General Abstract

3 - Marvellous Melbourne under pressure: Is the palimpsest legible?

Monday, September 24
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: BNCC- 101AH

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.

Learning Objectives:

Roger B. Beeston

Director/Principal Architect
RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants Pty Ltd

Roger is a conservation architect with 30 years' experience and is the founding director of the Melbourne based practice RBA Architects + Conservation Consultants.

RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants specialise in the assessment, restoration and sensitive adaptation of buildings and places of heritage significance. The practice is recognised for its conservation work by Heritage Victoria, the peak heritage body in the state, and also the Australian Institute of Architecture. They have undertaken a wide variety of heritage assessment and conservation work throughout Victoria for various state and local government agencies, as well as for private individuals, organisations and corporations.

Roger has been involved with a wide variety of heritage places throughout Victoria, and Australia more broadly, as well as in India and Myanmar. He is a long-standing Heritage Advisor to the Planning Department at the City of Melbourne, the Deputy Chair of AusHeritage, and an Honorary Research Fellow of the Collaborative Research Centre in Australian History at Federation University Australia. In addition, he is a member of Australia ICOMOS, The National Trust of Australia (Victoria), and the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ).

As an expert witness on matters related to places of cultural heritage significance, Roger has appeared before the Heritage Council of Victoria, Planning Panels Victoria, the Supreme Court, and VCAT. Roger also undertakes intermittent teaching roles and is a former member of the Academic Advisory Board at Deakin University in the Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies courses.


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David G. Woodcock, FAIA, FSA, FAPT

Professor Emeritus of Architecture & Director Emeritus, Center for Heritage Conservation
Texas A&M University

David Woodcock grew up near Manchester, England and received professional qualifications in Architecture and in Town and Country Planning from the University of Manchester. Following a Fulbright Grant to teach at the A&M College of Texas in 1962, he returned to England in 1966 to teach and practice in Canterbury. He returned to Texas A&M University in 1970, teaching urban design and architecture and developing cross-disciplinary graduate education in historic preservation, based in a university-wide research, teaching and outreach unit. His research focused on building documentation and analysis and heritage education. He served as APT President in 2000-2001.


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3 - Marvellous Melbourne under pressure: Is the palimpsest legible?

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