Project: Emporium Melbourne
Team: The Buchan Group
Photographer: Aaron Pocock
Profile: With 125 years of design excellence, The Buchan Group has a vast global reach extending across offices in the United Kingdom, China, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. With almost 400 professionals, the firm is recognised for its design excellence and depth of experience in retail, residential, hotels, mixed use, leisure and commercial developments.
Melbourne’s laneways are as iconic as they are confusing, resembling a consuming network of threads that can only be adequately explored on foot. For the weary traveller, or even the seasoned veteran, Emporium is respite, announcing loudly to all who approach: “what you’re looking for is here!”
The Buchan Group’s design for Emporium responds to the brief for a premium, interconnected, vertical retail environment that somehow captured the vibe of Melbourne’s labyrinthine laneways. With the intention of reinvigorating the CBD as a primary retail destination, they sought a timeless, non-suburban retail centre with column-free malls and clear sightlines.
Approaching Emporium from the North-East entrance, the viewer is awed by the ‘jewel box’, a glittering facade of light and glass, where the crosshatched pattern mediates light from the inside to create an alluring sense of extravagance. Accompanied by giant media screens on the building’s exterior—described by the architects as a “bold contemporary expression”—the overall effect recalls the visual splendour created by screens and lighting features on commercial buildings in New York City and Tokyo, placing Melbourne among them.
In terms of positioning, Emporium is the middle link in the pedestrian chain between Melbourne’s most powerful CBD retail precinct, linking Myer, David Jones, Melbourne Central, The Strand Arcade, and Melbourne’s GPO. By designing Emporium as both a dedicated retail entity and as a gateway, they intend to position it as the epicentre of retail in the area, linking consumers between places, but also reinforcing its role as the ‘one stop shop’.
Inside, vertical sightlines are maximised by staggering walkways between levels to ensure clear vision between floors. On entering Emporium, the dramatic verticality of the structure creates a feeling of sensory overload, as the viewer is overwhelmed by the scale and diversity of the fare. Crucially, shoppers can see between floors, facilitating the quick location of a desired store. A feeling of nostalgia is generated by the layout, which recalls old city laneways in its winding fashion. These recollections are reinforced by the flooring, as polished bluestone floors further the allusion to the old laneways, adding additional elegance through by travertine sourced from Italy.
By staggering pathways, they lead seamlessly between each floor, creating a route to carry shoppers across all three levels. Natural light is central to Emporium’s vibe, as the glazed canopies filter light directly through the ceiling to animate the centre of the precinct on all floors. The ceilings vary between reflective, patterned geometries, and the bright grating on the lower ground, creating an ultra-modern, ultra-stylised interior that suggests the interior of a jewellery box. The emphasis on clarity—in the promotion of intra-level sightlines through clear facades and glass railings—reinforces the absorbent quality of the project, as it draws shoppers in for “just one more look”.
Standing anywhere inside Emporium, the crosshatching walkways and natural light reminds you that you have arrived. There, along smooth, polished walkways; up escalators; and between floors, you are faced with an abundance of choice and opportunity, in the finest retail outlets the shopping capital of Australia has to offer.