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 National Trust of Victoria - Conservatory Restoration

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 amenities block is the first project to be funded along with restoration works and upgrade works to the back of house in the mansion that has allowed staff facilities to be centralised freeing up more space within the mansion for public access. Though small and unassuming as a piece of architecture, the amenities block responds to the specifics of the site; existing vegetation, pathways and adjacent historic buildings, creating a modern insertion that sits comfortably and in conversation with its neighbours. The building cladding takes inferences from the existing fernery structure, which features the intricate use of timber slats. 

A simple refurbishment of the existing stables building by enclosing the open garage with a recessive but contemporary glazed operable facade has increased the opportunities for events and educational opportunities.

The next project to be realised will be the reinstatement of a salvaged glasshouse that had been re-located from Ripponlea to a nearby park where it had languished and fallen into disrepair. This simple yet elegant functional building will give visitors an insight into the types of activities that occurred on-site originally as well as a working space that will allow propagation of heritage species for re-planting on-site and re-sale.

The intention of this masterplan is to provide the client with a flexible and evolving roadmap for the continued evolution of the site beyond mere maintenance of the ageing facilities – a balance between careful preservation, upgrades and new insertions that open the property to new and wider audiences.

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. 

Paddy’s Market, Sydney


It’s easy to forget that established permanent public market sites are deeply historic, despite often not being very dense with permanent infrastructure. The historic value of markets is fiercely guarded by market operators, vendors and the public alike. These groups tend to be united around wanting to preserve whatever it is that gives these sites their special magic.

This can set up a difficult tension between the need to modernise for patron and workplace health and safety reasons as well as in order to provide greater interest, value and convenience to patrons. At TANDEM we have worked with a range of market clients including the Queen Victoria Markets, the Dandenong Markets and the South Melbourne Markets in Victoria as well as Paddy’s Market in Sydney.

We worked with Sydney Markets to develop a masterplan and a small work package for the historic Paddy’s Market. The recent influx of permanent residents to the Sydney CBD had created an opportunity to refresh their facilities to meet this new demand. 

The market had evolved over the years to a point where the retail offerings were poorly distributed and there were a growing number of vacant stalls. The food offer was also highly westernised, which didn’t reflect the high proportion of people of Asian ethnicity that were now living in the area. The market site was also poorly connected with its interesting neighbours, including Chinatown, University of Technology Sydney, and a new retail development by LendLease.

Our masterplan focussed on establishing more legible and logical internal circulation spines. The new circulation strategy emphasised relevant external connections and created a series of precincts internally. The precincts would enable the grouping of existing stalls of similar types into neighbourhoods. We also made provision for the diversification of the market offering to include prepared and cooked food. These measures combine to create a destination shopping experience while also improving the market’s overall visual impact.

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

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