Architecture advocates argue for change to interpretation of heritage buildings
City of Melbourne council has earmarked the Hoyts Mid City building on Bourke St for heritage protection. (ABC News: Nicole Mills)
Melbourne’s beautiful Victorian-era buildings are widely appreciated as some of the city’s most valuable assets — but that was not always the case.
Decades ago, debate raged about whether Victorian architecture was worth saving at all.
These days it is Melbourne’s post-war buildings that are in the crosshairs, with homes from the 1950s and ’60s at the centre of a debate around which architectural styles are worthy of protection.
So, is it time for the community’s understanding of what is considered a ‘heritage’ building to evolve?
National Trust Victoria advocacy manager Felicity Watson thinks so.
‘Exciting time of experimentation’
Ms Watson said mid-century modern architecture evolved during a time of significant change in Melbourne, culminating in the hosting of the 1956 Olympic Games which showcased the city to the world.
“In terms of architecture, the post-war period was a really exciting time of experimentation,” she said.
“There were lots of really skilled and significant architects that were practicing.”
She thinks it is time to reshape the way we think about buildings from this era, which are often dismissed as daggy.
Felicity Watson thinks we should be protecting mid-century architecture for future generations. (Supplied: National Trust Victoria)
“We really see this as a turning point in the heritage movement,” she said.
“In the 1970s it was about protecting places of Victorian heritage — which at that time were not always seen as the way that we appreciate them now but were sometimes seen as ugly and undesirable.
“That’s sort of the argument we’re seeing in relation to post-war heritage.”
Ms Watson called on local and state governments to recognise the significance of these homes, but said property owners also had a responsibility to protect them.
“There are certainly views in the community that heritage is an encumbrance on a property,” she said.
“But what we really need to take into account is the benefit to the community and not think about just individuals.”
Beaumaris a haven of mid-century modern
One of the largest concentrations of significant post-war homes can be found in the bright, open-plan, mid-century modern residences of Melbourne’s bayside suburbs.
Local community group Beaumaris Modern has sprung up to spruik the architectural innovation they believe makes these homes worthy of preservation.
The group’s president Fiona Austin said many homes in the area were designed by significant Australian architects.
Ms Austin, an interior designer, said the group’s members were distressed at seeing so many mid-century modern homes demolished; homes that evolved during a time of important architectural innovation.
“People were sick of dark houses that look like something from England,” she said.
“Young architects, after the war, started designing houses that face north, face the garden, had big windows, skillion roofs, flat roofs and you know, enjoyed outside spaces.
“It’s perfect for our climate and still is now.”
Only last week the group fought — but failed — to save a home on Mariemont Avenue in Beaumaris which was designed by architects Chancellor and Patrick in 1962.
The home was originally identified by Bayside City Council as worthy of protection in a 2007 heritage study.
But in 2018, the council abandoned planning scheme amendments to introduce a heritage overlay on this and other mid-century properties, after what they described as strong opposition and community division.
Bayside City Council now plans to introduce a voluntary process for owners to nominate their mid-century homes for possible inclusion in a heritage overlay.
National Trust Victoria has urged them to reconsider, saying conducting their own study could have protected this “significant home”.
In a statement, the council said the permit to demolish the property was issued by a private building surveyor and did not require council approval because it was not covered by heritage controls.
‘Jury still out’ on financial impact of heritage listings
Boroondara Council, in Melbourne’s east, has a large concentration of heritage properties, albeit from a different era.
Councillor Coral Ross said the jury was still out on whether heritage listings drove property prices up or down.
“Our role and our responsibility is to conserve and enhance the area which we live in,” she said.
Fiona Austin founded the community group Beaumaris Modern to foster appreciation of mid-century architecture. (Supplied: Fiona Austin)
“We have done large surveys which say that our community values the character of the area in which they live and the heritage is something that they really value.
“The reason that people move into an area is because they like the architectural style [and] we certainly have a lot of people that want to live in our area.”
Beaumaris Modern is trying to take matters into their own hands by matching sympathetic house hunters with mid-century modern properties.
Ms Austin said at least one local real estate agent had embraced the niche market.
“He has a database of over 100 people who want to buy a mid-century house in Beaumaris, so he goes to them before they go on the market and often just matches people with their houses,” she said.
Modern additions to Melbourne’s heritage listings
The City of Melbourne has just released an audit of heritage listings across the CBD.
Greens councillor Rohan Leppert described the 2,000-page Hoddle Grid Heritage Review as “the mother of all audits”, unprecedented in scale in Victoria.
The review considered increasing heritage protection for 64 properties and six precincts within the grid — including some from the post-war period.
The City is now seeking permission from the Planning Minister to formally exhibit the Planning Scheme amendment C328, which proposes permanent heritage protection for properties identified in the review.
The Lyceum Club in Ridgway Place may also be heritage-listed by the City of Melbourne. (ABC News: Nicole Mills)
Cr Leppert said he was surprised many of the buildings had not been granted heritage protection already but said heritage was a “tricky issue”.
“We need to really carefully measure the social heritage of a place, the architectural heritage [and] the scarcity of particular types of buildings,” he said
Cr Leppert said the review had looked at post-war and post-modern buildings including the Hoyts Mid City complex in the Bourke St Mall and the Lyceum Club in Ridgway Place.
“The Hoyts Mid City complex is maybe not what Melburnians typically think of as something worthy of heritage protection but it is quite a remarkable building,” he said.
“The Lyceum Club is not a building that people might necessarily think is a standout piece of architecture.
“But it is something that we think has remarkable social and architectural heritage and is quite unique in the way it came about, so we’re seeking protection for that building as well.”
Cr Leppert said there would always be competing interests between development and heritage protection — especially on the most expensive land in the state.
He hopes the public will embrace mid-century architecture as an important part of the city’s history.
“I think public heritage values do change over time and we’re having a fascinating debate publicly about that at the moment.”