Balance Architecture Revisits Mid Century Modernism

Over the last few weeks several critics have complained that we only like ‘historical buildings’ as if that somehow disqualifies our opinion. Well, yes we do like historical buildings with their fine craftsmanship, artistry and detail but we also appreciate those Architects who, during the mid 20th century, looked to provide innovative and spacious living for home owners and public buildings – mid century modernism.

Balance Architecture invites owners of such dwellings and custodions of public buildings of this period to consider a full appraisal and report that can be utilised when applying for Heritage recognition and, ultimately, listing. 

From Bayside to Macleod, from Eastern Beach, Geelong to Black Rock and Beaumaris, these iconic buildings must be saved and preserved. 
 
In November 2018 we published the following article “Modernism – Time to Protect Mid Century Modernism with Heritage Listing” – read and enjoy:

Modernism – Time to Protect Mid Century Modernism with Heritage Listing

Many people seem to have a skewed view of what Heritage actually means. For a start it doesn’t just refer to architecture. But here that is our primary concern and interest. We live in an evolving city and society. Buildings perceived to be of Heritage significance are often grand mansions with the Italianate or greco embellishments of the mid to late 19th Century.

Where it became really interesting was in the mid 20th Century when Architects like Robyn Boyd and Harry Siedler started to visualise a different type of build for the Australian climate, its landscape and population density. Modernism was to define the future direction of residential architecture from the 1950s and ‘60s onwards.

What is Modernism?

Modernism is a more socially informed way of building spaces and items for living according to need and function. It could be best deemed as a cluster of design ideals, beginning at the start of the Twentieth Century, which stemmed from an aversion to the ornate excesses of the recent Victorian style, and a reaction to industrialisation.

It is generally recognised that Modernist design formally established in Europe in 1919, with the opening of the Bauhaus School of Design in Germany. The school incorporated the combination of arts and craft disciplines and innovators such as Walter Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Frank Lloyd Wright, an American of this time, who derived much of his inspiration from the open living spaces of Japanese homes, also held huge influence on the following century of architects.

The philosophies and practice of these people and many others, evolved, traveled and in post WW2 became the defining philosophy for many architects and designers, thus this era is loosely dubbed Mid-Century.

Many extraordinary examples of public and domestic Mid-Century Architecture can be seen worldwide, Australia is no exception. Touched by freshness of the Modernist ethos, combined with the post-war boom time economy, suburbs, cities and costal regions became the location of many ‘Modern’ structures and interior design.

Examples of Australian domestic Modernism vary from the heritage listed houses of Harry Seidler and Robin Boyd, to classic 1960s pastel pre-fab tract housing – still sighted in the tea tree scrub of coastal towns to this day.

Modernist public buildings range from university faculties to suburban pools to the premier architectural icon of Australia – The Sydney Opera House.

Attributes that denote Modernist Mid-Century homes and design may be:

  • Use of the natural elements to regulate temperature, air-flow and efficiency of the home’s energy use eg: Solar Passive Design.
  • Flat or single angled rooflines.
  • Floor to ceiling windows.
  • Clean lines and open plan spaces.
  • Specific attention paid to the site pre-construction and the building’s placement within the block eg: The front of the house does not have to face the street.
  • Split-levels and sunken living areas.
  • Uninterrupted Indoor/outdoor areas.
  • Lack of decorative and ornate styling such as ceiling roses, iron lacework etc.
  • The use of new materials and technology from the era eg: laminate, stainless steel, large scale glass panes, plastics, concrete and also natural and textural surfaces of interest such as wood paneling, slate, shag carpets, woven curtains.

In Modernist furniture simple shapes, functionality, mass production, geometric forms, new textile design and the use of ‘modern’ materials such as stainless steel, are at the forefront.

As definitions and design theory within the 20th Century are endlessly debated, we’ll be inclusive and encompassing of all variations which may be titled Mid-century. From the pastel kitsch of 1950s domesticity, to the stark concrete monsters of Brutalist Architecture, the aim is to appreciate and discuss all.

Source: modernistaustralia.com

The desire to preserve this unique awakening of Australian architecture has been somewhat of a ‘slowburn’.

The activism became much more urgent in August last year when a number of iconic residences in Beaumaris, Caulfield, Studley Park and the Mornington Peninsula came under real threat of demolition and in two notable cases the properties were demolished.

The matter was canvassed widely in the Fairfax press at the time.

Online advocates fight to save Melbourne’s modernist masterpieces

Architecture enthusiasts are banding together against the wrecker’s ball.

When the Burgess house’s eagle-nest eyrie lit up at night, neighbours dubbed the building “Muckle Flugga”, after the Scottish lighthouse. With its flat roof, cantilevered balconies, extensive interior wood panelling and large fireplace, this 1957 Chancellor and Patrick designed home in bayside Beaumaris is a beacon of mid-century modernity.

Along with Studley Park and the Mornington Peninsula, Beaumaris is one of the “‘epicentres of mid-century modernity”, says Simon Reeves, architectural historian and director of Built Heritage. In the excitement of the post-war housing boom, young couples wanting to start families took to the new subdivisions of Studley Park and Beaumaris. The consequence of this development was a rich trove of mid-century modernist buildings.

“While there are some excellent pockets of mid-century housing in Toorak and South Yarra, Studley Park and Beaumaris have that historic cohesion,” Reeves says. “Like Palm Springs in California, it has a similar time frame and cohesion.”

Ironically, their modest simplicity has been one of the factors undermining the preservation of modernist buildings, says Rohan Storey, a heritage consultant who worked for National Trust for 20 years. “While the community accepts Victorian [era architecture as historically significant], the whole community doesn’t yet accept modernism as heritage. Some people still think they’re ugly, plain or ordinary. It’s a function of the types of houses they are and not enough time [having] elapsed.”

Over the past 15 years in Beaumaris, homes by well-known modernist architects such as Robin Boyd, Neil Clerehan and Roy Grounds have succumbed to demolition. But a sea change is occurring. Time is one factor. Mid-century modernism is sufficiently old enough, people are more interested and the internet and social media have raised awareness and celebrated these buildings for their clean lines, elegant detailing and simple indoor-outdoor living.

A new generation of mid-century fans – many of them designers – are coveting the area, according to interior designer Fiona Austin, founder of the website Beaumaris Modern. Other websites, such as Modernist Australia, post real-estate listings as mid-century homes come on the market. Increasingly, such sites and social media groups have become politically activist as well. Nothing galvanises a group more than seeing cherished houses succumb to the wrecking ball.

In Sydney, the Sirius building was saved largely through a campaign by the Save our Sirius website. In July, Modernist Australia raised awareness that emigre architect Anatol Kagan’s Lind house in Caulfield North was to be replaced by eight townhouses. The City of Glen Eira obtained an interim reprieve, and Planning Minister Richard Wynne this week granted an interim protection order.

“There’s no doubt that the advocacy by groups such as Modernist Australia influenced [Glen Eira] Council to show leadership on this issue,” says Felicity Watson, advocacy manager for National Trust of Australia (Victoria). “The rise of online interest groups is a great thing for heritage advocacy.”

Building on this grassroots advocacy, the trust aims to lobby local and state government to invest in heritage assessments and planning scheme amendments specifically targeting significant post-war places.

“We are currently working with a group of experts to develop a Suburban Modern campaign, to be launched in the coming months,” Watson says.

While councils are obliged to regularly do heritage reviews, post-war buildings rarely cross the radar. “The City of Glen Eira has not listed a single place built after 1940,” Storey says. “Unfortunately Beaumaris, in particular, is under siege by developers and from people who want to build McMansions.”

Prospective buyers have to compete with developers’ deep pockets eager to maximise typically large sites. But for how long? “Heritage saves the property forever and doesn’t rely on a good owner to save it until they sell it and it might be under threat again,” Storey says.

It’s in this spirit of raising awareness that Beaumaris Modern was launched.

“If Peter McIntyre’s house in Pasadena Avenue with its curved roof got knocked down there’s not another, it’s experimental,” Austin says. “Once it’s gone it’s gone. That’s the crux as to why they should be saved.”

Historic awareness travels upstream also. Having “ground-up” online resources can uncover new information contributing to the incremental knowledge of architectural and social history.

“There are no obscure architects,” says Reeves, whose website posts a “dictionary of unsung architects”. “These are just individuals whose work hasn’t been researched or written about. No one had heard of Kagan 10 years ago. It’s not that everything they ever designed is notable or worth heritage listing. It’s about putting them in context.”

Source: smh.com.au

Alas, the home in Beaumaris, designed by Architects Chancellor and Patrick in 1962, located at Mariemont Avenue, has been demolished.

‘Significant’ Chancellor and Patrick Bayside house demolished

A house in the Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris, designed by architects Chancellor and Patrick in 1962, has been demolished. The demolition took place on Monday 13 August, after a demolition permit was granted by the local council City of Bayside.

The house in Mariemont Avenue was included in a 2008 heritage study of inter- and post-war heritage in the Bayside area commissioned by the council and carried out by Heritage Alliance.

The house is listed as part of a collection of houses on Mariemont Avenue, which is home to eleven houses designed architects including John Baird, Kurt Popper and Brian O’Connor in addition to the now-demolished home by Chancellor and Patrick, which was identified as one of five “significant” houses.

“Although the work of these and other architects is well-represented in Beaumaris,” said the report, “there are very few instances where these houses survive in cohesive rows or in such close proximity.”

The house itself, the report goes on to say, “although slightly altered by overpainting, is an otherwise interesting example of the work of this important post-war firm.”

The house was sold in May 2017 for $2,315,000, according to realestate.com.au.

Fiona Austin, president of the Beaumaris Modern heritage preservation group, said that the fact that the only heritage citation available for the house was a decade old – and only evaluated the house in the context of the street – stymied attempts to secure intervention from Heritage Victoria.

She told ArchitectureAU that in the future the group would consider attempts to “bypass” the council by commissioning its own heritage studies of threatened properties.

The group is now turning its attention to a house on Beach Road, designed by Arthur Russell of Demaine, Russell, Trundle, Armstrong and Orton.

In April, after just a month, the council discontinued an independent heritage study of Beaumaris and Black Rock, one of Australia’s most dense collections of residential mid-century modernist architecture. The study would have identified properties for possible heritage listing.

The council instead adopted an opt-in system whereby the owners of the relevant properties will be able to self-nominate their properties for heritage controls.

Beaumaris is home to a proportionally large number of houses by some of Melbourne’s most significant modernist architects and practices, including Anatol Kagan, Yuncken Freeman and Chancellor and Patrick.

Rex Patrick of Chancellor and Patrick, lived in a house of his own design in nearby Cheltenham before moving to Beaumaris later in life.

Source: architectureau.com

More fortunately, Lind House in North Caulfield has been saved from the wreckers hammer and is now listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Located at 450 Dandenong Road, the Heritage Council determined that it is of cultural heritage significance to the State of Victoria and should be included on the Register.

The property’s features include motifs associated with European Modernism, such as a broad-eaved butterfly roof, window walls, feature stone cladding and articulation as an ‘upside down house’ with principal living areas at the upper level, creating the effect of an elevated volume.

The new state heritage controls now replace the local heritage controls which Council received in March 2018.

Glen Eira Mayor Cr Tony Athanasopoulos said in August 2017 Council lodged a nomination with the Executive Director of Heritage Victoria to include Lind House on the Victorian Heritage Register.

“The Executive Director recommended that Lind House was not of Victorian State heritage significance and that Council consider the property for local heritage protection only,” he said.

“Council objected to this recommendation which then escalated the matter to a Heritage Council hearing.”

Cr Tony Athanasopoulos said a hearing was held on 8 March into these submissions where Council argued that the intactness of the property and significance of the architect ─ Anatol Kagan ─ justified Lind House cultural heritage significance and should be included.

“The Committee disagreed with the Executive Director’s recommendation and agreed with Council’s arguments,” he said.

The Committee stated:

  • that it was persuaded by Glen Eira’s submissions in relation to the unique European design elements of the place, and its ability to demonstrate “first-hand” Modernist residential architecture;
  • that the intactness of the exterior elements are notable to a high degree; and
  • that the property is a fine and highly intact example of post-war Modernist residential architecture.

Mr Kagan was renowned for his contribution to mid-century modernist architecture in Melbourne during the post-war period. Council is embarking on an extensive program to review and update the heritage protection in Glen Eira. A Major Heritage Review of Glen Eira will commence in June to undertake a municipal-wide heritage review to identify gaps and protect significant heritage properties currently not identified within the Glen Eira Planning Scheme.

Source: gleneira.vic.gov.au

For the cynics, it’s good to be aware that these homes were designed for living in and not to be museum pieces. Large, open and expansive, it allowed for a style and comfort unknown in Australia prior to their construction.

Developers are attracted to these properties as they usually sit upon very large blocks in superb locations. The property demolished recently in Beaumaris had sold in May 2017 for $2,315,000. Consider that depending upon the redevelopment proposed the developer is aiming to triple or quadruple this initial investment.

The Victorian Heritage Register is in fact your passport to our history, our culture and dare we say it – our future. In this case Glen Eira Council were pro-active and saved a beautiful building from destruction. Yet in Beaumaris, Bayside Council is simply not supportive of preserving this valuable heritage.

As is demonstrated in both cases, it is only with citizen action that the case for Heritage preservation can effectively be put. The choice is yours. Stand by and watch – or get involved.


For further assistance in the preservation, renovation or Heritage Listing of your property call now on 0418 341 443. Andrew Fedorowicz, our Principal Architect will be pleased to assist you.  In rural Victoria appointments can be made for onsite visits, whilst in Melbourne you can schedule a virtual consultation, or alternatively, arrange for an onsite consultation post-lockdown (estimated to be mid October). Or you can simply click here to leave your details for a prompt reply. 

Heritage – it belongs to all of us.

Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Heritage – a Visual Reminder of Some of Melbourne’s Beautiful Buildings Now Demolished

Corkman Hotel

The Corkman Cowboys have now lost their appeals and unless they deem to progress to the High Court will each be enjoying a month holiday at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Jail time, about time. 

Desecration of Heritage Buildings is not a new phenomenon. Through the 1950’s until around 1989 was the period when Whelan the Wrecker became a household name. Many of our most beautiful and prestigious buildings suffered demolition at the hands of the wreckers during this period. 

Venture to the lawns at the front of the Exhibition Buildings adjacent to Gertrude Street on Nicholson Street and you will find a curious collection of older masonry pieces and stone works jutting from the surface, remnants of the past glory of Melbourne’s early edifices, removed for replacement with bland, featureless sky scrapers. In the 1960s and 1970s you simply had to have a skyscraper, as a corporate citizen, or you just hadn’t ‘made it’.

This week we’d like to remind you of the simply stunning buildings removed from the CBD skyline with not even a pretence of facadism in those days. 

Melbourne’s Wonderful Demolished Buildings

THE FINKS BUILDING

276 Flinders Street

When built in 1880, this office block was Melbourne’s tallest at ten stories. In 1897 it, and most of the block of Finders Street that it stood on, was destroyed in a fire, one of the worst the city has seen. Only the facade was left, although the building was considered such an icon that it was rebuilt. In 1967 it was finally demolished outright. Present day, this stands in its spot:

MELBOURNE FISH MARKETS

Flinders St, between King and Spencer Streets

Of all of Melbourne’s vanished buildings, this one is probably the most spectacular. Built in 1890, for more than 50 years this was used as a commercial market for fish and other fresh produce. In the lead up to the Olympic games in 1956 it was decided to demolish a number of Melbourne’s older buildings in order to ‘modernise’ the look of the city. Sadly, incredibly, this was one of the buildings to go, although the demolition was not completed until 1959. It was replaced – sadly! incredibly! – with a carpark… the block now also shared by a nondescript office building:

THE FEDERAL HOTEL AND COFFEE PALACE

555 Collins Street

Built in 1888 to coincide with the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition (marking 100 years of Australian settlement), this was once one of the largest and most opulent hotels in the world. The first two floors housed impressive dining, reading, smoking and billiard rooms, with the remaining 5 stories given over to luxurious guest rooms. The interior was so impressive that the building became a tourist attraction in its own right:

s an added historical footnote, the hotel was also conceived as a ‘Coffee Palace’ as part of the 19th century temperance movement. No alcoholic beverages were served at the hotel when it was built, which was something of a fad at the time, as public drunkenness was perceived as a serious problem. This wonderful piece of architecture and history was demolished in 1973, the site sold for redevelopment. Pleas to have it saved as a heritage building were ignored by the Government of the time (there was no heritage protection legislation as we know it today). It was such a popular local landmark that thousands of people turned out to watch it go. This dreary brown box was built in its place:

THE MENZIES HOTEL

140 William Street

Built in 1867 to accommodate the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Menzies was another of Melbourne’s most impressive luxury hotels. Among the famous guests who stayed there; Sarah Bernhardt, Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain (who helped stoke the hotel boilers as part of his fitness regime), Herbert Hoover and General Douglas Macarthur. In 1969 it was demolished to make way for, the admittedly pretty stylish, BHP Plaza:

WOOL BROKING PREMISES

111 Williams Street

Built in 1891 for the John Sanderson company, this block length building showed exactly how important the agricultural industry was in fledgling Australia. Demolished in 1969 to make way for the AMP Building, which is itself currently under redevelopment:

SCOTT’S HOTEL

444 Collins Street

Built in 1860, and substantially remodelled between 1910 and 1914, Scott’s hotel enjoyed a reputation for supplying some of Melbourne’s finest food and wine. Dame Nellie Melba and English cricket legend W.G.Grace were two among many notable people who stayed at the Scott, which was also a favourite haunt for local racing identities. Sold to the Royal Insurance Co in 1961, when it was Melbourne’s oldest continuously operating hotel, the building was demolished to make way for another in a series of drab office blocks (to the right of this picture):

THE ORIENTAL BANK

Corner Queen Street and Flinders Lane

Built in 1856 when the twenty year old city was still finding its feet (note the muddy track that is Queen St in the above photo), this Greek temple themed design was the product of a competition held by the bank among Melbourne’s architects. Unfortunately, the bank itself would go out of business in 1884, and this building was demolished shortly afterwards. The same spot today:

THE APA TOWER

Corner of Collins Street and Queen Street

A great example of Melbourne’s art deco heritage, the tower was added to this already existent building in 1929, making it the city’s tallest for 30 years. Taken over by the firm ‘Legal and General’ in the 1950s, it was demolished in 1969 when they wanted a more up to date, and considerably less stylish, headquarters:

COLONIAL MUTUAL LIFE BUILDING

316 Collins Street

The ‘Equitable Company’ set themselves the ambition of constructing ‘the grandest building in the southern hemisphere’ for their Melbourne headquarters. Which, with a five year construction and £500 000 price tag, this wonderful building may well have been. Taken over by Colonial Mutual in 1923, it would serve as their grand offices for thirty years. But high maintenance costs and outdated fixtures made the company want rid of it by the 50’s. A bland office block stands in its place today, with the logo ‘CML’ emblazoned across its street level pillars, to remind people of what once was:

THE AUSTRALIA BUILDING

43-45 Elizabeth Street

The world’s third tallest building, at 12 storeys, when it was constructed in 1889, this building dominated Melbourne’s skyline for decades. At one time visible from anywhere in the city, the Australia Building was also the first tall building to employ mechanical lifts (powered hydraulically by high pressure water pumped from the Yarra). In 1980 its distinctive red facade and ornate roof was demolished to make way for this:

THE EASTERN MARKETS

Exhibition Street between Bourke and Little Collins Streets

Established in 1847, the Eastern Market was embryonic Melbourne’s principal fresh produce market for thirty years, before being superseded by the Queen Victoria Markets in the 1870’s. The Eastern market survived for nearly another 100 years, however, operating as a flower market and tourist attraction. The markets were demolished in 1962 to make way for the uniquely stylised ‘Southern Cross Hotel’:

The ‘Southern Cross’ was undoubtedly one of Melbourne’s most striking buildings, although it attracted as much vitriol as admiration. Famous guests of the hotel included; The Beatles, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland. Frank Sinatra stayed there during his infamous 1974 tour of Australia, when he created a storm by referring to local female journalists as ‘hookers.’ And both the Brownlow Medal and the Logies were hosted in its function rooms. In 1999 it was sold off and slowly demolished, with the site sitting vacant for several years. The location is now occupied by this, considerably less flamboyant, mixed use building:

THE TIVOLI THEATRE

235 Bourke Street

Very few pictures or drawings remain of the Tivoli Theatre. When it opened in 1901 (from a design by William Pitt) it was originally named ‘Harry Rickards’ New Opera House’, after it’s first owner. The theatre presented a variety of live entertainments, including music, comedy and vaudeville. Harry Houdini,W.C. Fields and Chico Marx are among the famous names who performed there.

Sold by Rickards in 1912, it was renamed the Tivoli shortly after and continued to present live entertainment right through until the 1960s. Converted in that decade to a cinema, the fate of many of Melbourne’s old theatres, the building was destroyed by fire in 1967. The ‘Tivoli Arcade’ stands on the site today:

THE QUEEN VICTORIA BUILDINGS

Swanston Street, Between Bourke and Collins Streets

Built in 1888, the Queen Victoria Buildings ran the length of the block on Swanston Street, opposite the town hall. A rare local example of French Second Empire architecture, the elaborate facade and roof of the building was further ornamented by a number of statues, including a sizable one of the monarch it was named after. The building was used for high end retail shops and featured a glass topped arcade, The Queens Walk, that ran between Bourke and Collins:

In the 1960’s, the Melbourne City Council began to consider the construction of a large public park in the city centre. Across a decade or more, it gradually acquired parts of the Queen Victoria – and other adjacent – buildings for this purpose. Demolition commenced in the late 1960’s and took several years (The Regent Hotel was also acquired and scheduled to be knocked down as part of the same project, but was saved by a union ban). The new open space was dubbed ‘City Square’:

Windswept and largely ignored, part of it was sold for development in the 1990s and the Westin Hotel was built on this section. The remainder of the park was redesigned and remains for public use:

MELBOURNE/QUEEN VICTORIA HOSPITAL

172 – 254 Lonsdale Street

Built in 1911 of bluestone, with stylish towers and iron railings, the Melbourne was almost too elegant to be a hospital. It’s graceful facade was further complemented by a lush garden (visible above) that ran around two sides of the grounds. Initially home to the principal hospital for the city, in 1946 it was reconstituted as a specialised institution for women and children (and was solely staffed by women for a time), and renamed the Queen Victoria. The hospital closed in 1987 and the site was then used for a variety of unlikely purposes, including a mini golf course and a craft market. In 1992 the site was purchased by a development group and three of the four hospital buildings demolished. The bulk of the property was then turned into a mixed commercial premises, the QV Building:

The one remaining hospital building was refurbished and returned to its previous use, once again offering care to women and children, in 1994.

CAFE AUSTRALIA

264 – 270 Collins Street

One of Australia’s most famous architects, Walter Burley Griffin, designed the sumptuous Cafe Australia, a remodelling of an existing cafe on Collins Street. Opening in 1916, the cafe bore all of Griffin’s trademarks; an elaborate facade and entryway, delicate concrete ornamentation and highly stylised interiors.

Cafe Australia was only shortlived, however. It closed and demolished in 1938 and was replaced by the similarly named Hotel Australia, which borrowed much from Griffin’s design, but lacked the overall panache of the previous establishment.

This building was then reworked into the current occupant of the site, ‘Australia on Collins’, an up market retail space.

Heritage is what gives cities and towns and our nation it’s character. It must be respected and protected so that future generations can appreciate just how we have come to live in this wide brown land.

From Victorian pomp and grandeur to the rather abstract and visually challenging lines of Federation Square – it’s simply our heritage, our imprimatur – it’s certainly worth preserving.

Heritage is Precious – Once It’s Gone It’s Lost Forever – Protect It.

Facadism – The Token Gesture by Developers Towards Heritage Preservation.

Former ANZ Bank Building, Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.

In the last week in South Melbourne we have been reminded of the reality of facadism. Work has commenced on the seven-storey project to the rear of the former ANZ Bank in Clarendon Street – the demolition of the meticulously planned and implemented 1970’s addition to the rear of the original Heritage Listed banking chambers. At the time the construction was supervised by the National Trust, we believe to ensure it was in keeping with the original Heritage Listing of the building. It has now been demolished, as well as the original 19th Century shop and dwelling next door. Viewed from the laneway the shop was as originally constructed. Hawthorn bricks laid by convict labour, original windows, framing and glass all now removed. What is left is a façade – you can see daylight through the front door and windows onto Clarendon Street.

Demolition of the rear of the former ANZ Bank building.

Facadism is a blight on our Heritage precincts. We have addressed the subject earlier this year in February (February 16, 2021) and again in March (March 18, 2021).  Basically the City of Melbourne has cried “Enough!” and such developments within the City of Melbourne municipality will now be heavily restricted with regards to facadism. 

Seeing daylight through the facade left behind.

As the previous article stated facadism is the mask used by Developers. In inner city locations such as South Melbourne, Collingwood, Richmond and Abbotsford no such protection as that afforded by the City of Melbourne Amendments is available, so the destruction continues.

When will the City of Port Melbourne decide “Enough is enough?”

This is not just an issue in Melbourne, it’s a universal tactic employed by Developers and their Architects to the detriment of Historical Heritage Buildings world-wide. London, in particular, has suffered much with the excesses of facadism. From the Architectural Review, January 2nd 2018, reprint of an article from The Gentle Author

We must stand up to the creeping plague of facadism, an infection spreading across the developments of London

As if I were being poked repeatedly in the eye with a blunt stick, I cannot avoid becoming increasingly aware of a painfully cynical trend in architecture that threatens to turn London into the backlot of an abandoned movie studio. If walls could speak, these would tell tales of bad compromises and angry developers who, dissatisfied with the meagre notion of repair and reuse, are driven solely by remorseless greed.

Meanwhile, bullied into sacrificing historic buildings of merit, cowed planning authorities must take consolation in the small mercy of retaining a facade. The result is that architects are humiliated into creating passive-aggressive structures – gross hybrids of conflicted intentions that scream ‘Look what you made me do!’ in bitter petulant resentment.

At present in Spitalfields, we are presented with a textbook example of such an affront – the London Fruit and Wool Exchange, a high-quality building from 1927 by architect Sydney Perks, enhanced by wooden parquet floors, careful detailing and significant craft elements throughout. In recent decades, it was home to more than a hundred independent businesses employing local people. This redevelopment was forced through by the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, against the unanimous wishes of Tower Hamlets’ planning committee, and before construction commenced it was pre-let to a single tenant, Ashurst, an international legal corporation.

The Duke of Cambridge dating from 1823 with its new shiny crown courtesy of Guy Hollaway Architects.

Axis Architects, working for the developer Exemplar, retained only the frontage of the building with its stone cornice and brick wall. Currently, precast panels of ‘bricks’ and ‘stone’ are being hung on the steel structure that sits behind it. These panels of bricks have an artful irregularity designed into them and an attempt is being made to match the tone of the cast ‘stone’ with the actual stone on the fragment of the earlier building. Yet these panels are already becoming chipped and damaged even as they are being put in place, and no one is fooled by this patronising approach to co-ordinate the old and the new. Indeed, the conflict between these elements manifests the conflict of interests that produced this ungainly chimera.

‘A kind of authenticity’ is the language of British Land’s oxymoronic attempt to sell facadism in the publicity for its proposed Norton Folgate office development by Stanton Williams, where it shows an image of the front wall of a 19th-century warehouse pasted onto the lower floors of a towering office block as if it were a Penny Black glued onto a Jiffy bag. This misguided notion assumes there might be 57 varieties of authenticity, when ‘authentic’ is not a relative term – something is either authentic or it is phoney.

Alan Sugar’s development of the 13th century The White Hart pub by Rolfe Judd

I fear Spitalfields is quickly becoming the epicentre of facadism in London, with the recent completion of Alan Sugar’s shameless redevelopment of The White Hart, dating from 1240, into a cylindrical tower block designed by Rolfe Judd with just the outer wall of one of London’s most historic taverns stuck on the front. 

Meanwhile up the road in Bethnal Green, The Duke of Cambridge, dating from 1823, has had an aggressively Modernist steel and glass building forcibly inserted into the shell of its dignified brick structure by Guy Hollaway Architects on behalf of Heath Holdings. Such is the conflict between the old and the new, you can almost feel the humiliation and pain of the original building. The ugliness of the outcome is a pertinent slap in the face, reminding us how blatantly any concern for architecture is being sacrificed in this approach. This disastrous hybrid is an unfortunate totem of where we are now, an object lesson for architectural students of what not to do, and we may be assured future generations will laugh in horror and derision at the folly of it. 

The carcass of the London Fruit and Wool Exchange, designed in 1927 by architect Sydney Perks.

Sticking a new building behind the shell of the former building in this manner is a pitiful way to go about things. It is not worthy of the term architecture. As resources grow ever fewer, the practice of sacrificing good-quality buildings for cheapjack disposable replacements cannot be justified. The default choice must always be to repurpose and reconfigure existing buildings. Some of the greatest of our cathedrals and country houses are the outcome of this approach to architecture, palimpsests in which the history of the building’s evolution can be read by the perceptive viewer.

In every case, it is paramount that attention be paid to any structure as an architectural whole, rather than simply sticking a new shed behind an old facade. Taking existing buildings and reworking them sympathetically to serve new purposes requires much more sophisticated thinking from architects and developers than is in evidence in these hideous structures, which manifest the lamentable trend of facadism that blights our age.

Photographs courtesy of The Gentle Author


With many buildings ‘protected’ by local government Heritage Overlays the simple fact is that the original buildings are currently not properly listed in terms of the full three dimensional composition of the nominated properties. Facadism sees the demolition and removal of significant craftsmanship and ornamental features. These are simply not undertaken in modern construction methodologies and finishings. 

One of the worst examples of the absurdity of facadism is in Market Street, South Melbourne . The façade of an older warehouse stands in front of a new forecourt and multi-storey, modern apartment block. It’s a statement, it screams “We were forced to do this” and, no doubt, in ten year’s time will be condemned and removed on safety implication

Warehouse facade in Market Street, South Melbourne dwarfed by apartment block.

The State Government must move to legislate to ensure all Local Government will follow the leadership of the City of Melbourne in regard to facadism – there must be an end to such rampant development and Local Councils must step up and take more responsibility. The  building demolished in South Melbourne this week hardly rated a mention in the Developer’s plans. With such a significant Heritage Listed building next door, and the Clarendon Street shopping precinct also Listed (a State treasure) you might expect more interest from the City of Port Philip Council? The development was overseen and passed by one Officer from the Planning Department, there was no discussion, no debate and, frankly, no interest. It is simply not good enough. 


Heritage is Precious – Once It’s Gone It’s Lost Forever – Protect It.