Steel, Glass & Heart

Adelaide’s skyline is morphing on a daily basis as tower after tower and other assorted shapes rise up around what will soon be the city’s new beating heart – the giant Festival Plaza

For decades, Adelaide’s North Tce stood relatively unchanged, anchored by the marble edifices of its colonial past. Parliament, the railway station, museum, art gallery and hospital buildings kept a sleepy eye on a little-changing landscape.

Then, in 2013, came the “Cheesegrater”, that spiky interloper otherwise known as the SA Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), flaunting its glossy scales at passers-by and forming the beginning of Adelaide’s Health and Biomedical Research Precinct. The SAHMRI building, along with the award-winning Adelaide Oval redevelopment across the River Torrens, seemed to be the pebbles in the city’s millpond that provoked wave after wave of new construction, and the city’s skyline has been pierced by cranes ever since.

Recently completed buildings, like the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, the UniSA Health Innovation Building, and Adelaide Uni Health and Medical Sciences Building have joined the SAHMRI building in the health precinct, with SAHMRI 2 still to come.

Further down North Tce, the second stage of the Adelaide Convention Centre has opened, crowned with fireworks, and work is underway to redevelop the Riverbank entertainment precinct, including the Festival Centre, the central plaza, SKYCITY Casino and the Walker Corporation office tower, funnelling in millions in government and private-sector investment.

Adelaide’s Riverbank Authority chairman Andrew McEvoy says the redeveloped plaza will be the new heart of Adelaide for locals and visitors alike: “I think Adelaide and South Australians are crying out for this space and, when it’s complete, it’ll just be fantastic. What we’re aiming to create is a world’s-best meeting place – for locals having a coffee but also for the convention delegates or international visitors.

“The plaza will have indoor/outdoor space that will have restaurants, retail and also be an event space. It’s got cool and intimate spaces during summer and in winter it’s got the warmth that’s required. So it’s a real gathering point before and after games and concerts.

“It’s 6000sq m of public space for South Australians to enjoy on what was the old (Otto) Hajek plaza, which was loved and hated in equal measure.”

McEvoy says SKYCITY is spending $330 million on its casino upgrade and 110-room, six-star hotel. Its modernist curves will be in contrast to its stately neighbour, Adelaide’s historic railway station. SKYCITY Entertainment Group chief executive Graeme Stephens confirms the company has committed to expanding the casino, adding a luxury hotel with more rooms than first anticipated, new VIP gaming facilities, new bars and restaurants and a new retail arcade linking the promenade to the existing train station entry. “We believe there is demand for more quality hotel rooms in Adelaide from both domestic and international visitors,’’ Stephens says.

The plaza development also includes a 20-storey glass and steel office building, planned by Walker Corporation, which will invest $500 million in 40,000sq m of floor space, an underground public carpark and retail area, with work due to start this month.

“The early work for carparking is underway, the grade separation is well underway. Once that platform is built, the rest of those buildings (the casino and office tower) can come up out of the ground,” says McEvoy. “That area, in the next three years, will be completely different – revitalised.”

Across the rest of the city, new hotels are also springing up after a drought in new starts in this category. The Sofitel, on Currie St, will have 250 hotel rooms topped by 72 apartments in a $140 million development. The five-star Mayfair hotel – hidden by its Colonial Mutual building facade – on King William St will be joined by an upgraded Rockford hotel on Hindley St. At Glenelg, a $110 million luxury hotel called Langham Place will replace the Comfort Inn Hotel on Adelphi Tce.

Apartment buildings are also cresting the skyline, with a least two towers vying for bragging rights as Adelaide’s tallest. Realm Adelaide will rise 132m above the existing Renaissance Arcade on Rundle Mall and the Kyren Group’s Frome Central plans to scrape in at 134m.

As the multitude of new buildings rise to the sky, Adelaide City Council is keeping its feet on the ground and working to enhance the human scale of the CBD.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese says the wealth of major building projects is generating confidence across the city and attracting more people than ever to do business in the city or to make their home here.

“It’s a pretty exciting space, nationally. A lot of people around Australia are talking about Adelaide. It’s a great place to be in. The amount of development going on is unprecedented,” Haese says.

The council is working to revitalise the city’s laneways, focusing on the prime pedestrian link from the banks of the Torrens through to the Central Market. When work is finished, visitors and commuters will be able to walk or hang out in well-paved, tree-lined streets filled with new public art and street art. An injection of $14.6 million from the council and Renewal SA will be spent, with works on track in Bank St and Topham Mall.

“We hope that it will inspire existing businesses to be creative about their presence on the street and provide opportunities for new businesses to come in,” Haese says. “It will give people a very different experience.”

Elsewhere, planning to keep up with the city’s expected population boom of 28,000 residents by 2020, from a current base of 23,000, is underway.

Adds Haese: “We are working to ensure a high-quality public domain for all those new residents to enjoy. It’s the fastest residential growth we’ve seen for a very long time, as evidenced by all the cranes on the skyline.”

WORDS – Jennifer Hullick


As new towers shoot for the sky, down below, new ways to get around town are making tracks. Work has started on a tramline extension east along North Tce, Adelaide’s cultural boulevard, and north into King William St to the Festival Plaza precinct. The State Government is spending $80 million on this section of its tram network and the purchase of three more trams. Adelaide City Council already has workers on the ground upgrading the streetscape, contributing $5 million to the project, including a new East End tram stop. Hopes are the work will bring new life to the eastern end of town now the Royal Adelaide Hospital has moved west to the other end of North Tce. Future tram extensions are planned into the eastern suburbs through Kent Town and with a city loop.