread the boards next year in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

Malthouse Theatre

This historic building was built in 1892 and converted into a contemporary theatre complex in 1986. Today it houses the 500-seat Merlyn theatre, the refurbished 180-seat Beckett Theatre and the Tower for artists in residence.

Melbourne Recital Centre

The heart of Melbourne's classical music scene, the centres describes itself as a place of "architectural innovation and acoustic perfection". Esteemed companies such as Australian Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Victorian Opera call the recital centre home.

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

Housed in a steel sculpture by architects Wood Marsh, the ACCA has four gallery spaces showcasing the works of local and international arts. The Sturt St centre also hosts education and public programs including talks, performances and screenings.

See more of Melbourne Square here.

This story How a simple idea inspired the design of Southbank's latest tower first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.