Sunday, 10 June 2018

MVHA: Protecting Significant Mid-century Modernism in Moonee Valley

Moving to Protect Moonee Valley's Modernist Heritage

We're extremely pleased that Moonee Valley City Council has recently moved to commence a new study of post-war heritage properties across the borough. Council deserves real credit for this - it certainly places them in the vanguard of Australian local government in protecting its inventory of significant modernist and other major post-war building styles. Provided the process is properly seen through to conclusion.

This exercise has proven particularly fraught elsewhere - Bayside Council in Melbourne's Southeast sits on arguably one of the largest and most significant inventories of mid-century modernist residential buildings in Australia, and the heritage community was looking forward to the conclusion of their recent study extending protection to a number of buildings that are notable not merely on a local basis, but certainly on a national, and even arguably (given the preeminence of a number of prominent Australian architects within the international mid-century modernist movement) international scale.

2-3 Oriana Ct, Flemington
On the left is a genuine and apparently in tact Lend Lease Sundowner (an Aussie modernist classic), paired with a 1963 effort from Brine Wierzbowski & Associates

Unfortunately the response from affected property owners in Bayside was particularly ignorant and particularly shrill. To such an extent that Council staff appear to have been placed under severe political pressure by Councillors to turf out the entire basis on which heritage listing is supposed to be applied in Victoria. 

Bayside Councillors have shamefully and immorally voted to ABANDON the heritage study, and instead sought to implement a scheme whereby property owners may voluntarily nominate their properties for heritage listing, which of course none of them will, and which will result in no protections being applied to a number of highly significant buildings. Read more about the issue HERE.

The Sporting Globe Bar and Grill, Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds
We don't know much about the history of this building, but it's clearly late modernist, with a splash of 'Route 66'
We look forward to learning more in the study, it's the most significant retail building we've identified for nomination.

This is of course not the methodology that is supposed to be mandated by the planning process in Victoria, and it follows a similar debacle at the City of Boorondara.

In fact these schemes undermine the entire basis of heritage protection everywhere, and we call again on the Planning Minister to now take the initiative and seek to implement a regime that MANDATES what heritage studies need to have performed, and which mandates a methodology that ensures heritage protection must be applied to a significant property no matter how loud the owner screams.

39 Nicholson St, Essendon
A fascinating two storey brick veneer residence with unusual casement windows
(possibly inter-war)

What's in a Listing?

The idea that heritage listing negatively affects the value of a property is not, in fact, borne out in reality. Most listed properties sell at a premium, with the certainty and the certification offered by the heritage listing most usually a key driver of the outcome, and this has been borne out in numerous studies (pdf link).

Nonetheless, we can expect another round of "what, you can't list this old piece of garbage!" from property owners at the conclusion of Moonee Valley's pending study, and activists and Council need to be ready for all this in advance. Council will need to stick to its guns having commissioned this study or risk undermining its own credibility and legislated authority. It is very specifically Council's duty to apply protection to all the significant heritage properties under its remit, and that duty neither begins nor ends at any specified date.

This survey already comes sadly too late for at least one recognised property of note. The property at 14 Brewster St, Essendon was a brutalist building known as the 'Richardson House', designed by Graeme Gunn for L. H. Richardson in 1962 (and many thanks to our friends at the Mid Century Domestic Architecture in Australia Facebook Page for their support in compiling much of this data). The building won the Victorian Architecture Medal in 1966, but we all know that brutalism can be a difficult style for many to love. Unfortunately a quick check for this building on Google Earth today reveals the following image 😞

How You Can Contribute

Council is presently seeking input into the study, and have asked for YOUR nominations of any properties to include. Unfortunately they have muddied the waters a little by specifically calling for nominations of typologies that would usually be regarded as "inter-war" rather than post-war - Old English and Spanish Mission Revival being prominent amongst them, and these are two typologies that Moonee Valley is particularly strong in.

Therefore we urge readers not to be too worried about the actual dates of any of the sites you nominate, if you're in any doubt and you're definitely looking at a modernist building - INCLUDE IT, there are professionals who are paid good money to sort this stuff out and this is exactly what they are there for. More importantly, there is also an inter-war study happening in the background that was commissioned a few years ago, and we have been assured by Council that anything that's nominated here but is technically too early will go in to that study.


NB, you won't find all the houses listed here on the actual map, as it was broken for some weeks, so we've submitted a number of properties manually. See the end of this blog post for a complete list of the "missing" properties.

11 Inglebrae Court Essendon
'D.S. Series' Project Home. Designed by Cocks & Carmichael for Design 70 Pty Ltd circa 1968.

Moonee Valley Council Has a LOT More Work to Do

The other point is that in wandering around the suburbs for this study, it's become painfully obvious to MVHA that there are MASSIVE tracts of the borough that are choc full of obviously notable heritage buildings that are all completely unprotected. Entire streetscapes on of in tact period homes that the community would expect they should never lose are all completely without any sort of heritage overlay protecting them, and they are under threat from inappropriate development as we speak.

We had hoped that Council's "gap studies" approach, of which this study is the latest iteration, would be enough to ensure protection of all the necessary buildings. It's now painfully obvious that it won't, and our job moving forward will be to campaign for huge tracts of Moonee Ponds, Ascot Vale, Essendon and even Flemington to have in some cases some very large precinct overlays applied to them. More on this in our next blog post, and probably ad nauseum for years to follow.

 39 Brewster Street, Essendon
Smith, Tracey, Lyon & Brock (c.1959)

 Post-war & Mid-Century Modernism - Some of Our Favourites

We thought we'd close by including a selection of some of the places we've already nominated (nb the map was broken for some time, so we've supplied most of these to Council directly) that may help inspire you to do likewise for your favourite places in your own neighbourhood. If you have any questions about any of this, please contact us directly -
But please hurry - nominations close on June 16.

12 Nicholson St, Essendon

46-48 Warrick St, Ascot Vale
This is a really bad photo, this double storey duplex (probably architect designed) is one of the finest and grandest examples of the type you will find anywhere. Better without solar ...

39 Lucknow St, Ascot Vale

Properties submitted by Moonee Valley Heritage Action not shown on Council's interactive map 
(again with thanks to Steven Coverdale and the good folks at his Mid-century Domestic Architecture in Australia Facebook Group - you can join up via that link - for their assistance in crowdsourcing many of the details here)

The Modernist Australia website is also a treasure trove that any lover of the style should also be familiar with.
3 Oriana Court Flemington
Lend Lease Sundowner

2 Oriana Court Flemington
House designed by Brine Wierzbowski & Assoc. in 1963

14 Brewster Street Essendon
'Richardson House' - DEMOLISHED

21 Brewster St, Essendon
designed by Clarke Hopkins & Clarke, 1965

31 Brewster St, Essendon
Smith, Tracey, Lyon & Brock (c.1959)

17 Albion St, Essendon

41 - 43 Nimmo Street, Essendon VIC
(Already identified in MV Thematic Places Heritage Study, 2012-13)

11 Inglebrae Court Essendon VIC
'D.S. Series' -Project Home
Designed by Cocks & Carmichael for Design 70 Pty Ltd circa 1968.

53 Willonga Street, Strathmore
Albert Ross, 1963

43 Woolart Street, Stathmore
Ian Napier, 1966

1 Noble Avenue Strathmore
Doesn't look like much from the street, but pretty sure that it's by the legendary Ernest Fooks, built in 1951, so one of his earliest

31 Wickham Grove Strathmore VIC
'Abbey House' - Designed by Earle & Bunbury for William Abbey circa 1958

31 Wickham Grove Strathmore
33 Bournian Avenue Strathmore
Former Angus Abbey house, Earle and Bunbury 1958 - 61 with stage 2 designed by Reg Curtis 1968

269 Napier St (Corner Henshall Road) Strathmore
Macfarlane & Martin, ca 1961

18 Watson Rise, Keilor
Designed by Tom Paciocco, 1990 (POSTMODERN)

44 Horseshoe Bend Road &
15 Barwon Avenue Keilor
'Gallery' - Project Homes
Designed by Sergei Halafoff of Chancellor & Patrick Architects for Inge Bros. Pty Lty circa 1968
This house design was a winning entrant in the 1968 RAIA Competition

18 Borrell Street, Keilor
18 Borrell Street Keilor
'V375' - Service Plan
Designed by Jack Clarke of Clarke Hopkins Clarke for The Age RVIA Small Homes Service circa 1962

22 Garden Avenue Keilor
'Glen 5' - Project Home
Designed by John Chamberlin for Glenvill Homes circa 1969.

6 Patrick Court Airport West
'Farmhouse Prototype' - Project Home
Designed by Chancellor & Patrick Architects for Vindin Suares circa 1968.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Pace/Urbis Proposes Demolition of Listed Mt Alexander Rd 1880s Heritage Shops

Another threat has emerged to Moonee Valley's heritage fabric this week, with newly advertised plans by Pace developments, apparently in tandem with Urbis proposing to demolish the two double storey heritage shopfronts shown in white below.

Under threat - 347 (left) & 357 (middle) plus 359 (right, not part of subject site) Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale

What's the Threat?

The proposal seeks to demolish both these protected buildings based on the fact that the heritage overlay which protects them does not individually cite their addresses, and indeed the way the overlay has been mapped, it appears to apply to a number of non-heritage structures including the adjacent carpark and garden centre.

Moonee Valley Heritage Action's response is, essentially "STIFF CHEDDAR". There IS a heritage overlay on these buildings, it has been formally adopted within the Melbourne Planning Scheme, and permission is required to demolish ANY structures within that overlay.

The very purpose of having these overlays mapped into the Planning Scheme is to provide certainty to both the community and developers around what is protected and what is not.

Developers MUST be forced to comply with the letter of the law, which does not rely on a building's individual nomination within the schedule. This is NOT a precinct overlay, and therefore the significant buildings are not required to be individually listed. The entire overlay is protected in law.

HO363, as formally gazetted in to the Melbourne Planning Scheme

There has very obviously been some administrative confusion in the creation of this particular overlay, but the intent of the overlay is clear - to protect the entire row of contemporaneous two storey Victorian shopfronts along Mt Alexander Rd.

Moonee Valley City Council has already sent this proposal back to the developer, Urbis, once, suggesting they needed to retain the heritage buildings, and this was clearly ordained in law. Disappointingly, the developer and the developer's heritage consultant of choice, Bryce "knock it down" Raworth have responded with some facile and frankly unconscionable arguments suggesting they wish to press ahead with their plans for demolition.

The proposal for the entirety of 327-357 Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale, currently, a garden centre, "Cheaper Buy Miles" and ... a few listed heritage buildings ...

What's the History?

The citation for the heritage overlay gives us quite a bit of detail about No. 161. It began its life in 1869-70 as Twinem & Sons Beehive Stores. John Twinem opened his first store on Flemington Hill by 1858, and moved to this site shortly after 1865. It is a two-storey, face-brick building (overpainted) with a slate-clad, hipped roof with very narrow eaves. The shopfront dates from the interwar era, and is sympathetic in its design.

Once was a Beehive - 361 Mt Alexander Rd

The history section of the citation notes that the pair of shops at 357-359 Mt Alexander Road were constructed in 1886 as an addition to the Beehive Stores.

In 1887, new owner J. J. Downing was proud enough of these additions to promote his apparently thriving Beehive Stores in the North Melbourne Advertiser as purveyors of "Groceries, Indian and China Tea, Builder's and Furnishing Ironmongery, Galvanised Iron, Spouting and Ridging, Crockery and Earthenware, Drain Pipes, Tiles and Garden Edging, Oils, Paints and Colours, Lime and Cement &c, at Melbourne Prices." No wonder he needed the extra space!

North Melbourne Advertiser, February 11, 1887, p.2

So, let's be clear, the rightmost of the two buildings for demolition dates to the 1880s. Whether is either in tact or a particularly fine examples of the period, the community's expectation is that really all our surviving 19th century structures ought these days to be protected.

The Mt Alexander Rd was originally Melbourne's goldfields route, and although the lustre of goldfields had somewhat tarnished by the 1880s, for some time after their construction these buildings would have watched over a steady stream of expectant prospectors.

The building at 347 has a slightly murkier provenance, it is apparently early 20th century in origin, but has very clearly, with regard to its pediment, scale, form and with its recessed entryway, been constructed to stylistically match the existing buildings.

So to have a heritage "professional" - namely Bryce Raworth (whom readers may remember we have already encountered when he gave the thumbs up to seven storeys of sheer concrete being erected adjacent to Raccourse Rd's streetscape of Victorian shops) give the thumbs up to demolition of a listed structures dating to the 1880s, and its simultaneously protected matching counterpart is frankly galling, and evidence of an appallingly careless attitude to the strictures of the profession. The man appears to have an active hatred of 19th century shops in particular.

The proposal is well stepped back to the North St heritage streetscape (RIGHT), but does rather tend to overwhelm the remaining heritage buildings from its Moonee Street aspect (LEFT)

Bryce's Blarney

Mr Raworth argues that "these late nineteenth century shops are not particularly fine or notable examples of their type, and their intactness has been compromised." Which while to some extent true, this is a typology that the community now expects to be preserved from an historical, much more than an architectural viewpoint, and the fact is that once they have a heritage overlay on them, none of these factors are any longer relevant.

The assertion that "the demolition of these structures will not have an adverse impact on the significance of HO363" is in no way supported. The buildings were constructed in a matching style, formed part of a single retail complex, and its the combined massing of Victorian era double storey shopfront forms that very specifically sets in place the character of the overlay from its most significant aspect - Mt Alexander Rd.

Looming over the remnant heritage

The fact that they were built a few years later than the original building is of no consequence, the subject buildings are not significantly less in tact than no. 361, and were built in the same period in the same style. They all feature relatively unique recessed shopfronts and most likely all featured the very elegant cream dado tiling that 361 still sports today.

359 has likely lost its dado titling, and 357 lacks the arched first floor windows, but 361 has possibly also lost its parapet. It is clear that attempting to play historical favourites with any of these structures is illogical, and will do nothing but have the effect of reducing the significance of whichever structure you chose to retain.

But Bryce still manages to spin this into "the building abutting the northern boundary of the subject site at 359 Mt Alexander Road has a somewhat taller, parapeted two storey form", which in plain English is an attempt to say the buildings are "different heights and therefore not contiguous."

This disingenuously ignores the fact that it is the larger two storey Victorian and interwar shopfronts that create the contiguous heritage style which is quite clearly what the overlay was created to preserve. Saying "the most historic building is out of scale" could only be accepted here if it were an argument to demolish the 1860s building, and that argument is absent.

What's the Solution?

Put simply, the developers need to return to the drawing board and re-submit a proposal for the site that retains a significant portion of all the listed structures. We would support some extent of demolition to the rear of the buildings, provided any demolition left the facades untouched or otherwise restored and effected enough retention to retain contextual internal space behind the facade.

Any development would also need appropriately set back from the retained structures, and allow the buildings to retain their heritage context. Hopefully the following five minute Photoshop job gives readers some idea just how simple this would be.

See how easy it is NOT to vandalise?
Our dodgy photoshop job shows that provided those apartments were set back a little more,
retaining the heritage buildings would be neither difficult, nor much reduce the footprint
of this no doubt potentially highly profitable development.

And let's end on a positive note. MVHA acknowledges the otherwise positive extent to which the proposal responds to its surrounding heritage neighbourhoods. In fact, developer's assertion that the proposal's Mt Alexander Rd frontage is an effective contextual response to the two storey Victorian heritage shopfront form IS supported by MVHA. Were this not proposing any demolition, we would otherwise suggest the design quality of the proposal is exemplary.

However, in making that statement, it is also very clear just how easily the heritage structures could be retained. Should they fail to return to the table with an appropriate proposal, Urbis will join our ever expanding list of Heritage Criminal Developers. But our good books remain open and we so much prefer doing things this way. Retain the heritage structures, and we would otherwise encourage the community to support the development, pending compliance with the Design and Development Overlay (which would be a whole other distracting essay.

What Can I Do to Help?

  • 1. If you want to look at the plans in detail, you can find them advertised HERE as MV/925/2017 325-347 Mt Alexander Rd Ascot Vale (probably now on page two - the records are a little hard to search)
  • 2. If you want to help by object on heritage or any other grounds please download this form and return it to Council by post or by email to asap, and ideally before April 13. Objections are the only formal way of letting Council know your feelings, and volume DOES matter. Please be polite and to the point.
  • 3. Join Moonee Valley Heritage Action on Facebook to stay up with all the latest development news

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

BETRAYAL, or ABROGATION? Melbourne City Councillors Sell Out Community, Listed Heritage

Crs Rohan Leppert and Cathy Oke (Melbourne Greens) and Cr Nic Frances Gilley (Indpependent) last night voted to demolish the C graded heritage structures on Thierry Street.

As predicted, Melbourne City Council last night voted to approve its own development on the Munro site adjacent to the Queen Victoria Market, and within the Queen Victoria Market overlay. CLICK HERE for the full background.

Cr Rohan Leppert, who has made considerable mileage out of his past efforts in support of heritage, and with some real rationale to that claim, appears astonishingly to have commenced his Mayoral bid by voting to demolish all the C grade listed heritage along Thierry Street.

He did move a curious motion of his own, suggesting that the plans that he had just voted to re-affirm would need to be brought back to Council in future, but his opportunity to listen to the community and stop these plans - which are completely unsupported by his constituency - was last night.

And so, we hereby withdraw our previous suggestion that we would endorse his Mayoral bid if he were to revisit the market proposal overall. Nor will we endorse any Councillor who voted for this in any future Council ballot.

Once again, we would like to ask which of these 9 Councillors is going to be willing to front up at VCAT and oppose the developer who wants to demolish any other "unprepossessing" C graded heritage from the City North Review, or indeed any other C graded heritage anywhere?

The precedent Councillors have willingly and knowingly created here is dangerous in the extreme, and for any of these Councillors to make any claim in future that they represent the interest of our city's heritage will now be wholly invalid.

Guilty as predicted - Team Doyle, including sitting councillors Kevin Louie, Beverley Pinder, Aaron Wood (acting Mayor) and Chair of Planning Nicholas Reece . Also depicted: Smudgey Mc SmudgeFace and Some Dude

Since yesterday's post, it has become clear that the bulk of the proposed new development at GROUND LEVEL, even if you ignore the 18 storey tower sitting atop the podium, will very markedly alter the two storey industrial streetscape and replace it with (another) modern apartment frontage. In short, Councillors have voted to wreck the heritage precinct by destroying the contributory nature to the precinct of the entirety of Thierry Street.

The latest iteration of the proposal, as approved by Councillors last night.
The heritage precinct is to be trashed in scale and form. Retaining the existing facades would have
clearly strongly mitigated these effects.

This is the most cretinous of possible outcomes. While we expected Team Doyle Councillors (and Liberal, Phillip le Liu who essentially always votes with them) to bow down to the memory of the man who left them listing so leaderless and rudderless, the behaviour of Melbourne Greens Councillors in particular, given how much noise they routinely make about a) heritage, and b) listening to the community rather than the vested interests of business are particularly damned.

Also Guilty: Liberal Party member Phillip Le Liu

So, while the wider community has been completely unsupportive of the proposed changes to the Queen Victoria Market, last night Council voted 9-1 to approve everything.

Shutting voices completely out of representative debates, and instead delivering results that would have embarrassed Saddam Hussein is exactly the vehicle via which voters' faith in the processes and politicians becomes eroded.

Thank GOD or your relevant conception of a higher power for Cr Jackie Watts, who has once again proven the sole representative on Council not completely tone deaf to the interests of her actual constituents. But what's to be done if even the GREENS can't grasp the basics of the concept.

Cr Jackie Watts - sole voice for the community's concerns

We look forward at this point to Cr Leppert's mayoral bid, during which we shall be routinely reminding him of his vote last night. Likewise should any of these Councillors deign to ever seek re-election.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Snouts in the Trough: Melbourne City Councillors Prepare to Demolish Listed Heritage Buildings for Their Own Benefit

As if there's not enough going on in the world right now to make a Wombat want to return to hibernation until the asteroid hits ...

Melbourne City Council are tonight preparing to vote to demolish heritage structures that they only recently voted to protect - by way of the inter-war commercial buildings on Thierry St that are acknowledged as highly contributory to the Queen Victoria Market Heritage Precinct.

For the Wreckers? Thierry Street Shopfronts, with character brick 1940s facade and arched brick interiors

These are C graded Heritage structures, designated as such in planning amendment c198, which adopted the findings of the City North Heritage Review that Council itself commissioned to make sure we don't lose any important heritage as this part of town was coming under enormous development pressure.

And why? Because Council wants to maximise the value it can extract from PDG corporation, who was the sole bidder for the Munro Site tender. That's right. Councillors are so shame-scared that their entire Queen Victoria Market Redevelopment will become even MORE of a fiasco than it already has become via the rank amateurism of its protagonists, that they are willing to let a developer completely rip up the entire basis of heritage protection in Melbourne for a few pieces of silver.

Councillors in Utopia

In what might generously be considered a discarded script line from the comedy series Utopia, Councillors are preparing to replace the C graded 2 storey brick heritage structures fronting Thierry Street with new 2 storey brick structures "reflecting the heritage of the area".

Let's be clear. These are C graded Heritage structures, and if Council allows their demolition, it is by precedent allowing the potential demolition of all the existing C and D grade structures on its inventory. In this day and age, permission to fully demolish any listed heritage structure should only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances, and the proposal in no way demonstrates this imperative.

In fact, what it demonstrates is how Council have dim-wittedly sleepwalked themselves into this position. Council's Chair of Planning Nicholas Reece actually sat directly across the table from yours truly in a meeting and said "Oh I don't think they are actually listed buildings." The Chair of Planning. This is how much scrutiny and care clearly went into drafting the development brief.

Given how desperate Council appears to be to secure PDG's involvement, without which its entire, already shaky Queen Victoria Market redevelopment would doubtless fall over - we would hardly be surprised to learn that the brief document read something a la "yeeeeeehaaaaw! You boys do what you want here ..."

Is there ANY rational reason why THIS (above) ...
Can't be incorporated into THIS, given the identical form and scale?

Throwing out the Basis and Meaning of Heritage

To support this demolition, a clear argument needs to be made that at least the facades could not be incorporated into the new structure. Given the proposal appears to support replacing this structure with buildings of almost identical scale, form and material, there appears to be no such sustainable argument.

The proposal's assertion that "despite their grading of “C”, the shops are quite unpre- possessing architecturally" is not apparently supported by any heritage professional. The first question that needs to be asked is why the heritage assessment has apparently been carried out by Bates Smart, where an independent assessment by a qualified heritage professional would normally be required at the very least, in order to be even contemplating demolition. The impression left is that they were unable to find any professional unethical enough to sanction this.

Furthermore there is no such thing as "despite their grading of C...". These buildings are graded and therefore PROTECTED. Full stop. Councillors will be grossly negligent of their duties if they fail to uphold this.

The citation for heritage overlay HO7 that covers the entire market site and surrounding streets states "What is Significant? ... the south side of Therry Street between Queen and Elizabeth Streets (nos 97-141)." So the buildings HAVE been assessed by a heritage professional as significant, and there is no professional argument tendered to the contrary. Bates Smart and PDG apparently simply know better about matters completely outside their profession than the authors of the City North Heritage Review.

Councillors must surely at the very least require a professional heritage assessment to the contrary to dismiss the findings of the City North Review, otherwise the basis of the entire review can be called in to question.

The Mercat Cross Hotel. Same difference?
"yeah, we'll keep this bit cos people like pubs 'n' that. But not the actual pub ... just the facade ...
we need to make $$$$ from this thing ..."

If the Mercat Cross Hotel facade (which is really identical to the rest of the streetscape) can be retained and incorporated into the development, why can't the other significant heritage buildings?

While the development proposal would have it that these buildings "make a minimal architectural contribution to the precinct", they would never have been listed if that were the case. Furthermore a building's being "unprepossessing architecturally", setting aside the utterly cretinous nature of the statement, must be countered by the absolutely established principle that - particularly for industrial structures, this is NOT the criterion by which we assess heritage. The buildings have been listed by dint of being a typology worth preserving and which contributes to the traditional market ambience that is the basis for the entire overlay. If we can start knocking over C graded buildings for not being beautiful, then Councillors are placing large swathes of the city's heritage at risk.

Which Councillor would care to stand up at VCAT and argue against the next developer who wants to knock over any one of the C graded buildings in the City North Heritage Review (most of which are industrial in nature and not very 'prepossessing') after this?

Put simply, any Councillor who votes to demolish buildings that Council itself only recently nominated as C grade structures will be tendered to the wider community as having placed the entire basis of heritage listing in peril, and find themselves positioned alongside PDG, whose brand will enter into the growing lexicon of troglodyte, heritage-wrecking developers.

Thierry Street, from Queen Street intersection.

We cannot make the point strongly enough, this is a MAJOR heritage litmus test, and it will, if allowed to proceed, set an APPALLING precedent for the demolition of listed structures. This cannot be allowed to pass without consequence.

To date Cr Jackie Watts has been alone amongst current Councillors in opposing the Queen Victoria Market from the outset. This is some testament to how anti-democratic a body Melbourne City Council already is. There has been ample media commentary recently highlighting the fact that it makes more decisions in secret than any other Victorian Council.

PDG - Proudly Destroying Goodness

... and DEATH to heritage ...
The gerrymander handed to the business community, whereby unlike any other democratic election in the country, votes of these non-human ratepayers are given twice as much weight as actual human beings has not surprisingly resulted in electing a group of people who don't represent the community's view, which has been resolutely against the market's redevelopment from the outset (and yet somehow the redevelopment is going to inject $2b dollars into the state's coffers once people are served up the redevelopment that they don't want ... no we don't follow either ...)

And now these same people are preparing to vote to preserve their collective arses by wiping their own heritage rules off the map, because if PDG picked up their bucket and spade, it would certainly be curtains for a fiasco that has already lost its progenitor and Chief Advocate in the former Lord Mayor.

The Ghost of 'Demolition Doyle' Stalks the Corridors

We expect Team Doyle will all vote in unison, and the reality is they have the numbers. We know Cr Jackie Watts will be continue to abide by her record in standing up for the community ahead of vested interests and oppose it.

The Greens have been locked in with Team Doyle over the redevelopment so far, but Cr Rohan Leppert - who has made much of his record on heritage cannot possibly commence his Lord Mayoral bid with a decision to knock over listed heritage buildings.

We therefore look to the Greens and independent Cr Nic Frances Gilley to at least go on record as opposing the unconscionable.

Any Councillors who vote to demolish listed heritage structures for the benefit of their own redevelopment will most certainly find their record regarding this vote placed repeatedly and prominently in the public arena.

Tune in tomorrow, friends, to learn of the outcome ...

Monday, 26 March 2018

Too Bulky, Wrong Facade and in Bad Faith - Racecourse Rd Development Threatens Flemington Heritage Character

So, pending our building a proper home, The Bloodied Wombat will play host for a while to the activities of the newly established Moonee Valley Heritage Action (join us on Facebook HERE), who are agitating in defence of all the heritage within the remit of Moonee Valley City Council in Melbourne's North-West.

The Valley is home to a wide range of highly significant buildings traversing most major periods of Melbourne's development history, and indeed most major typologies. It has, in particular, remit over a number of significant late Victorian shopping strips, a typology which in its two storey form Melbourne could lay credible claim to being the world's finest large scale exemplar of.

Heritage Overlay HO25 covers the majority part of Racecourse Rd's heritage shopping strip, extending along Pin Oak Crescent, an unusual (for Melbourne) stretch of interwar "off high street" retail, of which the likes of Maling Road, Canterbury and perhaps Greville Street would be the larger scale exemplars. HO25 is easily one of the largest and most significant heritage precinct overlays under Moonee Valley City Council’s ambit.

MVCC Heritage Overlay 25, with the subject site in pink

The citation for HO25 describes the strip as "comprising buildings that predominantly date from c.1880 to c.1935”, concluding; “aesthetically, it is significant as a fine collection of single and double-storey shops characterised by masonry construction embellished with rendered ornamentation.”

324-340 Racecourse Rd, Flemington

an unusually in tact row of two storey Victorian shop buildings,
showing the proposed development, which is appropriately set back from the
heritage structures at this, its Western end

The citation for HO25 finds, amongst other reasons, that the area is significant for

  • The intactness to the key periods of development
  • The integrity of the contributory buildings, particularly above ground floor level, and the surviving early or original shopfronts to some buildings
  • The consistency of scale and siting of buildings

Accordingly, the character and nature of this important strip is one of MVHA's key watchovers. And so, we have this afternoon submitted a six page objection to the proposed development at 320-322 Racecourse Rd, which is in fact mostly a proposal to redevelop the space behind the address that is presently a carpark and a few severely rundown single storey industrial buildings with a truly massive seven storey serviced apartment complex.

It's important that we state from the outset that we are not saying this site is not developable, nor are we objecting to any of the demolition that the project will necessitate. Despite the fact all these buildings are technically protected under the letter of the law, they are of no architectural nor historic value, and their demolition is of no consequence. We are saying, however that the proposal will need some significant changes in order to avoid negatively impacting this significant heritage neighbourhood.

The subject site, showing the rear of 326-340 Racecourse Rd

Our core objections are twofold, firstly that the mass and scale of the proposed development, most particularly its eastern aspect is significantly out of keeping with the otherwise predominantly 1-2 storey heritage neighbourhood, and secondly that the proposed design makes little to no effort to either acknowledge or respond to the otherwise contiguous streetscape of Victorian shopfronts, of which this strip is recognised as being a significant example.

We would also like to bring it to Councillors’ attention that the proposal as submitted is quite clearly an attempt to disguise the very obvious objectionable impacts of the proposal. To whit, the submission contains several renders that have obviously been framed to disguise the bulk and scale of the development via laughably ham fisted means.

No longer are the shameful parts of our edifices covered with fig leaves. For today’s developers, any sort of leaf will do fine. The following image would of course not look so benign if taken a mere 10m east or westwards.  Or in winter. The vast bulk of the development is LITERALLY concealed behind the tree.

Render of proposed development, viewed from Norwood Street
(single storey residential heritage neighbourhood)

In the following image, not only is the bulk of the development unnecessarily obscured by the strange choice of vantage point (ie choosing to depict the proposal from a specific vantage where part of the proposal is obscured where a mere two meters up the road would have provided a full representation), but we see that a VINE has magically grown up to cover seemingly the entirety of the bottom four floors of the development and is also encroaching on significant components of the glazed section with none of the residents minding at all.

The proposal's objectionable Eastern aspect.
You would only take this vantage point if you KNEW your development was awful.

We question a) why we are being shown a render of the development from the year 2025, given the advanced state of the greenery, b) where in the submission is the commitment to actually plant this vine, and what measures are to be undertaken to ensure its health given it is so critical to mitigating the sheer concrete wall that the developers are so plainly aware will otherwise dominate the eastern aspect of this important heritage strip.

We believe it is imperative that when examining these renders, Councillors should imagine all the trees BARE in winter, and that the ham-fisted deception should be considered reflective of the bad faith in which this proposal is submitted.

To further underline our point, the above picture of the development's Western end, is quite laughably the ONLY render that "depicts" its facade to Racecourse Road. The facade is ENTIRELY hidden behind the tree. ENTIRELY.

The proposed development, as viewed from Racecourse Rd (Southern aspect)
Note the bulk at the Eastern (right hand) end and lack of setback

Racecourse Road as a Designated Activity Centre
The proposal places significant weight on the area’s status within State Government policy as a designated activity center. This objection acknowledges that status, AND the policy imperative for greater residential density in such transport-enabled locations. However, the entire area thus described sits entirely within designated and significant heritage overlay, so there is an immediate and obvious conflict of policy interests at work.

The proposal also correctly states that there is an absence of any design or development overlay for this entire area. This needs urgently to be flagged for Councillors as requiring remedy, as we believe most ratepayers would agree that the community’s expectation is that Council should very specifically be looking to mandate design quality and height limits in ANY areas within its remit that are designated activity centers, and which are therefore highly prone to development pressure.

Moonee Valley City Council - it is time to act NOW, because there will be more of these proposals, and your decision here sets a precedent by which you will bind yourself in future. If this is a designated activity zone, it urgently needs some proper planning to accompany that.

Demolition of the Existing Structure
As already stated, given the non-contiguous nature of the current shop building with regard to the rest of the streetscape and its negligible architectural value, we do not oppose the complete demolition of the existing building.

Furthermore we agree with the suggestion that the proposed construction of a glazed shopfront is essentially in keeping with the nature of the heritage retail strip.

Begone! 320-322 Racecourse Rd at sale.
Note our ability to photograph the site without arborial interference

Treatment of the Existing Streetscape
We object entirely, however to the design of the proposal above street/ground level. Here that we depart entirely from heritage advisor Bryce Raworth’s (strangely this man keeps popping up as the developer's heritage expert of choice) assessment of the proposal’s impact. The two storey Victorian shopfront is a very specific architectural form, and the above depicted row abutting the development is highly remarkable for both its in tactness above ground level, and the uniformity of form.

We wonder what about this very specific form inspired in the architect/designer a response that conjured up tiny tessellated multicoloured rectangles as a means of complementing the heritage streetscape? The response actually appears to be doing as much deliberate violence to the existing form as is architecturally possible. The entire proposal appears to be either in complete contempt or ignorance of the notion that architectural history didn’t begin with the invention of aluminium cladding.

The design, we submit, pays absolutely no heed to the heritage streetscape whatsoever, and given the acknowledged significance of the precinct, should on this basis alone be rejected.

It would be the simplest thing in the world to craft a proposal which even at the current scale removed this objection altogether. One need only look literally across the road to see an excellent example of postmodern infill within a heritage precinct done well (Flemington Library).

Flemington Library at 304 Racecourse Rd

A similar design which responded by creating a horizontally contiguous (by which we mean acknowledging the exiting storey heights, consistent and uniform in colour and with an either brickwork or rendered solid façade around central windows, accompanied with some form of pediment) counterpart to the Victorian two storey shopfront form would be adequate to remove any objection to this aspect of the development.

We submit that the ideal here looks far more like the following image than the present proposal.

Modified depiction of the proposed development, with our suggested form highlighted in pink.
The sheer bulk of the development's full 7 storeys is evident.

Mass and Scale of the Proposal
It is clear from the above illustration, however that the scale and bulk overall represents a very significant change to the nature of the heritage strip, presenting around three times the scale of the present streetscape. This will not only be appreciable from Racecourse Rd, as the above image illustrates, but also from the highly contiguous and largely single storey residential Norwood St, where the scale is approximately six times that of the present form.

Northern aspect, as viewed from Norwood St, although really this is effectively taken by
someone standing in one of the back gardens of the single storey cottages.
Again the scale at this aspect is oppressive, but it is mitigated somewhat by effective setbacks.

We acknowledge that significant effort has been made to set the development back from most heritage buildings at its western end, and for this reason we believe that a revision of this proposal is possible that would meet our concerns, but any such proposal would require a similar sort of mitigation at the development’s eastern end also.

Eastern aspect, showing some attempted attenuation of the sheer concrete wall that is not in evidence in the other renders, and the sort of thing that rarely actually presents as detailed or designerly in life as it does on paper
The significantly less oppressive Western aspect, including meaningful setbacks, and with light wells
attenuating the bulkiest portion

The section of shops immediately to the east of the development are all single storey, so once again the scale of the eastern end of the proposal is around 1:6 to the existing heritage streetscape.

HO25 extends unusually on BOTH sides of Racecourse Rd beyond Wellington Street and as far east as the McDonald’s site. And it is clear from the supplied renders (with a tiny bit of imagination) that the bulk of the eastern end would present as several storeys of sheer acontextual and out of scale concrete looming over the eastern end of the heritage strip.

Accordingly we submit that a proposal either significantly lower in total scale, or one far more significantly stepped back at its eastern boundary is required in order to satisfy the obligations imposed by HO25. On this basis, coupled with the above concerns about the design, we object to the present proposal.

TAKE ACTION: In order to bring this matter before Council, at least ten objections must be lodged with Moonee Valley Council's planning team. It only takes 5 minutes, and we've done most of the hard bits for you already.

Step 1: CLICK HERE to download an objection form as pdf. We have filled in all of the relevant technical bits for you.
Step 2: State your objection clearly and politely. Objections do not get extra points for length, nor for vitriol.
Step 3: Return your form by post or by email to asap, and ideally before the end of March 2018.

Monday, 12 February 2018

An Open Letter to the Office of the Victorian Government Architect: "Sack Yourselves"

To whom it may concern,

I write in relation to learning of your role in the assessment process for the proposed Apple Store in Federation Square.

I am not - other than a couple of Fine Art History subjects, a trained architect, but I am about to be able to tell you in fairly clear and rational terms how your Office has so demonstrably totally voided its entire mandate, such that I write today to demand, on behalf of architecture, your resignation.

This is the city's premier public space, and was created by international design competition. Something almost unprecedented in terms of major projects in this city, but widely regarded as architectural best practice. Your recommendations therefore stand foundationally against architectural best practice even before any of their detail is scrutinised.

So on this basis already it appears that you do not understand that your entire role is to apply architectural best practice to the maximal possible extent in this city, and to advocate as much to government. The alternative is you do understand this, but have chosen for whatever reason to bend to the political wind, or you don't care enough to do your job properly. All conclusions suggest you need to be removed from this role for a fundamental failure of purpose.

Moving on to some of the architectural impact. The importance of this space is established and largely not contested. This space is SO important not just because it won a design competition, but more because of its significance in civic affairs, and that it was designed as a coherent space that had its own spatial symbolism, with stone hewn from all the states being sourced.

That you as an architect can suggest a civic SQUARE (the single urban spatial typology most relevant to an at scale planned coherence) could be improved by having one of the complete coherent set of buildings replaced by a building in an entire other style, and with no architectural logic whatsoever.

That you as an architect can give approval to Norman Foster's, copied and pasted (and he CLEARLY hasn't even TRIED put any contextual design into this) design beggars belief.

The building's balanced zen and extended lines seem calculated to be as violent a jar as possible against the existing style's wildly angular and tesselated postmodern patterning. If you can look at those two building styles in tandem and suggest the architectural realm has been improved, you need to return to architecture school. These are not two neighbouring buildings in a streetscape, these are two parts of ONE SQUARE.

This is a HERITAGE BUILDING. Federation Square would eventually have been listed. Your stylistic intervention, by the principles laid down in the Burra Charter, actually JEOPARDISES THE FUTURE HERITAGE LISTING OF ARGUABLY THE CITY'S MOST IMPORTANT CIVIC SPACE.

You have not thought this through, you have not, once again done any of your duty to uphold good architectural principles in relation to preservation. We are continually losing or seeing compromised (qv IM Pei's Collins Place) important modernist and postmodern buildings before they are listed. The appropriate job for your office here was to ensure this known policy trap within the urban arena did not adversely effect the outcome.

So, the bases on which I believe all individuals within the Office of the Victorian Government Architect with any responsibility for this decision are unqualified to continue in the role are these:
  • 1. This is the most important decision you will ever make, as the public interest has never been more imperiled by politicians' and corporations' vanity, and you have chosen to aid its imperilment
  • 2. You fundamentally only had one job to do at 1, and failed at the most important moment
  • 3. You've thrown out the results of an international design competition for a coherent premier public space
  • 4. The thing you've given the thumbs up to is abysmal in any architectural langauage, and by any assessment.
  • 5. Thinking a non-coherent space is better than a coherent one, and for not comprehending a square needs to be coherent
  • 6. The co-option of Don Bates, and your disrespect to the two dead architects who are spinning in their graves today
  • 7. Failure to consider the heritage impact
  • 8. The absolute obvious inappropriate violence of the juxtaposition of styles

Although, in conclusion, there could be ONE possible out for you in all of this.

We need to be clear that you do actually know where Federation Square IS, yes? CITY square is the one with the right angles ....

Monday, 15 January 2018

Melbourne, It's Time to Bin the Free Tram Zone

The free tram zone is a terrible piece of public transport policy, even inasmuch as it might be good political theatre. I've bleated on this in footnotes previously, but it's time to send the message loud and specific.

I am drawing again here on the latest raft of data from Charting Transport. But also on the anecdote of tonight's experience on the 57 tram from the CBD, time approximately 10.05pm. And we can all agree 10pm is hardly peak hour. But we can all agree that these days that at 10pm, the CBD centre is still very much alive in the retail/entertainment core, as indeed it was this Monday.

Grab a Partner for the Elizabeth Street Shuffle

Stop 1 - Elizabeth Street Terminus (where trams still open their doors one foot in front of shear walls that people wanting to get on are already queueing in front of - this is probably only the city's third largest tram terminus, but hey that's another whinge), the tram is essentially FULL, at 10pm on a Monday night.

In fact the 57 can routinely be full at the CBD end all the way up to the last tram. We are told we have a network that is demand-responsive to this, but I have been reporting evening overcrowding on this route to PTV routinely for well over a year now.

Stop 2 - We are so full that we have to leave passengers behind. It is a 14 minute wait until the next 57 is along. We are so full that "train style", passengers have to alight in order to let other passengers off. Some of those passengers almost do not get pack on. This appears to add significantly to loading times, we miss the lights at the intersection. At 10 pm, there is of course no passing traffic on Lt Collins Street that was worth holding up a full tram for.

Stop 3 - Possibly up to 30% of the tram evactuates, most of them clearly tourists leaving a full but no longer overcrowded tram. The entire tram was empty at the terminus. So all these people have just:
  • travelled a maximum of two stops
  • paid no fare
  • paid basically no Australian tax to support the infrastructure
  • overcrowded the infrastucture for those who are forced to pay (residents traveling beyond the CBD)
  • increased the travel time for those smae people traveling significant distances and for whom the journey time is significant, and who do compare this trip with a car-based alternative
  • prevented people who may have been intended long distance travellers from using the tram, even though the tram was not full once it left the CBD
  • increased the journey time for these same people by at least 14 minutes
  • gotten less exercise
  • reduced CBD street life
Now consider that ALL that is specifically now dialled into our fare structure. And consider that almost every tram journey in this city (step up 78 and 82) passes through the CBD. This is what we have done to basically every single tram journey in this city through the incentives provided by the absurd free tram zone.

Applying the 'EVIL' Test ...

So, let's say for a minute you were EVIL. And let's say you wanted to systemically make people use their cars as much as possible, and you realised how much gridlock the city would be in if all the people who currently use trams started travelling by car everywhere, and you were trying to formulate a policy that made almost every tram trip in the city less competitive with the car, well then I ask you ... can you actually come up with a better policy to achieve specifically this than the Free Tram Zone?

The Charting Transport data showed “The Melbourne CBD itself has had a 12% shift to public transport – and actually a 7% mode shift away from walking (which probably reflects the new Free Tram Zone in the CBD area).”

So the Free Tram Zone is a gimme to those who need it least. Tourists first, Office Workers on well above average earnings second, and inner city residents third (and increasingly this means the well to do, not working Melburnians).

And I'd remind you that all these people pay the same taxes as everyone else. The same taxes as the everyone elses who ARE able to access the decent public transport, and who need it least. These former people have basically never had a new bit of public transport built for them during my lifetime, and the latter have had BILLIONS spent on them. Again, from the same tax pool.

And the Free Tram Zone inconveniences EVERYONE who needs that least also - those who could do without the extra 5 minutes on the CBD leg of their commute because it will take them 30 minutes just to get to their station in Zone Two. The people for whom the car remains the most viable alternative.

Consider that EVERYONE who has had to travel TO the CBD has already had to pay. Almost all are buying a daily ticket. CBD tram trips for these people are effectively FREE ALREADY. What we DON'T need is signs all over the city saying to these people "hop on a tram for free instead of walking two blocks".

We are Governed by the Media

This is SO COMPLETELY ARSE-UP in terms of how we ought to be setting our transport priorities. It just makes my blood boil that nobody far enough up the public transport tree in this state clearly has either their eyes philosophically properly on the main goals to say "whoah!" on this.

This entire idea should have been philosophically inadmissable to any transport planner looking to make this city a fundamentally better place for everyone to live.

This pointless revenue shedding measure only exists because it's the kind of policy that it's very easy to get the media to go "rah rah" around during an election campaign. Literally. It makes no broader public policy sense, it serves no public policy objective worth spending any money on.

This is yet another symptom of what I am going to call the Zone One Mentality or Greenspartyism - advocating world's best public transport only for your wealthy inner city mates who all own homewares depicting W class trams they've never ridden.

It is not a fit or proper policy for a party that claims to be about either social justice or sensible transport advocacy. IN. THE. BIN!

If we MUST have free trams in the CBD, we should have designated free shuttle trams that run up and down Elizabeth, Collins and Bourke to assist in alleviating the crush loads. And that is all.

For more tram-based entertainment ...