Pete Sullivan from Cox Architecture

Words: Manuela Millan

Recently we caught up with Pete Sullivan from Cox Architecture, creators of the winning design for the $2 Billion development planned for Southbank by Beulah International. 

Competing with six other designs put together by collaborating teams of Australian and international architecture firms, Cox Architecture and Dutch firm UNStudio’s design Green Spine took first place. Their 350+ metre high Green Spine is an impressive cantilevered structure made up of two twisting towers with a geometric glass facade and green terracing. 

It was great to see so much importance being placed on creating a truly integrated, mixed-use environment, with public amenities, green space and activated community spaces, while also integrating with the existing Southbank precinct. 

We asked Pete Sullivan a few quick questions to find out more about the design process and the building itself. 

Hope you like it! 

Pete Sullivan from Cox Architecture

Pete Sullivan from Cox Architecture

Image courtesy of UNStudio and Cox Architecture

Image courtesy of UNStudio and Cox Architecture


MM: What initially drew you to this project?

PS: Beulah International had the vision to establish an important discourse around the future of our cities and how aspirational projects such as this can redefine city living. Put simply, it was absolutely something we had to be a part of, it’s the sort of city-building challenge we exist for.


MM: What are the key design elements for the concept/building design?

PS: The key design element is the Green Spine, an architectural element that incorporates a multitude of functions in one fluid gesture. The Green Spine is designed to generate public flows and movement and offer multiple benefits throughout the design. It extends the Southbank Boulevard upwards and acts as the key organisational element of the building with respect to programme, culture, landscape, and sustainability. In addition to housing a variety of amenities, all programmes are linked to the Green Spine.

At ground level, this spine directly engages with Southbank Boulevard by bringing people up and into the building, thereby expanding the public realm up and into the building. From the public park at the top of the podium, the spine continues to entwine itself around the two towers, where it culminates at the top of the residential tower in ‘Future Gardens’. 


MM: What makes this project unique?

PS: The genuine mixed-use nature of the building creates a vertical village connected by the public ‘green spine’. This spine will take the typical/traditional landscape to new heights - in Melbourne and the world.

Image courtesy of UNStudio and Cox Architecture

Image courtesy of UNStudio and Cox Architecture

Image courtesy of UNStudio and Cox Architecture

Image courtesy of UNStudio and Cox Architecture


MM: Can you describe your design process? Did you do anything differently given that you were collaborating with an overseas firm?

PS: We worked in close collaboration with the team from UNStudio in Amsterdam from the get-go, we started by analysing the site, both the current condition and the future ambitions for the precinct, in particular, the reimagining of Southbank Boulevard as a new linear park. The team worked with physical and digital models, quickly testing numerous massing concepts on the site and coming together for bi-weekly video conferences to workshop ideas. As we approached a crucial point in the design process a small team from Cox traveled to Amsterdam to finalise the design working side by side and minute by minute.


MM: What inspired the curved shape of the buildings?

PS: The twisting form of the twin towers is derived by drawing the Southbank Boulevard linear park up and through the building, these verdant green facades then twist to align with the key aspects of the city to the north and the parks and gardens to the east. So the ‘twists’ are far more than some egotistical architectural aesthetic, they’re actually a truly ‘inside out’ feature which may visually distinguish the design, but which at its core delivers new amenity in new ways, critical to enhancing future quality of life.


MM: What are some of the biggest challenges that the project has/will need to overcome?

PS: The next challenge for the project is to achieve a planning permit. The team will now work closely with the City of Melbourne and the planning department to develop the design in collaboration to achieve this goal.


MM: You’ve described the precinct as a Vertical Village, can you talk through what that means to COX?

PS: The idea of a vertical village brings together all the elements of daily life within a short walk (or lift ride in this case) of living, working, socialising and exploring the cultural spaces where residents, visitors, and activities come together;

  • Marketplace at ground level

  • Town Hall (Auditorium) in the podium

  • Childcare

  • Creche

  • Pocket parks for high-rise residential dwellers

  • Town square – elevated public gardens

  • Garden of the future at the top of the tower

MM: What excites you most about this project and what are you most proud of?

PS: The opportunity to contribute to the direction of future cities and create a landmark building for Melbourne which is highly contextual…providing an alternative approach and future template for ‘high-rise’ that integrates rather than isolates, that is as green as it is technological and is one that anticipates the future needs of the city and its communities, as opposed to merely reflecting the ‘now’ and iterating on the present.