Masterplanning for historic sites

The presence of historic structures or a listed building can often be seen as an unfortunate restriction or a PR nightmare in urban development. At TANDEM, we see these elements as a bonus for architectural innovation, placemaking and improved commercial and built outcomes.

Where preservation is key, we relish the opportunity to make sensitive and strategic interventions that renew the past to be appreciated and enjoyed into the future. Even when there is minimal obligation to retain site history, we often derive benefits from retaining elements that preserve and communicate a connection to the past. Here we explore two projects on opposite ends of this spectrum.

Ripponlea Estate - National Trust of Victoria and TANDEM Design Studio

Futureproofing Ripponlea Estate - National Trust of Victoria and TANDEM Design Studio

Rippon Lea Estate


Hidden among inner-urban suburbia on the border of Ripponlea and Elsternwick in Melbourne’s southern suburbs is the mid-19th century mansion and gardens of Rippon Lea Estate. Established by the Sargood family, soft-goods merchants who made their fortune on the goldfields, the estate preserves a moment in time that provides a unique window into Melbourne’s historical past.

Now owned and run by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), the estate comprises a large mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens and a large fernery. Like many estates of this size, it is a delicate balancing act to ensure it can generate an income large enough to sustain its upkeep through events and other forms of public access whilst preserving its heritage fabric. This was the critical objective driving the 20-year master plan we developed for the site. 

Much like our work on markets, the nature of the need for preservation and funding availability necessitates a slow and deliberate transformation. Alongside long term relationship with the client to ensure continuity and integrity of implementation over time. Projects such as these also require ingenuity and a willingness to test a high number of options as restrictive covenants can hinder the most apparent solutions and approaches. Planning approvals can also be a long and iterative process, with our master plan for Rippon Lea attracting intense oversight from Heritage Victoria. 

Our strategic masterplan solution aims to address the most practical considerations first, improving site entrance and egress, car parking and access to amenities. These unglamorous, back of house adjustments have the potential to increase event capacity simply by providing the infrastructure to accommodate more significant visitor numbers. 

The toilet block is one of the few aspects of the master plan we have realised so far. Though small and unassuming as a piece of architecture, this simple structure is tucked into the existing landscaping, reducing its visual impact. The building cladding takes inferences from the existing fernery structure, which features the intricate use of timber slats. 

Future stages will establish a ticketing area at the entrance to manage visitor access to the mansion and the gardens and will also reintroduce, restore and original greenhouse structure for additional function space and, in the long term, establish a new function centre.

Lennon Mills


This mixed-use project for commercial property developer client, Perri Projects, involves a reclaimed industrial site adjacent to a train line in inner urban West Melbourne. The challenge with this project was to create a mixed-use industrial and commercial precinct that respects the character of the established residential area of Kensington across the rail line and prepares the development for the possibility of a future physical connection across the rail divide. 

Whilst this project is not subject to the same constraints as Rippon Lea, it incorporated heritage-listed buildings as well as a rigorous exploration of design options driven by the commercial outcomes for a project that may be realised over a series of stages as planning policy and regulations begin to more firmly embrace rail corridor development. 

The original mill building and innovative concrete silos, which were some of the first of their kind in Australia, will be adaptively reused to create a central warehouse-style office building and gallery space. Set back from the street, this provides the opportunity to introduce a landscaped forecourt and retail tenancies at ground level, creating a social heart and focal point for the overall development. 

Not your typical industrial/commercial development, Perri Projects intend to leverage the site’s port, rail and road connectivity and provide high office floorspace to warehouse ratio tenancies. These features combined with a soulful central precinct are designed to attract high-tech manufacturing, last-mile logistics, and digital and creative business services. There is also a strong intention to punctuate and enliven the development with works of public art. 

More then simply adaptively reusing the existing heritage fabric of the site, the heritage buildings, which have been hidden behind industrial buildings for many years, will be revealed again, re-establishing the site’s history for decades to come. 

Lennon Street Mills Masterplan

Lennon Street Mills - Collaborative Office Spaces

Do you have a project that could benefit from TANDEM’s unique approach to master planning?

Get in touch today.