butter paper australasia : greaseproof architecture links 2000 - 2014

Out Yonder

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In July, Plan Melbourne introduced three new flavours of residential zone. Loosely described, the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) will prevent medium or high density developments in order to preserve character, the General Residential Zone (GRZ) is pretty much business as usual with a small nod to developers, and the Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) is where apartment blocks will be allowed to blossom. Well blossom as much as they can within a 13.5m height restriction. The new zones are meant to provide more certainty to residents and developers.

The planning department abdicated responsibility for determining where the zones go to local government, though the minister retained final say. By the time the government slipped into caretaker mode recently, Mr Guy had approved a good number of the zoning maps lodged by councils. Many of the successful councils happened to be in the south and east, where councils opted for blanket use of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, with tiny dollops of GRZ and RGZ around busy roads.

Glen Eira neighbourhood character zones
North West part of Glen Eira’s zoning map (the beige-salmon shaded blanket is NRZ. The light pink areas are GRZ, the hot pink ones are RGZ, and the mauve areas are zoned commercial). DPCD

In July I began my zigzagging foray meander through Plan Melbourne by zooming in on some Residential Growth Zones, just to see what they were. I randomly chose an area in Glen Eira near the Elsternwick Station (middle left of the map above). Glen Eira was the first council to have its submission approved and gazetted, back in August 2013, even before the release of Plan Melbourne. As with all the leafy ‘burbs, NRZ dominates. The Age calculated that 93% of residential land is Neighbourhood Residential Zone, 5% GRZ, and 2% is RGZ.

zone comparison
Zoning on the left, NC overlay on the right

The RGZ is meant to, “provide housing at increased densities in buildings up to and including four storey buildings”. What’s disturbing is that most of this RGZ area falls within Neighbourhood Character Overlay No. 4. One of this area’s Neighbourhood Character Objectives is, “to encourage retention of older dwellings that contribute to the valued character of the area.” At the top of the overlay’s schedule it states:

New dwellings will respect the key characteristics of the streetscape, comprising of:
- Established garden settings with substantial planting.
- A single storey scale of buildings, with upper levels well recessed from the front façade.
- [etc]

There appears to be some conflict between the zone and the overlay. Which one wins? In general, “if an overlay is shown on the planning scheme map, the provisions of the overlay apply in addition to the provisions of the zone.” They would both win! But this overlay explicitly modifies the zone requirements to insist on scale, heights and site layouts that respect neighbourhod character. In other words, the zone permits you to build up to four storeys, as long as you only build up to two storeys with a hip roof, and as long as it only looks like a one storey building from the street. So much for certainty.

If this is a Claytons RGZ (the zone you have when you’re not having a zone), how many others are there? I looked at the adjacent RGZ just across Glen Huntly Road and found that it coincided beautifully with Heritage Overlay 72, “Elsternwick Estate and environs”. Most of the properties in this RGZ are significant places, as identified in a 2003 draft heritage report. Most of the rest are contributory places. Reading this report and the heritage clause of the Glen Eira planning scheme, it seems very unlikely that a developer would be permitted to demolish a letter box, much less build a four storey apartment block.

Yarra proposed zones
Part of City of Yarra’s proposed zoning plan (rejected)

Possibly these are just isolated aberrations that somehow slipped through all the checks. I decided to look at a different, distant council. The City of Yarra’s zoning plans were not approved by the Minister and the whole municipality was “neutrally converted” to GRZ on July 1st. I only examined the Northern area from Fitzroy through to North Carlton. Once again, it’s hard to find many RGZ properties that could actually be developed. There are St Brigid’s Church, School and Presbytery on Alexandra Parade, which would all be sorely missed should apartments land atop them. The RGZ picks up properties which have already been developed, others in heritage overlays, and St John’s Primary School. There is a large strip of RGZ down on Alexandra Parade close to Hoddle Street… the very same properties that the state government is forcibly buying to build a temporary road for its elephantine East West Link project.

Some councils with insufficient RGZ in their proposals were sent back to the drawing board without approval. Other with approved schemes were told to allocate more area to Residential Growth Zones as a “Stage 2”. These latter councils include Boroondara, Bayside, and Darebin. The Bayside request was withdrawn during the current Liberal election campaign (!). The most perplexing case I’ve found is Boroondara. The council’s zoning recommendations were approved on a “fast-track” by Minister Guy in June, despite warnings from his own Residential Zones Standing Advisory Committee (RZSAC). Back in March the planning department asked Boroondara to increase its RGZ from 0.8% to 2.5% of residential area. Council did so but in May the elected councillors unanimously voted down these recommendations at an RZSAC hearing, in response to community outrage . The advisory committee later rejected the proposed zones too and in September Minister Guy issued this press release:

“Residents in Boroondara will have greater certainty about where development should occur, with an independent advisory committee ruling out higher density zoning in areas proposed by the council… All councils are expected to adopt a sensible approach to the residential zones. Boroondara will have to undertake further strategic work to achieve this, and will have the General Residential Zone put in place instead of the higher density development that council proposed.” ( link )

Talk about everyone having it both ways. Guy “locked up” all the council-proposed RGZ properties that the council didn’t support and that he had requested, by zoning them all GRZ. Some poor council planners are between a rock and a hard place.

Boroondara is a very special place. In 2002, locals got organised to protest against development proposals for Camberwell Station. Quite a few groups fired up around that time, among them the Boroondara residents Action Group and the Malvern East Group. Boronodara-based Planning Backlash is a coalition of many such groups. In opposition, shadow Planning Minister Guy showed support for the groups’ demands to return power to councils and to preserve the character of their suburbs. He addressed these issues in Plan Melbourne but disagreed with Planning Backlash’s solution for reigning in the Urban Growth Boundary, preserving liveability and restoring affordability to the suburbs. They want to reduce immigration, or “build a new city elsewhere eg develope [sic] Portland”.

So where does that leave us? Boroondara, Glen Eira, Bayside and other municipalities in that leafy south eastern belt are not going to meet any targets requested of them by state government. The RGZ’s across Melbourne are not what they appear to be. Many have been deliberately positioned where they can’t work, at least without a big fight and a trip to VCAT. There is no provision for apartment blocks over the often mandatory maximum height of 13.5m. The number of dwellings in suburban municipalities will grow, but not enough to cater to upcoming demand within them for affordable and diverse housing options. Picking up some of the slack will be urban renewal zones (ie Fisherman’s Bend), and growth areas (ie woop woop).

“It was submitted that a reduction in the development of apartments; reduced new housing supply opportunities due to the inappropriate application of new zones; and increasing greenfield production costs are expected to create an ongoing structural shortage of new housing to meet growing demand.” from RZSAC’s Stage one Overarching Issues report

23.11.14 in planning 

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Arch-peace strategic plan image

{ The event link is here . }

My conversations with people closely involved in several humanitarian architecture groups have had an underlying theme – interest is down in Australia. People aren’t volunteering, donations have slumped, patrons are in name only… Emergency Architects Australia have even closed shop. I could write a book about why I think this is happening, so won’t attempt to unpick it here. Suffice to say, many of the remaining groups are in the process of re-examining their goals.

I’ve been involved on and off with Architects for Peace since its inception in 2003. It was the only Australian-based group of architects prepared to protest the Iraq invasion. Times have changed since then, and not for the better. But Architects for Peace grew beyond its roots and was soon hosting talks and events, facilitating pro bono work, hosting a busy online forum, releasing news and editorials, and a lot more. But despite having 26,000 facebook followers and 600 members worldwide, A4P was finding it increasingly hard to get things done with the resources available.

Architects for Peace went into a temporary hibernation earlier this year, and focused on itself. There have been months of meetings, discussions, arguments. The result, the first Strategic Plan, is being launched tonight at Design Hub in Melbourne. I’ve read it and am pretty excited about it. I think it’s going back to roots, to hopefully reemerge as an unapologetically political group concerned with people’s rights to built environments and public spaces that are meaningful, safe, and egalitarian. But that’s just my quick take on it. Come hear the official version yourself tonight, on the roof-top.

Details here .

11.11.14 in activists 

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architects: Bree Architects

Johanne and Joost van Bree’s new practice in Bendigo, Central Victoria.

listing | external link

10.11.14 in architects

The Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania has a peculiar name. Old art and new art add up to all art, so why not just call it the Museum of Art? But that would abbreviate to MA or MoA, neither perhaps being appropriate. The acronym is MONA and that’s what everyone calls it now, which is as it was meant to be.

Reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle recently (a good read), I realised what the roots of this name might be. In the book, Mona is the beguiling beauty – apparently the only beautiful woman on the Island of San Lorenzo, and the daughter of a Finnish architect. Vonnegut himself was the son and grandson of architects. He said his father’s only advice to him was not to stick anything in his ears and not to become an architect.

The island’s dialect contains many a strange word, and one is ‘foma’. It means ‘lies’ as in ‘a pack of foma’. These “harmless untruths” keep the country stable. In Walsh’s cradle, FOMA has become the Festival of Music and Art. Walsh let the cat out of the bag in an interview with Le Figaro last year, and Mathhew Denholm of The Australian picked up on it in 2011.

“Live by the foma [lies] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy” (Cat’s Cradle frontispiece)

1963 cover
Original 1963 cover

So that’s what Walsh has admitted to, that I can find. He has plenty of other things to say about influences though, which are well-covered in David Neustein’s 2011 review. Architects Fender Katsalidis give very little away about the origins of the design, saying it was inspired by Greek rock fortresses. Walsh mentions Naxos. Schematic architects Tandem have even less to say, but have some great photos of early citadel-esque models on their MONA webpage.

Mona stairs
Related? Lindos acropolis ( lindianet ) / MONA entry (PJ, 2011)

Walsh may have revealed more in his gilded new memoir Bone of Fact , which he wrote in the style of Vonnegut. But I’m still saving my pennies for that one. Anyhow, I decided to dig a little deeper and see what else turned up. Some of it will be B.S., but hopefully interesting B.S. I think that a few of these snips influenced the shape of things at MONA, and I think it was for the better. If you’ve not yet been, a lot of what follows won’t make much sense… maybe even if you have been.

A Fantastic Fortification
The president of Vonnegut’s San Lorenzo, a small and fictional island in The Caribbean, lived within an imposing edifice by the sea. It was built by a mad slave-turned-emperor who copied it from a child’s picture book.

“A maniac, Tum-bumwa caused to be erected the San Lorenzo Cathedral and the fantastic fortifications on the north shore of the island, fortifications within which the private residence of the so-called President of the Republic now stands.” Cat’s Cradle, chapter 57

“We at last came to the castle. It was low and cruel and black. Antique cannons still lolled on the battlements. Vines and bird nests clogged the crenels, the machiolations, and the balistrariae. Its parapets to the north were continuous with the scarp of a monstrous precipice that fell six hundred feet straight down to the lukewarm sea.” Cat’s Cradle, chapter 95

The oubliette
Within the Prsident’s residence is a large square anteroom with a manhole cover within it. This lead down to ‘the oubliette’ – a drop-and-forget type dungeon, accessible only from the top. A ventilated and stocked bomb shelter had been retrofitted into this dungeon by the reigning despot. The oubliette may have been inspired by the underground cellars of the “meat locker” Vonnegut and other prisoners of war found themselves in during the bombing of Dresden in 1945, known as Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse-Five). The only reason they survived the firestorm was because they were held in isolated captivity. Similarly Mona and the book’s bumbling hero Jonah survive an ice storm in their own oubliette. Rather than being prisons, these dungeons became arks for preservation.

I visited MONA during the first exhibition, Monanisms. It could equally have been called Meat Locker, given many of its displays (one even being a rack of meat). The MONA dungeon is entered through a deep circular drum staircase from the Roy Grounds house above. I vaguely remember that we were advised to take the stairs for the best experience. Déjà vu – all of a sudden it was 1989 and I was tramping down the emergency spiral stairs in one of London’s smaller tube stations. The lifts were off again. These stairs provided wartime access to tube station platforms, which doubled as air raid shelters in WWII – more arks.

WWII London air raid shelters
This illustration shows some purpose-built “deep” shelters, which were intended for later use as the Northern Line. ( source )

MONA basement 3
MONA basement 3 – the spiral stair is at top right. ( source )

Is Tasmania an Ark?
The state of Tasmania is almost at the end of the world, if you’re over at the ‘centre’ of things. Utah lawyer Martin Polin certainly thought so – during the Cold War he purchased 18,000 hectares of prime Tasmanian wilderness to use a a bolt hole in case of nuclear catastrophe. He even had bunkers built, which you can see here . His own survivalist ark. Perhaps MONA can be read as an art ark? Though it wouldn’t function too well in a biblical flood.

Noah's big boat
MONA (Leigh Carmichael) inset: Noah’s Ark ( source: answersingenesis )

The Other Monas
‘Mona’ has other significance in Tasmanian history. In 1865 Robert Quayle Kermode built what is thought to be the largest home in Australia at Mona Vale, a property north of Hobart. His father named the property in about 1824 after Castle Mona (1804, Isle of Man), another imposing castle by the sea. Robert Kermode’s house, which is partly modelled on the original, apparently contains a room for each week of the year, and a window for each day of the year. So it’s also known as “Calendar House”.

Speaking of castles, Julian Castle is a character in Cat’s Cradle. Sugar millionaire, draft dodger, and playboy, at forty he sought to make amends by following Albert Schweitzer’s example and building a free hospital in the jungle of an impoverished state. The House of Hope and Mercy was designed by Mona’s father, Nestor Aamons. cf…

“Mona, then, is a one-man, self-imposed gambling levy, ploughing tens of millions of ill-gotten gains – as some might see it – into high forms of human expression.” The Australian, 2011

The symbol for MONA is a cross sign and a plus sign. David Walsh is a bit clever with numbers so that’s not too much of a surprise. But then there’s this little discussion in Cat’s Cradle about the string game cat’s cradle:

“He held out his hand as though a cat’s cradle were strung between them. ‘No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between sombody’s hands, and little kids look and look at all those X’s…’ ‘And?’ ‘No damn cat, and no damn cradle.’” Chapter 74

Cross and plus

Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells visited General Electric’s office near New York in the early 1930s and was entertained by Nobel-winning chemist Irving Langmuir, who we can thank for artificial snow. Vonnegut later developed Langmuir into Dr. Felix Hoenikker in Cat’s Cradle. Langmuir hoped to inspire Wells with an idea for a type of water that was solid at room temperature. Wells wasn’t that excited, but Vonnegut later found out about it while working at G.E., and from his brother Bernard. Bernard had worked with Langmuir and was accomplished in his own right, developing cloud-seeding in 1946.

Kurt’s fictional scientist develops a version of crystallised water called ice-nine, a lot more dangerous than either Bernard Vonnegut’s or Langmuir’s contributions. Ice Nine is present today in Tasmania, but only as a climbing route in Coles Bay. (By coincidence, the first photo I found of it shows a friend of mine scaling the fractured rockface.)

H.G. Wells’ path-crossing with Vonnegut doesn’t stop there. Towards the end of Cat’s Cradle is the chapter The Tasmanians, where Vonnegut describes the tragedy.

“…They were so contemptible in the eyes of white men, by reason of their ignorance, that they were hunted for sport, by the first settlers, who were convicts from England. And the aborigines found life so unattractive that they gave up reproducing. I suggested to Newt now that it was a similar hopelessness that had unmanned us.” Cat’s Cradle chapter 125

book cover
War of the Worlds, Airmont 1964 edition ( source )

H.G. Wells was inspired to write “War of the Worlds” (and set off an alien invasion fad) after discussing the same events with his brother Frank. He refers to the Black War in the first chapter of The War of the Worlds, suggesting it was comparable to a Martian attack on England.

“And before we judge [the Martians] too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanquished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years.”

Vonnegut’s interest in genocide stemmed from his personal memories of the Dresden bombing, a mass-killing that Vonnegut blamed on ‘bureaucratic momentum’ in the British War Office, and which inspired his most well-known book, Slaughterhourse Five. In Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, the Armenian massacre is ever-haunting. The protagonist in Cat’s Cradle is attempting to write a book about the Hiroshima atomic bombing.

Walsh has asked Katsalidis back to work on a new high-roller hotel and casino on the MONA site, named Hotel Mona, or HOMO . HOMOsexuals don’t crop up in Vonnegut’s writing much, but HOMO sapiens certainly do. They’re a destructive species and shouldn’t be trusted.


David Walsh talks at Capitol Theatre on Thursday, November 6th, but it’s booked out.


Other odd stuff picked up along the way

  • Both Vonnegut and Wells began their careers in chemistry.
  • The subject matters of both “Cat’s Cradle” and “War of the Worlds” were influenced by the respective authors’ brothers. Wells dedicated his book to his brother Frank.
  • Vonnegut may have borrowed ‘foma’ from two short stories by Nikolai Gogol, whom he much respected. In these stories the narrator Foma relates the tall stories of his grandfather.
  • Herman Melville’s whaling book ‘Moby-Dick’ is alluded to in several ways in ‘Cat’s Cradle’. From the name of the main character (Jonah) to the profile of a mountain range. There are no strings back to MONA, but there are strings. For a start, Hobart town was the second largest whaling port in the world in the early 1800s. Whales were regular visitors to the Derwent River, and locals got an $8 spotters fee if they reported one. Melville never made it to Hobart, but in 1842 he sailed 1,371 kilometres from the Marquesas Islands to Tahiti on the Australian whaler Lucy-Ann. While on board he took part in a mutiny, so was thrown in jail in Tahiti. Elements of his time on board may have surfaced in Moby-Dick and Omoo. Super-weirdly, I now realise that some of my ancestors owned the Lucy-Ann until seven months before Melville sought refuge on it.
  • The career of Orson Welles spanned decades. He first gained notoriety for sending the whole of the U.S. into a brief invasion panic with his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” – it was a little too realistic. At the other end of his career, the Nashua end, Welles was reduced to doing uncredited voiceovers in Magnum P.I., and “Slapstick (Of Another Kind)”, an appalling adaptation of a Vonnegut book.
  • Cat’s Cradle is probably a corruption of “Cratch Cradle”, cratch meaning rack or manger. Cratch is still used to describe cattle feed racks in France, and in England it’s used to describe hatchway frames on canal narrowboats (cratch boards). These boards are trapezoidal in shape with a strong central vertical element. Drawing a very long bow, this is not unlike MONA’s ramparts.
  • Albert Schweitzer, apart from building a hospital in Gabon, and inspiring Julian Castle to do the same in Cat’s Cradle, was an organist with plentiful Bach recordings. Schweitzer was a hero to pianist Glenn Gould, who provided Bach interpretations for the soundtrack of the 1972 film Slaughterhouse Five.

MONA from Derwent River
MONA from Derwent River (PJ, 2011)

The last words:

“Humans.. are very good at finding likenesses, at finding meaning, at finding order, where there is none.” David Walsh, ABC Stateline 2012

“What a coincidence! But that is all it is. One mustn’t take such things too seriously.” Vonnegut in Bluebeard, chapter 23

05.11.14 in museums books

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Magritte - time transfixed In May’s Victorian state budget, the Metro Rail Capacity Project was officially abandoned and relaunched as the smaller, Southern-focused Melbourne Rail Link. It’s been under consideration for less than three months, and looks to have been rushed out in time for the November state election. They’ve earmarked $8.6B – $11B, which includes (a bit like steak knives) a distant airport rail link branching off the Sunbury line.

There’s no start date for any of this, but the changes put back “threshold” readiness of Metro Rail by at least four years. Treasurer O’Brien says the shovels are ready, but if they bought shovels, they won’t be able to use them for a while yet. The Metro project was due to start in January 2015 ( Infrastructure Australia submission ), so now nothing will happen for the forseeable if the Liberals return to power in November. According to the new Plan Melbourne, the Link will become “progressively operational” between 2017 and 2021. It’s quite a clever ploy, appearing to be pushing forward with rail but effectively stalling it. I might be less cynical about it had the government raised its fundamental objections to the scheme before spending millions developing it to the point that it is ready to be built.

One factor that held some sway on Spring Street was the federal government’s putting the kibosh on public transport. The Coalition made it clear well before they were elected that they were not interested in funding rail, and 36 hours before the election confirmed the diversion of the initial Metro Rail funding of $150M into a $19B splurge on road projects.

The new route does build some inner rail capacity, but the extent cannot be confirmed – the figures are all preliminary and a $547K business case will not be released publicly. Ernst and Young will have spent three months working on it. Evans and Peck have been working for years on the Metro Rail business cases.

We have been told that the capacity of the City Loop will increase more with Rail Link than it would have with its predecessor. We just have to believe them on that front, as the details aren’t available. Transport blogger Daniel Bowen looked under some stones and decided that the new capacity figures are probably based on the use of high capacity trains – the problem being that only 25 are to be ordered…

Avoiding patrons in significant services and population centres in Melbourne’s inner North, the project favours the site of the government’s “CBD 2” development at Port Melbourne. A Fisherman’s Bend extension was always in the plans, but was low priority – to happen in 15 to 20 years when the Bend has gained a population. The reprioritisation was apparently at the behest of the Premier’s office, and has had little if any planning input – well not planning as we used to know it. Minister for Planning Matthew Guy sees the Rail Link as a boon for his new development:

“The largest urban renewal project in Australia must have a railway station.”

Guy further justifies the Link by saying that it will provide 3,700 jobs. That’s planning these days.

It’s great that a new urban development is promised a railway line when it’s barely out of the ground. That’s forward thinking. It’s like the private railways built to new suburbs in the Nineteenth Century (one of which went right through this area until 1987). The new line increases Fisherman’s Bend’s attractiveness in the eyes of developers and investors, even if at some cost. Too bad about the busy institutions that were to share the Parkville railway station in the Metro Rail scheme. These included the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the new Children’s Hospital, the Women’s Hospital, the new Cancer centre, and the Univeristy of Melbourne. These will be serviced by a “key bus route” to North Melbourne…

Transport map
Moving Victoria graphic, 2014

As with the East-West Link, the government has found a way to steer infrastructure dollars into serving marginal electorates and more safely-held South Eastern seats. This time the realignment favours the South, particularly the marginal Albert Park seat. Spring Street rumour has it that the resident Labour MP is preparing to pack his bags.

Rail Link steers clear of servicing Melbourne’s Inner North and West, where the Liberal Party doesn’t have a chance at the election. But Melbourne also happens to be the fastest growing statistical division in the nation. In addition to being the commercial and retail hub, the population jumped 10.5% in 2012-13, 23% if you focus on the CBD alone. Instead of servicing the increasingly dense inner North with several train stations, Rail Link will service an off ramp at the Westgate Freeway with one station.

It was obvious that Premier Napthine was no fan of the Metro Rail project. He was in 2012 but changed his mind this February. His surprise attitude shift is purportedly to do with disruption to Swanston Street – Napthine wants to save it from turning it into a “Berlin Wall” during construction. The reasoning should also apply to East West Link, which will disrupt Alexandra Parade for years with tunnelling, but this appears to be a more palatable sacrifice for the premier.

It’s debatable whether Swanston Street would have become a “Berlin Wall”. Another independent blogger has researched this furphy, coming to the conclusion that cut-and-cover construction of Metro Rail would have been impossible due to Swanston Street’s gradient and the depth that is needed in order to pass beneath the Yarra River. Geological surveys show the trains at least 30 metres beneath the city, requiring tunnel boring. This blogger also makes the point that where Metro Rail passed through solid ground, Rail Link has a much trickier route through the sandy soils that prevail along its whole length. There’s also the slight problem of Melbourne’s main sewer pipe, which is in the path of the line.

So the reasons we’ve been given for the new route are that it passes through a new speculative development project, that it has a higher capacity, that’s it’s a cheaper “two-for-one” deal, and that it won’t cause disruption to Swanston Street. This is blind to the bigger picture, but soon reports will be written that reinforce the government’s opinion. That’s what commissioned reports are for these days (sorry, I have become a little jaded in recent times).

“the Melbourne Rail Link will act as a major catalyst to ignite commercial development in the [Fisherman’s Bend] area.” Moving Victoria: Why Melbourne Rail Link?

The 2008 Eddington study did look at the bigger picture. It seems from this report that it’s a pretty simple equation. To increase the capacity of the rail network and to provide a better service to the outer growth areas, the City Loop needs to have the pressure taken off it. This is what Metro Rail did, by by-passing it. Eddington didn’t think a railway to Doncaster was viable, preferring “smart” buses. But if the time came for it, Doncaster and South Morang lines could have hooked into the North end of Metro Rail. This would remake the lost Northern cross connection, taking a bundle of commuters out of the city. Metro Rail also took the pressure off the three lines Northern and Western lines converging on North Melbourne Station, by taking the Western line on a separate route. Metro Rail wasn’t perfect, but it looked beyond itself in ways that the Rail Link fails to take into account.

Ashworth Report 1940
Ashworth Report, 1940

The path of Metro Rail pops up (approximately) in a report that predates the Eddington report by at least 70 years. Victorian Railways’ Ashworth Report of 1940 shows a line running due North from the CBD and connecting into the now decommissioned line that we know as Linear Park in Princes Hill. The purpose of the Ashworth Report was to set out a decades-long plan of action to better support out-lying suburbs.

The Ashworth Report did include rail to Doncaster, as an extension to the Kew line. But the Kew line was closed in 1952. The VicRoads Headquarters opened on the site of the demolished Kew Railway Station. Fitting, that.

Dr Mees checks the figures

Was Eddington’s Metro Rail all it was cracked up to be? In 2010 the late Paul Mees investigated in great detail the sudden and unexpected appearance of Metro Rail and the Regional Rail Link ( here’s the PDF ). He found it curious that Labour had put them on the table having omitted them from its major “Melbourne 2030” plan of 2002, 2004’s “Linking Melbourne: Metropolitan Transport Plan” and 2006’s “Meeting Our Transport Challenges: Connecting Victorian Communities”. These plans focused on a third track on the Dandenong line. It wasn’t until 2008 that Metro Rail surfaced in Rod Eddington’s road-focused East-West link needs assessment report. Mees found that the Eddington team contained no people with experience in public transport planning, and had based its optimistic rail patronage forecasts on linear extrapolations of old figures – extrapolations that were way off the mark by 2010 when Mees published his study.

Eddington’s report was quickly followed by the last of the biannual transport plans, the Victorian Transport Plan. This promoted the Regional rail Link and Metro Rail project (in a revised form) and dumped the Dandenong line improvements without explanation (as of May 2014 this project is back in a different form).

Mee’s argument against the assumptions behind Metro Rail stems from an earlier paper of his which suggested that the rail network in 2007 was running well below capacity. He noted that Flinders Street station has never been busier than it was in 1929, and that patronage of the system peaked in the 1950s. The official response to Mees came from the Department of Transport, standing up for their Dandenong rail upgrade plans. They said that express trains compromised the system and meant that fewer trains could run than in the past. In 2010, with the once vital Dandenong line work dead in the water, Mees could find no evidence that stacked up for the Metro Rail project. The Eddington team seemed to be borrowing the dud figures justifying the dumped Dandenong improvements for a new project somewhere else.

Those interested should really read the Mees report, as it contains far more relevant and revelatory information than I can nutshell here. Mees’ explosive report suggests that neither of Eddington’s road or rail proposals have been adequately vetted, and that the Benefit Cost Ratios (BCRs) being quoted today are a great deal higher than those calculated in 2008, even though the costs have increased substantially. The “wider economic benefits” forecasts used to inflate these numbers are borrowed from rather fuzzy UK research that is perhaps best left in the UK.

The state government was not too interested in Metro Rail in 2013, looking the gift horse of $3B federal funding in the mouth. State treasurer Michael O’Brien thought there wouldn’t be enough workers for it due to East-West Link construction. Then the federal government changed, the funding evaporated, and they stopped talking about rail.

A possible reason for the government to suddenly regain a keenness for rail is political. In early March, a poll was published finding that only one in four voters thought that The East-West Link was a high priority project. Metro Rail received twice that support. Labour has guaranteed Metro Rail will happen with them. Throw in a train to the airport, and at first glance the incumbents are ahead of Labour in their commitment to rail.

In May I watched as the PTV website steadily removed its Metro Rail content – it seemed to have been caught out by the announcement as their Metro Rail page was still available a week after the Rail Link announcement – it now redirects to the Department of Transport’s Rail Link page, suggesting to me that the PTV had little, if anything to do with the switch. While it’s still available, check out the PTV’s Metro Rail video here . You might then compare it with the government’s new video for the Rail Link. Both are well-spun. The figures stated appear to be based on a trail of assumptions that gets cloudy rather quickly.

Having poked around for the last month or so and found more questions than answers, I reckon that the MRL is an expedient and fairly useless approximation of the Metro Rail project. Metro Rail was a project which was fast-tracked from pre-feasibility to contract documentation without the proper steps in-between. Why? Maybe it’s easier and looks better to invest billions in infrastructure and jobs than to ask Public Transport Victoria to improve its timetabling. Maybe it looks better to concentrate money on big-ticket projects in the central city than spread it quietly through the expanding suburbs where roads rule and rail fails.

“The real problem with the Melbourne rail system is what the international expert Professor Vukan Vuchic calls ‘self-defence of incompetence’, as the Department of Transport and Connex collaborate to shield each other from suggestions that efficiency can be improved. Rather than fixing this problem, Eddington proposes to reward the incompetence with $8.5 billion in capital funding.” Paul Mees, 2008

Dr Mees, I think we need you back.


top image: Magritte’s time transfixed, 1938

20.06.14 in urban-planning 

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Its hard isn’t it to assess these things when so few details are provided, like whether swanston st would have to be dug up or not. Or of course any political reasons. Four instance, not sure if the MRL was decided on because it advantages liberal voting areas instead of labour ones – surelky they would concentrate on marginals ? If it increases service on frankston line that would make sense, but as you say easier ways to do that, not mention actually building the Southland station. Anyhoo, I rekon they’ve chosen this one because a. its cheaper (probably, and as you say pputs off spending anything anytime soon), b. encourages development at fish bend (though only one end really) but mainly c. there’s an airport rail line connected to the southeast – I think they think that’s a vote winner generally (though it doesn’t seem to have generated much positive noise, and oddly at the same time the EWL and tulla widening would make driving easier). And as you say, nothing will happen for years….

by rohan on 6 August 14 ·#

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is out of the way now, sandwiched between The Presidio military barracks and a residential neighbourhood. It was out on the edge because it it sits on what used to be the swampy 635 acre home of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (“The Innocent Fair”). There’s little left to see of the buildings that made up the expo, but it was well-documented – here’s a good glimpse showing the Palace in construction.

PPIE 1915 documentary (11:52 for The Palace of Fine Arts)

All up the fair cost fifty million U.S. dollars (about $1.15B in today’s dollars). Its centrepiece was the Tower of Jewels, covered in 125,000 shimmering Bohemian glass jewels fixed to mirrors. Highlights were the auto assembly plant presented by Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison’s light shows. And then there was The Palace of Fine Arts. It’s a complex that in a functional sense housed an art exhibit, but to Bernard Maybeck it was a carefully-engineered emotional procession.

The commission for the Palace originally belonged to architect Willis Polk, but Polk put Maybeck forward in his stead. Perhaps this was an example of the gallantry of a time past, or the pragmatic solution of a busy man (Polk was chairing the architectural commission for the entire fair). However the job came to Maybeck, he took great care to address Fine Arts director John Trask’s vision. The brief spoke of the mood required for a building housing fine arts in the midst of a noisy and colourful world’s fair, and Maybeck responded.

“The Fine Arts suggest the romantic after the classic renaissance… These nomenclatures, ‘romantic’, ‘classic’, etc. are usually covered by the word ‘atmosphere’… For instance, when [Trask] said that he did not want the visitors to come directly from a noisy boulevard into galleries of pictures… Mr. Trask not only wanted the mind of the visitor to be in a tranquil mood, but he worried lest the high coloring on the outside of the building would dull the eye of the visitor to the delicate tones and shades of some of the pictures.” Bernard Maybeck

Postcard - Maybeck Palace - Uni Berkeley collection
Source: Berkeley EDA
Palace of Fine Arts
“high colouring”

“Summing up my general impression, I find that the keynote of a Fine Arts Palace should be that of sadness modified by the feeling that beauty is a soothing Influence.. To make a Fine Arts Building that will fit this…impression, we must use those forms in architecture and gardening that will affect the sentiments in such a way as to produce the same modified sadness as the galleries do… you examine a historic form and see whether the effect it produced on your mind matches the feeling you are trying to portray…a sentiment in a minor key.” Bernard Maybeck

His inspiration for focusing on emotion seems to have been drawn from a visit to a gallery in Munich. Having “dragged” himself past a great variety of artworks, he emerged into the sunshine. “All at once our eyes fell on the marble bust of a five-year-old boy cleverly portraying a little mischief, and underneath the bust were the words, “Dear God, make me pious,” – and we smiled.” He noticed the “drawn” expressions of other exiting the gallery and how they relaxed into smiles upon seeing the bust. “We realized right there that an art gallery was a sad and serious matter.”

Same for the surrounding lake. Maybeck wanted something that was a little less dismal than Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead series, and found it nearby at Clear Lake, “where the trees and bushes seem to rise out of the water.” This choice also may have helped his design fit into an exposition that he believed expressed California. Emotionally, the colonnade and lake were hoped to be a kind of decompression chamber for those leaving the “strain of the galleries”, before reentering the “hustle and bustle” of the fair.

Maybeck wasn’t quite as expansive about another building he designed for the Fair, The House of Hoo Hoo. Much lesser known than the Palace, the House of Hoo Hoo looked like a South Seas tiki lounge crossed with a Franciscan Mission temple. It did share some similarities with the design for the Palace of Fine Arts, particularly in its planter-topped pediments – though at the Palace the plants were pulled for budgetary reasons. This must have been a great disappointment to him, as it seems quite intergal to his vision of the colonnade as a ruin, being overtaken by nature.

It’s reasonably safe to say that the Palace of Fine Arts was the most popular building at the Fair, and was of more note that the art (“ancients and moderns”) housed within. But it had definitely not been built to last… built of timber framing coated in staff, it had a life expectancy of two years. Even while the exposition was still in progress, efforts began to preserve this peculiar fusion of Greek, Roman, Baroque, and.. Maybeck, for the long term.

When the exhibition ended in December, most of the buildings were torn down. There wasn’t much holding them together so that wasn’t hard. Bernard Maybeck made an unusual request around this time – that his attempt at a melancholic, Piranesian palace of ruins should be left to become an actual ruin. But by then the Palace was pretty much assured of some sort of preservation – while the Exposition was running a public fund was launched to preserve the buildings and lake. In 1917 Assemblyman Milton Marks introduced a bill aimed at preserving the Palace. It would be the first of many attempts by Marks, Caspar Weinberger, and many others, to save it. But it was to be a while before anyone came to rescue the Palace, so Maybeck’s wish came true and it began to crumble. If that really was Maybeck’s wish…

Contemporary correspondence with Walter Burley-Griffin, who was toiling away on Canberra town, reveals a different, canny Maybeck. He suggested to Burley-Griffin that building in cheap lightweight materials is a cunning way to encourage funding for a more permanent version. Research by Gary Brechin has unearthed Griffin’s resigned response.. “plaster or stucco are hardly considered as temporary expedients [in Australia] for they are largely employed for buildings both commercial and governmental, already deemed to be permanent.”

It is tricky to work out quite what Maybeck thought of his buildings at the fair – his explanations over the decades weren’t exactly consistent. In an interview with Ben Macomber at the time of the Exposition, he hinted that the public were intrigued by the Palace not because of its architectural mastery… more like its old tricks.

“What is it the people like?” he asked, and himself replied, “it is the water and the trees.” When I reminded him of the beauty of the colonnade seen from points in the enclosed passageway, where no water is in view, he answered: “The public was bribed to like that. Leaving off the roof between the colonnade and the gallery was a direct bribe. A few other simple devices give the effect the people like. One of these is the absence of windows in the walls, a device well known to the old Italians. Others are the water, the trees, and the flower covered pergolas on the roof.” The Jewel City

Two decades after, Maybeck and White returned to the Palace, spending $500,000 in city funds on preservation. The US army also worked on it during World War II. In the following two decades, while discussions swirled about the future of the Palace, the buildings themselves were left to rot again. After reading about the building’s fluctuating condition over the decades, its hard to believe that it received much in the way of maintenance.

There were numerous suggestions put forward for the buildings, including a rather unpopular one from the AIA in 1952…

“The Northern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects prepared a report… recommend[ing] that the Rotunda and Colonnade be torn down, and that the exposition hall at the back be repaired for modern use. (The estimated demolition costs were $50,000; the estimated repair costs were $1,000,000.) The lagoon was to be saved, and modern sculpture placed about it. This report which reflected the crass business-esthetics of most practicing architects was later repudiated by certain members of the committee.” National Park Service 1964

In 1951 Maybeck was awarded the AIA Gold Medal. He was entering his Nineties but still contributed to the discussion about the Palace. By then he was saying that if rebuilding was to occur, it should be in Golden Gate Park, the original location intended for the Exposition before it was relegated to swampland. Maybeck died in 1957 at the age of 95. The following year the Palace was still looking good from a distance in its brief Vertigo cameo, but up close it was a different story.

1958: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, still via Lady Eve

Walter Evans, Met
1960: Walter Evans

Photographer Walter Evans visited the site in 1960. The cheap staff stucco cladding was breaking off exposing the framing, and the artifice. Evans’ photos were part of a giant set he took of “doomed architecture”, commissioned by Time-Life (the entire collection can be viewed at The Met’s online archive ). It was possibly this exposure, and not-too-distant memories of the Exposition, that helped build the momentum for preservation. The nine page feature also alerted New Yorkers to the imminent loss of Penn Station, but it was too late to save that.

Demolition of Palace of Fine Arts

Funding uncertainty continued right into 1964, the year the Palace was demolished and rebuilding began. The architect in charge was to be William Merchant, who as a student in Maybeck’s office designed many of the plaster details for the Palace. But he died, not long after all his ornamental moulds for the Palace had been unthinkingly destroyed. The project passed on to Hans Gerson.

A cursory look at before and after photos reveals a number of differences between the original and the facsimilie, especially the loss of the unadorned half-round walls at the water’s edge in front of the rotunda. It looks paler too, cream where it should be “high colour”. Critical opinion, personified in Ada Louise Huxtable, was not on the side of the recreation. She wrote of the loss of, “the integrity of a work of art as expressive of its time, the folly of second-hand substitutes for first-rate inventions, the aesthetics and ethics of duplication measured against creative art.” Criticism is expressive of its time too. I wonder how she would have reacted if she’d heard of Maybeck’s letter to Burley-Griffin half a century before, in which he suggests that an original can be a cheap prototype, luring funding for its reconstruction in proper materials.

By the 21st Century the Palace was again ailing, again in need, and again rescued. A major nip and tuck was completed three years ago, costing about $21M. Judging from Google Images, this could easily have been funded by a levy on wedding photographers using it as a backdrop.

So we’re left to celebrate the centenary of a building that is an approximate replica of a ‘ruin’ that became a real ruin 50 years ago. There’s a tangle for you. The lightweight materials were replaced with reinforced concrete, joints visible. It’s sturdy, but still not the stone it was never meant to be.

palace - bing aerial
Bing Maps aerial view 2014


19.06.14 in buildings heritage

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The silver fern has come to represent almost everything to do with New Zealand. There are a lot of ferns there so that makes sense. Weirdly enough, my great grandfather suggested it, well over a hundred years ago. Tamati Rangiwahia Erihana (Thomas Ellison, Ngai Tahu and Te Ati Awa) was a footballer of some repute, being the first coach of the New Zealand Rugby Team. At the first meeting of the NZRU in 1893 he suggested— a shift from the dark blue uniform with a gold fern to a, “black jersey with silver fernleaf, black cap with silver monogram, and white knickerbockers.” They kept them well-clad back then. The silver colour comes from the underside of the common ponga, or Cyathea Dealbata, a fern used by Māori for bedding. Ellison and team had worn this uniform on the Native Rugby Team overseas tour in 1888. His motion was accepted and so the uniform changed and has been pretty constant since, apart from a change to black shorts in 1901.

All blacks postcard
1905 postcard suggesting a uniform change.

Ellison published a book in 1902, “The Art of Rugby Football”. I’ve known of this book for so long that I never stopped to consider its title, until I read a post about it by Jock Phillips suggesting that, “at its best rugby is truly an art form, where people running unusual lines and passing at speed make the game almost a form of ballet. I know this is derided as ‘razzle-dazzle’ by the purists; but that is the rugby which I love.”

From small beginnings, the use of the silver fern in company branding in New Zealand has recently exploded. In 1991 it got to the point that the NZRFU attempted to stop it with a trademark, but failed. The fern is out of the bag and belongs to everyone. It’s been overexposed like any national icon. It’s gotten to the point that the silver fern is a serious contender for a new national flag, one that differentiates it more from the Australian flag, which is the same flag with an extra star.

With the extraordinary powers of modern web search, it’s easy to find out more than the official histories have been able to dredge up. Once again, history has been simplified into something a little too neat and tidy.

In 1925, a controversy— erupted in the New Zealand media about the origins of the silver fern. Other sporting codes were wanting to use the silver fern. People were still alive who had been on the 1888 rugby tour so it wasn’t too hard for the Evening Post to find an opinion or two. Apparently— the silver fern was picked up almost by accident on a trip to the Wairarapa in the late 1880s.

“Mr. Hyland claims that it was on the occasion of a Wellington-Wairarapa Rugby match in 1886 or 1887 that the fern leaf was first adopted as a badge. The Wellington team was journeying to Wairarapa when a stop was made at Hayward’s Farm. “Miss Hayward gave one of our boys a ‘fern leaf,” said Mr. Hyland, “and asked him to wear it for luck. Before taking the field for the match the player pinned the fern leaf over the W.R.U. badge, and luck was with us! Tom Ellison and Davie Gage passed the remark that the fern leaf would make a better badge than the one we were wearing. In 1888 when the Native team was chosen to go to Australia and. England, the question of a suitable, monogram and badge cropped up. Tom Ellison, Davie Gage, and George Williams recommended the silver fern leaf, and this was adopted. The black uniform with silver fern leaf on the jersey was worn by the 1888 Native team, and the silver fern leaf was also worn as a hat badge. The Wellington Rugby representatives wore the black uniform years before, with a shield monogram and gold lettering.”

Ellison’s own team, the Poneke Football Club, one of three senior teams in Wellington, wore black and red in the 1880s, and were known as the “Reds”. Back to the 1925 article:

“Mr. Collis states that he recently had a conversation with George Wynyard (better known as “Sherry”), a member of the 1888 Native team, and an older brother of W. T. (“Tabby”) Wynyard, of Wellington. It was ascertained from George Wynyard that he was present at Wellington when Joe Warbrick, captain of the Native team, chose the all black jersey and silver fern leaf as the uniform of the team. George Wynyard also said that each member of the team, when in mufti, wore a black button relieved by two silver fern leaves, in the lapel of his coat. The all black jersey was selected as being most suitable in colour to withstand the wet and sloppy playing fields which were likely to be experienced in England.”

These remarks were verified by another member of the squad. But when the Native team arrived in England in late 1888, the Evening Post’s correspondent wasn’t very taken with— the new uniform.

About a minute after three o’clock the Welshmen entered the field, looking as fresh as paint in their white pants and scarlet jerseys, and a few minutes afterwards the New Zealanders appeared, and were accorded a very hearty reception. The Maoris were altogether heavier than their opponents, though their black uniform did not show up so well against the green sward as the more attractive dress of the Welshmen.”

40 years later the press still found it— a little sombre, but functional at least.

“The All Blacks get their name from the uniform they wear, for it is in truth all Black. The only touch of colour in the sombre uniform of New Zealand’s team is lent by the Silver Fern, which is worn on the breast of each member of the team. This uniform, when placed alongside the gayer habiliments of other teams, certainly looks dull, but it is extermely neat, and stands much more wear and tear than do other football uniforms.”

Silver Fern cap
1888/89 tour cap NZHistory

While their dark uniform was raising eyebrows in 1888, Ellison was picking up— on many game tactics that would later inform his book.

“[Ellison’s] trip with the Native team to England had enabled him to pick up an immense number of ideas and wrinkles, and, although there have been many most able football generals in this and other places in the colony, I doubt very much whether any of them ever understood the game in all its branches, both forward and back, as thoroughly as did Ellison. Moreover, as a forward, and especially as a try-getting one, he probably has never had a superior in the colony. For Warbrick’s team he secured more tries than any other member, with the exception of Keogh, who, playing at half-back, certainly had better opportunities to score. Ellison was quick to pick up an opposing team’s system, or lack of one, as the case may be and, by a counter movement or two, would rudely upset all their tactics.”

So maybe Ellison didn’t ‘invent’ the sliver fern, as some have said, but he did assist it into immortality. As Dr Ron Palenski, a Dunedin historian, says, “Without Ellison, you wouldn’t be talking about it.”

I think the rugby-playing genes were completely used up on Ellison. I am quite incapable of playing it. That honour goes to Ellison’s great great grandnephews, Tamati and Jacob Ellison – both recent or current All Blacks and doing a fine job of it.

After a brief but remarkable career in rugby, law, and politics, Thomas Ellison died— in 1904 at the age of 37.

“Private news received— here (says the Carterton Leader) states that Mr T. R. Ellison, well known in football circles, is dying in the Porirua Asylum. The sadness of such an end to a young man – he is about 36 years of age – is accentuated by the fact that Mrs Ellison is at present in an extremely delicate state of health. It is stated that over-study was the cause of the breakdown in Mr Ellison’s health.”

Ellison’s body was intercepted at the Porirua train station and taken for burial at his iwi’s marae at Otakou— , Otago. Within a month of his death, the Public Trustee was advertising the sale of his newly-built house in Day’s Bay. Construction finished after he was hospitalised.

A year later the British press christened— the visiting NZ team the “All Blacks”. Skipping forward a century to 2005, Ellison’s suggestion for a haka, Chief Te Rauparaha’s “Ka Mate” was replaced with “Ponga Ra”, meaning “Silver Fern”.

All Blacks profile
NZ Encyclopaedia
ODT 2011 ‘Man behind the black jersey buried on peninsula’

21.05.14 in random-debris 


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Great piece PJ. So much I had no idea about. X

by Jess on 24 August 14 ·#

heritage: Raaen99's Victoria

“raaen99” is the moniker for a keen architectural photographer who has done us a great service by making available about 300 albums of Victorian architecture from the Victorian to Art Deco periods. There is a particular focus on Melbourne and Ballarat. Many of the photographs are accompanied by lengthy descriptions.

listing | external link

17.05.14 in heritage

I’ve spent a little time taking part in the aerial web search for the missing plane, MH370. Here are a few useful links I’ve found, and tips if you’re considering having a go. It’s good to have Photoshop or Gimp on hand… as well as an internet connection.

tomnod screenshot
TOMNOD screenshot

  • TOMNOD MH370 grid search: link
  • Boeing 777-200 safety card, with emergency slide positions: link
  • Boeing 777 liferaft information: link and then scroll
  • Boeing 777 product page: link
  • Boeing 777 drawings with dimensions: link
  • Malaysian Air livery: search at google images.

Step 1: Scan the aerial photos -TOMNOD will drop you somewhere in the Indian Ocean and you can navigate from there. You can create a login to keep track, but it’s optional. Bear in mind that the scale is small, the ruler at the bottom should give you an idea of the approximate size of a 777 (63.7m long with a 60.9m wing span). Remember the aircraft may have broken up so also keep an eye open for yellow octagonal liferafts and grey slide-rafts. Also note that these images were taken a few days later. When you think you’ve seen something…

Step 2: Screenshot the area of interest (on a mac hold command+shift+control+4) and paste it into a new photoshop document. Zoom in. Adjust the levels to darken it a bit. If you think it’s a contender, enlarge the image two or three times.

Step 3: Paste in the plane plan from the boeing link above and scale to the correct size using the ruler. If it still looks like a possibility, use the TOMNAD controls to register the location.

Here’s my example. It’s from the upper left of map 114154. I thought I found some liferafts nearby too, but it’s always going to be a long shot.

plane search method

19.03.14 in random-debris 

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Nearly 3 months later and we are still cutting and pasting and we have not found it….
Who needs unmanned submarines.

by Mike Nowson on 12 July 14 ·#

The site was shifted today to a new server and there are a few problems. Sorry about that, attempting to fix them all now. The new server is running slightly different software causing some scripts to choke.

Update: the frontend problems are hopefully just limited to the forum now. As for the backend..

27.02.14 in random-debris 

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