Melbourne’s new headquarters for the US retail giant Costco, located at Waterfront City in the Docklands and designed by NH Architecture, demonstrates how large format retailing need not conform to the traditional stereotype of a big pitched-roof shed. The project challenges this precept by combining Costco’s globally successful retail strategy with VicUrban’s design agenda promoting quality contemporary architecture and public space. Big box retailing does not have a good track record for promoting leading architecture and urban design. Traditionally banished to the industrial edges of the city and symbolised by a massive shed in a sea of asphalt, the reputation is often well deserved. Melbourne’s new headquarters for Costco overcomes this conventional attitude. Costco’s 13,400m2 floor plan, a constant throughout their stores in the US, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the UK, is delivered within a broader ambition to create a genuine urban space and public architecture. Costco is a membership warehouse club and focuses on selling to members discounted, bulk-packaged, quality products, often at very high volume, and which are displayed on the retail floor on shipping pallets. What NH Architecture has proven with the design of the Melbourne Costco is that large format retailing of this ilk does not have to be housed in second rate buildings that are effectively generic sheds. Located adjacent to Melbourne’s new tourist venture, the Southern Star Observation Wheel, and seen from a number of major entry routes into the central city, the project responds to the large scale of the surrounding urban fabric by transforming the image of a wholesale shed into an abstract and monumental form. The leading edge of the roof extends towards the arrival intersection and provides a shelter to a newly created public plaza below. This public space links with the Southern Star Observation Wheel forecourt and the broader Harbour Town pedestrian networks. This, Costco’s first Australian store, represents a serious investment into the Docklands precinct. It provides around 250 jobs, provides 553 car spaces, operates seven days a week, and has acted to boost visitor numbers to the neighbouring Harbour Town retail developments, and therefore, overall retail expenditure in the area. It has proved already to be a major generator of pedestrian activity and offers links back to Harbour Town and the rest of the Dockland precinct beyond. In all, with its design of this building, NH Architecture has gone beyond the simple definition of what was required, and although the architectural language is neither complex nor ornate, the design of its form gives something back to the area which in recent years has been a disused wasteland. It follows that if a building and surrounds are well designed, easily able to be accessed and negotiated, and positive spaces to be, then they will prove popular and enjoy success both commercially and otherwise. Based on visitor numbers in its first few weeks of being open, it seems that Costco and the precinct in general will reap the rewards.


14 photos and 5 drawings

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