Five years is a considerable amount of time to obtain planning permission. Clarifying a certain usage can be problematic. And when there are three trains supported on a rooftop, things can get even more difficult.

“The design was conceived more like a bridge than a traditional building,” architect Zvi Belling​, a director of ITN Architects, says.

“But having a variety of occupants throughout this building certainly stretched things out,” he says.

Previously a 480-square-metre vacant lot in Easey Street, Collingwood, the Commercial 2-zoned plot had been used by parking trucks for many years.

Rather than the site remain vacant, Belling has acted as both architect and co-developer.

“We wanted to build on the street culture in the immediate area, a pocket of Collingwood that’s a centre for graffiti artists not just in Melbourne, but in Australia,” Belling says.

Following on from Belling’s Hive apartments in Carlton, a concrete brutalist pile, the Easey Street development comprises offices, hospitality businesses and cafes. Occupying two street frontages, occupants and visitors can approach from the main street or from the lane behind.

Extending over five levels, it’s not only the brutalist concrete facade that resonates, but the three trains that appear to hover precariously on the rooftop.

“We weren’t trying to capture the idea of ‘trainspotting’. It was about engaging with the graffiti culture, often associated with disused trains,” Belling says.

To locate disused trains may take time for an architect, but ask a graffiti artist and there’s an instant lead.

“We were directed to a man who had a collection of disused trains which he purchased from the railways,” says Belling, who had to use considerable ingenuity not only to “crane up” the three trains, but also anchor them on the rooftop.

“The weight of each train required a different structural approach,” he says, pointing out the steel tracks below each train that have been cemented into the roof’s foundations.

While the rooftop highlights the graffiti culture associated with trains, so does the ground floor cafe and building’s facade. The cafe, known as Zone One, shares the train/graffiti culture. Based on the zone-one yellow paper ticket, used prior to Myki, the cafe features graffiti-sprayed walls and seating that once would have graced the disused Hitachi M-class trains. Even the bar at Zone One takes the form of concrete tracks.

“Most of these trains ran from the 1970s through to the 1990s,” says Belling, who restored the plaid-covered seats for the cafe, as well as for the bar that graces the rooftop.

Other cues from the train appear on the facade of the Easey Street development. The platforms in the train stations, for example, have been flipped over to reveal the signage and tactile indicators (advising travellers to stand behind the line). And doors to entrances have been customised using train tracks and sleepers.

While the exterior is relatively free from graffiti, the interior is heavily covered with graffiti walls, as are the trains on the rooftop.

“The graffiti has been curated,” Belling says, pointing out the three layers of graffiti on one of the cafe walls.

Unlike the many passages, the offices, varying in size from 40 square metres to 65 square metres, remain pristine white. Some of these offices have been designed with balconies and galley-style kitchens, while others appear more robust, like the ones at ground level that may be more conducive to a hospitality use or even for off-street car parking.

While the outlook from the offices is impressive, offering panoramic views of Melbourne’s skyline and environs, it’s the aspect from the train, one of which is currently used as a cafe, that draws the applause. Complete with outdoor courtyard (wedged between two trains), one could almost believe the train is about to arrive on the platform, several metres above ground level.