3 - Marvellous Melbourne under pressure: Is the palimpsest legible?
Monday, September 24
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: BNCC- 101AH
RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants Pty Ltd
Melbourne has long been admired globally for its 19th century architectural legacy as one of the great Victorian-era cities, particularly at its core in the renowned and unique grid of the CBD. Rapid, and increasingly grand commercial and civic development, spurred on by the enormous wealth generated by a gold rush contemporary with, and exceeding that in California, resulted in this young city gaining the moniker 'Marvellous Melbourne'.
During the early 20th century some buildings began to be replaced with mid-rise building stock. More extensive change occurred from the 1950s as Melbourne 'modernised', stimulated by the Olympic Games (1956) and the advent of the skyscraper. The consequent loss of some particularly significant 19th century buildings galvanised the conservation movement, and heritage identification and protection mechanisms commenced from this time. Concomitant with this change, residential use of building stock in central Melbourne decreased to the point that by the 1970s many parts were practically deserted outside standard business hours.
The tide turned from the early 1980s - a project, dubbed ‘Postcode 3000’ deliberately encouraged adaption of redundant parts of office/commercial buildings for residential use. The initiative was successful, riding on a wave of cultural change, but the increased demand for development opportunity again put pressure on heritage places (from both the nineteenth and early-mid twentieth century), their relatively low form being seen as an under-utilisation of their yield potential. This pressure has intensified in the 21st century as Melbourne continues to be a highly desirable place to reside – not only is it growing more than any other city in Australia, it is also currently ranked as the world's most liveable city. It has now become commonplace for many of the recognised and protected heritage buildings to accommodate multi-storey towers of disproportionate scale and discordant/juxtaposed architectural expression.
With built heritage conservation endeavours, it is always challenging to resolve major change/redevelopment in an appropriate manner so as to achieve a sympathetic outcome, more so with commercial and civic architecture than industrial. In Melbourne, what is acceptable has shifted dramatically in recent years. Initially à la mode, limited or recessive additions were the standard approach however bolder additions have become customary with the heritage host remaining only partially intact and often heavily compromised. Whilst the heritage place may remain generally legible from the immediate streetscape, it is often subsumed at the midfield view and from a broader cityscape vantage.
While robust heritage provisions apply to about half of the Melbourne CBD area, current redevelopment approaches have sparked considerable debate and have to date resulted in a palimpsest, which is possibly unbalanced and warrants exploration to determine if heritage value is truly being conserved or if it is being traduced.
- Identify the key phases in the evolution of central Melbourne, including colonial settlement, grand Victorian period city (Marvellous Melbourne), later 20th century downturn, and now the world's most liveable city.
- Demonstrate the shifting and accepted approaches to the renewal of heritage buildings especially in regards to additions - from disguised/concealed to large scale and/or stridently juxtaposed.
- Outline the challenges of applying the relevant statutory provisions with reference to the Burra Charter, in regards to current redevelopment pressures on heritage buildings in the Melbourne CBD .
- Determine to what extent the multi-storey towers behind/over lower scale heritage places in Melbourne have impacted on their heritage values and role in the cityscape.