SKYSCRAPERS have been declared the answer to Melbourne's urban sprawl by two leading developers, with both revealing plans for more towers as the city struggles to cope with a surging population.
Developer Lorenz Grollo, whose family co-owns the Rialto Towers on Collins Street, is planning to build more skyscrapers modelled on the iconic building.
Better use of available city land has been identified as a key to maintaining Melbourne's liveability - and halting urban sprawl.
And Tony Brady, the developer of Melbourne's next skyscraper, says he will take on more high-rise projects once his 67-storey development on the site of the old Stork Hotel on Elizabeth Street - scheduled to begin this year - is finished.
Mr Brady, who specialises in residential developments, has three other mid-sized towers of more than 30 storeys under construction, but says he is looking to go higher.
The developers have declared their intentions as The Age today launches a series examining how Melbourne's planners will cope with a predicted population of 7 million by 2050, an increase of more than 3 million people.
Better use of available city land has been identified as a key to maintaining Melbourne's liveability, and halting urban sprawl.
But the skyscraper plans drew immediate criticism from designers including high-profile urban planner Rob Adams, director of Design and Culture for the City of Melbourne.
Professor Adams, a leading voice in the push for more targeted low-rise developments across the city, said high-rise developments often had more to do with profitability and image than ''sensible'' town planning.
''Really what it is about is buying the land as cheaply as you can and then maximising the development on it. That's all about dollars. It's got nothing to do with good design or sustainability, it's all about economics,'' he said.
High-rise buildings tended to be less environmentally efficient than low-rises, he said, and greater housing density could still be achieved without the need for more towers.
Mr Grollo would not reveal specific plans for a new tower, but said he was looking for high-profile Melbourne sites that could accommodate skyscrapers. ''We are looking at some potential developments in the future which are largely modelled on Rialto,'' he said.
''Skyscrapers are part of Melbourne's future without a doubt. With population increasing, density in building and cities is critical.''
Mr Grollo argued that there was ''a better, greener outcome when you get a bigger mass on the one footprint''.
''Having said that, it needs to take into consideration the right urban design and how the building sits within its context of a wider precinct. You can't just build tall buildings for the sake of it,'' Mr Grollo said.
''I'm certainly not a believer in massive towers like in Dubai, that's bordering on ridiculous, but you go to New York and the average buildings there are 50-odd storeys. Just because of our land mass here, 50 storeys seems very high.''
Mr Brady also argued that skyscrapers were the answer to urban sprawl in Melbourne.
''If you've got all these people coming in, the only thing that will stop urban sprawl is to build more skyscrapers because if you don't spread up you've got to spread out,'' he said.
Architect and heritage consultant Nigel Lewis warned against further skyscrapers in the Melbourne CBD, calling instead for a moratorium on high-rise developments in key city precincts such as Flinders Lane, Chinatown, and Swanston and Bourke streets.
He said if developers wanted to build more skyscrapers, maybe they should do so at Docklands where they could ''have fun and compete with each other about who can build the biggest … Perhaps the more stuff they put there the better at this stage.''
Skyscrapers are expensive to build and hard to finance because they cannot be done in stages. When it was completed in 2006, the Eureka Tower at Southbank became the city's tallest building at 297 metres (91 storeys), eclipsing the Rialto at 242 metres (60 storeys).
Height restrictions vary between the city's precincts and can be specific: one planning control for the City of Melbourne permits a maximum height of 23 metres for new buildings, to allow the Parliament buildings to remain ''visually dominant''.
Out of the city, each local government has its own planning scheme with its own height controls and neighbourhood considerations, further adding to the complexity of high-rise development.