High-rise facade

Crowning glory

A glass face crowned with an intricate steel headdress is turning heads on Melbourne’s eclectic cityscape.

Photo: Craig Moodie


Laura Valic

From the imaginative brushstrokes of one of Australia’s preeminent architects, the vision of a majestic 42-storey residential tower began to take shape. Fast-forward several years and the Conservatory, as it is known, now gracefully stands on Mackenzie Street overlooking prime landmarks in Melbourne’s CBD, including the world-heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens.

Completed in September 2018 by HIA member Hickory Group, the apartment complex was purposefully designed by Cox Architecture to complement the neighbouring gardens, its sculptural form configured to secure unencumbered views for a maximum number of units.

‘The original design was actually done by Philip Cox himself by water paint,’ says Michael Zachariou, project manager for Hickory Group. ‘It was intended to blend in with, and take a lot of inspiration from, the Carlton Gardens next door.’

A connection to nature served as a guiding principle in the formation of the building’s amenities, popping up in communal spaces, such as the ground floor lobby, level six entertainment terrace and the rooftop. The client, international developer UEM Sunrise, imagined idyllic and contemporary high-rise living, inspired by the Wardian case – a glass box that historically protected exotic plants during maritime transportation.

Within these cases, the plants thrived.

High-rise building
The Conservatory gracefully stands on Mackenzie Street overlooking prime landmarks in Melbourne’s CBD, including the world-heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens. 
Photo: Craig Moodie
High-rise kitchen
The abundance of glass is balanced by warm tones, and brass or chrome finishes 
Photo: UEM Sunrise Mackenzie Street

This concept was carried through the planning and design of the Conservatory, from its glass facade – optimising natural light penetration, fresh air and a connection to the surrounding landscape – to the thoughtful layout of the apartments, material choice and the numerous facilities included within the tower.

‘There are 10-tonne precast concrete spas on the roof, a 20-metre lap pool and sundeck, and an external courtyard,’ Michael says. Along with sauna and steam rooms, a gymnasium and golf simulator, a private theatre, and a royal banquet room with several patio areas for events, a rich setting is offered for the modern city dweller to experience a comfortable and convenient urban lifestyle.

‘These were parts of the design the client was keen to keep from the original concept, which Hickory helped see all the way through with Cox Architecture,’ he says.

Imitating the glass exterior, the apartments utilise more of the material, taking advantage of the views and open sky. Sliding glass panels often replace solid doors and walls, which are balanced by warm tones in the wooden floors and brass or chrome finishes in the kitchens and bathrooms. The interiors are the work of renowned firm, Hecker Guthrie.

High-rise rooftop bathroom
The client imagined idyllic and contemporary high-rise living
Photo: UEM Sunrise Mackenzie Street
High-rise rooftop sauna
Marbel and Western Red Cedar plank is featured throughout the building.
Photo: Craig Moodie
Approximately 12,000 square metres of high-spec glass forms the tower’s curved facade which ‘had to go through extensive testing to reduce the solar coefficents and to make sure it provided suitable insulation for the building’s heating and cooling [needs]’.

Other eco-friendly features include rainwater recycling for the entire building, care of 10,000-litre underground tanks in the basement, while the pools are warmed via a heat exchanger using the waste heat off the airconditioning systems.

A building management system efficiently operates the mechanical services for all the common areas, as well as the lifts and security system, in addition to louvres surrounding the ‘tree of life’ – a centrepiece in the lounge of the lobby.

‘The louvres only open at certain times when the conditions and temperatures outside are going to give the most benefit to the tree, and that’s all controlled by the BMS,’ Michael says.
High-rise lobby

A building management system operates mechanical louvres surrounding the ‘tree of life’ – a centrepiece in the lounge of the lobby.

Photo: UEM Sunrise Mackenzie Street

Angulated fins flowing from the roof down the face of the building were added by the architect and offer a point of interest across the spanning glass. Hickory helped to optimise their design, which resulted in more than 50 per cent material reduction and lowered their operational energy consumption by 20,000 watts.

But the Conservatory’s showstopper is without a doubt the tower’s elaborate steel crown.

Construction manager Steve Cahill, who was responsible for coordinating the project teams on the build, says this was difficult to execute. ‘It was quite intricate and took about two months [to assemble],’ he says. ‘The team, headed by Michael, did a fantastic job with detailed structural engineers and designers van der Meer, who in conjunction with Cox, 3D-modelled the crown. There was a lot of work done to get the connections right. It was prefabricated off-site and then lifted and bolted into position.’

The terraced structure, which came to site in 38 pieces and was put together ‘like a big Meccano set’, shades the rooftop sky gardens and establishes the Conservatory’s distinctive appearance on Melbourne’s skyline.

High-rise rooftop spa
'There are 10-tonne precast concrete spas on the roof, a 20-metre lap pool and sundeck, and an external courtyard...’ 
Photo: Craig Moodie
Lap pool
Pools are warmed via a heat exchanger using waste heat off the airconditioning systems
Photo: Craig Moodie

However, before the project was even off the ground the team hit one of their biggest challenges during excavation. The project’s site was once home to a somewhat notorious worker’s establishment, the Mistletoe Hotel, during the city’s early colonial days, and a vast number of artefacts from this time were unearthed during a six-month dig.

‘It was known for being the rowdiest pub in town,’ Michael says. ‘In total there were about 250,000 artefacts found, everything from broken glass, bottles, sheep bones to smoking pipes from the early 1800s. A wallet was also found next to a gun and jewels, so it seems as though someone may have stashed it at one point.’

To help mitigate construction delays, Hickory workers jumped in and joined archaeologists on what has since been called once of the most significant archaeological digs in Victoria’s history.

‘We retrained some of our form workers and carpenters to learn how to dig on a site [like this], under the supervision of the archaeology team,’ Michael says. ‘Some of the main artefacts are now going to be displayed in 24 artefact boxes in the building’s lobby, which we’ve been able to retain on behalf of Heritage Victoria.’

The finishing stroke to a masterful work of art.


250,000 artefacts were found during excavation, from broken glass and china to old wallets, smoking pipes and jewels from the early 1800s

Photo: ©TerraCulture Pty Ltd (on behalf of UEM Sunrise Mackenzie Street)

High-rise building

The Conservatory at a glance

Builder: Hickory Group 

Architect: Cox Architecture

Engineers (crown): van der Meer 

Engineers (building): Webber Design

Location: Melbourne


  • Crown: steel trusses and aluminium cladding – Hickory Facades
  • Facade: glass window and curtain wall 6+12+11.52mm and fins
  • Facade access system: CoxGomyl Building Maintenance Unit 
  • Sauna and steam rooms: Marbel and Western Red Cedar plank from Sauna HQ 
  • Pool and spas: Aloha Pools
  • Joinery: solid timber European Oak finish in UV Matt Lacquer from Cazam (public spaces); Siematic Kitchens; An Cuong (bathrooms and bedrooms)
  • Flooring (apartments): carpet from Décor Plush CTA Flooring; engineered timber – Fumed European Oak & Coal European Oak from CTA Flooring; tiling and stonework from Dellermay
  • Entry lobby floor, tables and joinery: natural marble/natural stone. Elba/bluestone finish from Dellermay
  • Floors (public amenities): natural marble, Elba finish from Dellermay
  • Walls (public amenities): Alaska White Matt finish from Dellermay

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