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A sentiment in a minor key see more

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


Flinders Street maybes see more

For almost a hundred years, Melburnians have been looking at ways to better connect the city with the Yarra River, which had been rudely taken away from them by the Public Transport corporation. One story is well known, the drawn out Gas and Fuel to Federation Square saga. On the other side of the bridge, it’s been no less drawn out.

Who would have thought that less than two decades after the 1910 completion of Flinders Street station, there would have been calls to start again. That was in 1925, and the reason was congestion. The next attempt was in 1949, when James Alexander Smith proposed to rebuild it and roof over the railway yards. Again, that proposal didn’t take hold. In 1958 theatre architect Neville Hollinshed had a go. He was responsible for the Comedy, the Metro, Horsham Town Hall, and many other buildings. He wanted to see a new station, civic square, and public buildings there.

Neville Hollinshed's design for Melbourne rail yards.
N.Hollinshed, 1958

Woolbroker William Lempiere followed in 1961, and then a couple of years later came a plan that almost made it into being. As The Age described it in 1975 , 60 year old Keith Herbert Jones…

went to see the then Minister for Transport, Sir Arthur Warner, but was told by Sir Arthur to wait outside his office for a minute because he was expecting some idiot who wanted to talk about roofing in the Flinders Street yards.

“I said I was the idiot, but I wanted to roof in the whole station,” said Mr. Jones.

Jones created the scheme over many beers at the RACV club with an [unknown] architect friend. They, “sketched their ideas with their fingers in spilt beer on the bar.” How Australian is that?

Keith Jones' Flinders Street scheme
1963 scheme ( NAA )

The scheme roofed over the yards between Flinders and Queen Streets, demolished the existing station, and provided a new concourse along Swanston Street. a 60 storey skyscraper would grace the new development, surrounded by a shopping plaza podium. Other buildings and hotels would be scattered through the development, and a, “scenic drive on the bank of the Yarra [would extend] form Batman Avenue to Queen Street.”

A few years later in 1969, with the scheme now in the hands of Lend Lease, Local Government Minister Hamer gave the go ahead. After millions had been spent on planning, Transport Minister Meagher told The Age in 1975 that this one wouldn’t fail, as it had funding and parliamentary authority.

But the atmosphere was changing. The ALP, architects, the Anglican Church, the National Trust and retailers were raising concerns. The 1970s brought with it a new awareness about ‘heritage’, and the old buildings were no longer just seen as hindrances to progress.

After a long break, and some underwhelming renovations to the Swanston Street concourse in the 1980s and 90s, congestion was once again enough of a worry to look at a major rebuild. This time round it would have to be self-funded by private development over the tracks.

There is little controversy about the need to develop, as it is getting horribly busy down there, and the Flinders Street facade and dome will be retained. Skirmishes instead erupted over the cloaked way the competition was proceeding. In response to a breakaway initiative by Melbourne architects to hold an exhibition of Stage One entries, Major Projects Victoria issued a veiled threat to shortlisted winners, hinting that exhibiting may result in disqualification. That didn’t go down terribly well in the media, even being reported in ArchDaily.

Possibly addressing this lack of transparency, the latest press release from Major Projects Victoria, dated 23rd April, makes a great deal of the upcoming People’s Choice Awards. People may not have much time to make a choice though if MPV hold to their original programme, exhibiting the developed shortlisted entries on the internet for a short time this July.

“This level of public engagement is the first of its kind. To have a People’s Choice vote in an architectural competition is only fitting giving the importance of Flinders Street Station… We want everyone to have their say on the future of the station precinct.” David Hodgett

They don’t forget to mention that, thanks to Australian Institute of Architects competition guidelines, the jury can’t take any notice of the People’s Choice Award, though they may look at the comments later, “to inform future plans”.

To be continued

Search for previous related articles.

28.05.13 in competitions heritage


To. Be continued?

by Matt wardell on 30 August 13 ·#

A lack of zeal see more

Driving past Waiheke Island’s new library construction site last month, I raised a bushy eyebrow on seeing the hoarding announcing Mainzeal Group as main contractor. I hadn’t seen their name anywhere for a very long while. I had thought they had been laid waste to on Black Monday, 1987. But I am an infrequent visitor to Auckland, my old home town.

The other eyebrow was raised today, seeing Mainzeal Group has gone into receivership, finally. It was apparently the country’s 3rd largest builder, with many new builds in Auckland and repairs in Christchurch on the books. The company’s collapse came as quite a surprise to everyone except the board. So there will be an awful lot of collateral damage.. not only have subbies probably lost any money due to them, all their tools are locked into sites around the new Zealand.

Mainzeal logo

Mainzeal emerged into my consciousness during the boom times in Auckland in the mid 1980s. It was a good time for architects, but an appalling time for anyone interested in the city beautiful. There was not much left of the pedestrian-friendly Victorian Auckland by the time I departed in 1995, it had all been laid waste to for cheaply built towers and at-grade Wilson’s car parks. I saw a few too many of my favourite buildings disappear, and this became on of the 16 reasons I left Auckland for Melbourne.

Mainzeal brought about a particular hatred in my teenaged self. I, and many others, thought Mainzeal were scum for illegally knocking down His Majesty’s theatre and arcade in Auckland in 1987. That arcade was something any city would kill for. I think they paid something like a $500 fine.

Robin Morrison’s beautiful photo of the lost arcade is linked to here as I can’t reproduce it. When questioned by police as to why builders were all over the site in the middle of the night, Mainzeal said they were removing some seats from the theatre. By morning the whole lot was razed, and for years after there was only an at-grade car park and pie cart to replace it.

A year later, the equally covert overnight demolition of Brown’s Mill was carried out without even bothering to turn off the power and water, or removing artworks stored in the building. I was so annoyed that I cut the article from the paper, and very weirdly happened to have it sitting on my table today, 25 years later…

Brown's Mill demolition

10.02.13 in builders heritage


Yay! I thought I was the only one be celebrating MainZeal’s demise due to their appalling behaviour in the 80s. They deserve only part of the blame though; they were acting under instruction of the building’s owners and no doubt another company would have taken the contract if Mainzeal had demonstrated integrity and/or a spine. In part it still rankles because decades later the site on Elliot St is still just an ugly hole in the ground instead of a gracious row of 100 yr old merchant buildings. That does not mean I don’t feel for the sub-contractors. I do. It tells me the core values at Mainzeal didn’t change much over the last 25 odd years.

by mark yelspal on 20 February 13 ·#

page listing related:   in  New Zealand   Auckland  

Parliament Square bill passed see more

Parliament Square Hobart
Parliament Square – original proposal (FJMT + Citta)

Six days ago, the Tasmanian government introduced a bill to remove Hobart’s Parliament Square project from the planning process, where it has been battled over since 2009 (at least). Late tonight, the fast-tracked bill was passed 10-4, according to Save 10 Murray spokesperson Briony Kidd.

The new bill removes all planning impediments and rights to appeal, and pulls all buildings on the site out of the heritage register. The bill was introduced soon after the Supreme Court, for the second time, overturned an approval handed down by the Planning Appeal Tribunal. Justice Blow said at the time that the tribunal had failed to consider “the prudence or imprudence of alternatives to [the] demolition” of 2-4 Salamanca Place. This was in response to the Planning Tribunal’s conclusion that retaining the heritage-listed Government Printer’s Office wasn’t “prudent and feasible”.

Corner view from Murray Street
The threatened 10 Murray Street State Office Building (1967)

The new bill removes all rights of the Heritage Council to reinstate buildings to the Heritage Register under the Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995, unless the Planning Minister is in agreement – which is rather unlikely.

The bill received support from Labor, The Liberals, Citta, The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce, and was opposed by the Planning Institute and The Greens… and of course Save 10 Murray.

The bill states that any action or proceeding against it, or Judicial Review of it, is not permitted, by anyone. This short and hastily-written bill reads as if it has been written in a state of anger.

The renouncement of rights to object by any means to parliament’s approval of a scheme already rejected by the courts is not exactly unusual in Australia – the Victorian Planning Minister routinely does the same. This doesn’t stop it from being utterly depressing. The minimally-resourced Save 10 Murray group has been playing by the rules for three years, with a valid cause, and has now basically been told that any further noise from them and they’ll get smacked with a fine made just for them – up to $6,500, followed by up to $1,300 per day that they remain mischievous. I think it’s a sad day for Hobart, and any group there who thinks they might have the democratic right to question a development and be taken seriously.

[edited 23/11 – the Supreme Court action concerned 2-4 Salamanca Place, not 10 Murray Street, which does not have a heritage listing (it was nominated for one by the AIA but never assessed).]

Supreme Court decision
Planning Institute point of view
Previous butterpaper articles
Save 10 Murray at Facebook

UPDATE 2/12/12
10 Murray Street architect Dirk Bolt’s opinion piece in The Mercury

20.11.12 in heritage planning


the image of the proposed Parliament Square project currently used extensively in the media is in fact the first proposal that was rejected in the first tribunal hearing ironically because it had an adverse impact on the heritage values of Parliament House in particular and Sullivans Cove in general. Setback, height and massing changes were imposed to preserve views of Parliament House without the imposition of the new offices overbearing the symbol of Democracy….further irony as that was the principal criticism of the Ten Murray Street building…despite this circumstance being similar to many cities in Australia including Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

by Paul Johnston on 21 November 12 ·#

Thanks Paul, will alter the caption. I found the image on the front page of the Parliament Square website yesterday – maybe they didn’t want to believe it was rejected?

by peter on 22 November 12 ·#

they continue to use that image and we have yet to see the revised project from the same vantage point !

by Paul Johnston on 27 November 12 ·#

Not ornate enough? see more open website in same window

Can anyone spot the glaring error? Apart from labelling all Post-WWII buildings “plain”.

herald sun extract
[Image reproduced for purpose of discussion. Limited public access to article is here You may have better luck via this google link ]

A: The photograph is of a high-rise extension to the ES&A building in Elizabeth Street (Chancellor and Patrick). It was constructed, controversially, about 10 years ago. Is this a suitable image for an article discussing the merits of mid-century buildings? In a way it is, as an example of what can happen when an important building is mangled despite heritage listings ( National Trust State Significance in this case ).

A little investigation on Google reveals that earlier today this Herald Sun article went under the banner “Protected Eyesores”. Not uncommon in the press, this lack of sympathy for modern architecture. They then select a few words from an interview with Melbourne Heritage Action spokesperson Rupert Mann. “They’re not much for the eye to look at, they’re not ornate (but they’re significant).”

Mr Mann was the counter point of view in the article to Victorian Planning Minster Matthew Guy. Mann thought Guy should rely on his heritage specialists, rather than say things like this: “There’s obviously one or two examples that we could keep, but I don’t think we should want to see a CBD awash with structures built in the 1950s.” My Guy is about to review and make the final decision on the City of Melbourne’s “98 CBD buildings” list. Heaven (or whatever is up there) help us. Though looking at the council list ( Graeme Butler & Associates PDF ), there are so few mid-century buildings there that Guy needn’t worry about the city being awash with these plain things in a few decades. I’ve mapped them, and can’t even find the nine the Herald Sun says are there:

View 98 Buildings in a larger map
(Note I did this quickly using a few scripts, so probably some errors 30cm from screen. Click an icon then MORE > Street View to see a pic)

Here are just a (very) few of the CBD 20C buildings that don’t make any grade that I can find. This gallery may grow as I find the time… ie it probably won’t grow.

Bourke Street Cinema Centre
Russell Street Greater Union
SAI House (formerly Shell House)

03.09.12 in heritage 


Total sellout see more

total house

Word on the street (and the AFR) is that Total House has been sold to Riichard Gu and the AXF Group, for $40M. Word is also that it was marketed as a city development site. Quelle horreur.

Here’s the sliced version of the article at AFR.

The building houses an office block (resembling a TV or microwave) which sits astride a carpark. Designed in the early 1960s by Bernard Joyce (1929 – 1994) of Bogle Banfield and Associates, it is home, or has been home to many prominent architects over the decades. Recent tenants include John Wardle, Peter Elliot, BKK, and Shane Murray.

Total House missed out on inclusion in the City of Melbourne’s study last year into 98 unprotected buildings deemed worthy of inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register.

AXF Group has recently been in the news for restarting its rejected proposal for an apartment tower in Box Hill, 33 storeys this time. You can see that golden wonder at The Urbanist.

If demolished, it will join Australia’s first multi-storey carpark, which was just up the street, in carpark heaven.

National Trust Listing
Walking Melbourne listing
Domain, September 10th, 2011
Earlier commentary on MHA Facebook
Tip: RS

15.08.12 in buildings heritage


Windsor Hotel - the ongoing saga see more

windsor hotel 2011 via MHA
2011 rendering, Windsor Hotel with lowered corner building, DCM

Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel redevelopment is back in the news. The owner, Halim Group, was seeking a 12 to 18 month extension to their planning permit, as they were not ready to start construction before the November deadline, set two years ago. Adi Halim received a letter from Matthew Guy, Minister for Planning, on the 18th. It refused an extension.

The November ’10 permit [ PDF ] was issued after an appeal by the owners to maintain the original height of the corner building (on Bourke and Spring Streets). The appeal was unsuccessful, though they were awarded an extra 20 odd centimetres. The stated reason for the appeal was that the entire development was not economically viable unless they could retain the upper two storeys shown in the design originally submitted for approval. Halim didn’t get what they needed but haven’t abandoned the project.

Since then little has been heard, publicly. Press releases on the development’s website ceased in May 2010. Media coverage of the project swung over to a lashing of the former Ministry for Planning. In 2011 The Age reported that the proposal was suffering financing woes. That’s about it…. until now.

Adi Halim, for Halim Group has just written an exclamatory opinion piece in The Age – with the subtitle, “Matthew Guy’s ‘‘bombshell’‘ is clearly aimed at stopping the project.”

“[The Minister for Planning’s] decision left us with three choices: abandon the project, appeal to VCAT and hope for a decision before our permit expires in November, or rush the construction plans to activate the permit.”

Halim group has signalled that the latter option is most likely, otherwise they are back to square one. The resulting redundancies and booking cancellations have the government crying ‘blackmail’. Anyway, DCM could be in for a busy couple of months.

29.07.12 in heritage 

Architect / protaganist: Denton Corker Marshall [DCM]


My God, that is appallingly ugly. I forgot how ghastly it was, not having seen anything about this for a couple of years.

by James on 30 July 12 ·#

JJ Clark, wunderkind see more

Old Treasury Building Melbourne, Gil Meydan
[ Old Treasury Building, Melbourne. Gil Meydan ]

A young John James Clark arrived in Melbourne in the early 1850s with his family, emigrating from Liverpool. At the age of 14, he visited the Colonial Architect’s Office with a map of Liverpool he drew for school. He was hired and there began a six decade career in architecture.

Andrew Dodd recently released a book on Clark, based on his PhD. Its launch coincides with an exhibition being held at Clark’s master work, the Old Treasury Building, designed when he was just 19.

Having looked through the newspapers of the time, Dodd was unable to find anything to suggest that anyone thought it odd that such a young man would gain such a commission. He suspected this has something to do with the exodus of skilled professionals from the city to the gold rush up the road. But there was also a different attitude towards youth…

“We were talking about a period when young people were given many more opportunities than they are today.”

To hear an interview with Dodd on By Design, go here

For exhibition details, click here

To purchase Dodd’s book at Readings, click here

For a gob-smackingly impressive list of Clark’s work, click this.

20.05.12 in exhibition heritage


page listing related:   in  Australia  

Phyllis Murphy on wallpaper see more open website in same window

Phyllis Murphy discussing wallpaper

Phyllis Murphy, a Melbourne architect who practiced with her husband John from the 1949 till the early ’80s, talks us in this Culture Victoria video through the world of Victorian wallpaper, a passion of hers.

Culture Victoria 2010

John and Phyllis Murphy’s major project was complete just seven years after their graduation from the University of Melbourne: The Olympic Pool (1956), with Kevin Borland, Peter McIntyre and Bill Erwin. Wikipedia entry

The pool, now unfortunately called the Westpac Centre, is one of the ten buildings featured in the new iPhone/iPad app, The Sound of Buildings, which provides a nice sequence of construction photos.

A house designed by the Murphys is for sale in Strathalan, Camperdown.

23.07.11 in architects heritage


page listing related:   in  Australia   Victoria  

Windsor shrinks see more open website in same window

Halim group has submitted an ever so slightly lower version of their Windsor Hotel development to Heritage Victoria for approval. Two floors have disappeared, cutting the number of rooms from 332 to 300.

The Age

windsor hotel DCM

16.06.11 in heritage 


This is a Masterpiece. RMIT is the greatest Architecture School in Australia.

by leehon on 18 June 11 ·#

This will be a great project

by Carol on 24 June 11 ·#

In what way is this a ‘masterpiece’? How is this a ‘great project’? Such comments provide little in the way of reasoning to guide the reader as to why they should agree or disagree with them. I would argue that this is a very very poor project indeed and a lazy piece of architecture to boot. The response to site here is entirely inappropriate for one of Melbourne’s most important heritage buildings. Arguably, this is in fact one of the nation’s most important heritage sites, being one of a few intact large scale 19th century buildings remaining from the ‘Coffee Palace’ / temperance movement era. It deserves to be left alone to read as a three dimensional form in the cityscape without a massive high-rise intervention tacked on to the rear and the heritage interiors gutted without a thought for future possibilities or restoring and adapting the heritage built fabric. Also, the rear high rise addition will destroy the historic brick lane way frontage – erasing yet another of Melbourne’s gritty ‘back-of-house’ lane way spaces that could otherwise become an active hub of activity like other nearby heritage lane ways.

by Paul Beekman on 4 May 14 ·#

New Orleans slays the 20th Century see more

“If something isn’t from the 19th Century, it has no necessity for preservation.”

“It’s asking a lot for people to preserve something that may be younger than they are.”

“It’s almost if, “let’s remove one thing at a time and maybe nobody will notice”“.

Some quotes from a short film examining the fast approaching demolition by the City of New Orleans of the Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School in New Orleans (1955, Charles R. Colbert). This elevated truss school was one of 30 built in the ’50s, of which only four remain, with three of those tagged for demolition. It was boarded up after the Katrina Hurricane in 2005, though it suffered only superficial damage. New Orleans likes its heritage 19th Century style.

A Plea For Modernism from Evan Mather on Vimeo.

Online Petition to the Mayor of New Orleans
Facebook Page

A lengthy aside
It seems that any building worth saving these days requires a well-produced video, an online petition with a deadline and a target, and a facebook page. Then there needs to be a dedicated team prepared to push on all fronts until the campaign gathers its own steam – “goes viral”. A write up buried in the local paper is not going to do it.

Heritage preservation groups tend to try to shame the owner out of demolishing a building. Having been involved in a couple of campaigns, I think this “thou shalt not” attitude can backfire easily. If they don’t think a building has merit, they are hardly going to change their minds about it after being told that they have no idea by what they perceive to be a fringe group of nutters. Even if that group contains the likes of the World Monument Fund. This tactic will only work if that “fringe” group grows so large that it is no longer fringe, but becomes mainstream and vaguely threatening.

If the campaign doesn’t “go viral” then you could try to reason with the owners (if they will listen to you) within their own frame of reference – cost, plot ratios and marketing possibilities. That is pretty hopeful though unless you arrive very early in the piece. Another way forward is to tackle the building owners on technicalities in the planning and law courts – a time-consuming and expensive method.

Last ditch
With a bunch of others, I tried to save the Fitzroy Gardens gents toilets in 2006. They were built in 1956 for the Olympics and were demolished in 2006 to clean the park up for the Commonwealth Games. We only found out about the imminent demolition thanks to a leak from the council. Reasoning with them didn’t work. They didn’t want to reuse the toilets as something else. They were hellbent on removing structures built after 1940 from the park, removing beats from the park, and had a contract with Exeloo for a number of replacement Victoriana loos. They had Heritage Victoria on their side. With less than two days to alert people, and did so through this website, email, The Architects radio show, and The Herald Sun (The Age showed no interest). The only effect we had was to make the council commence demolition pre-dawn, prior to our advertised protest. Speaking with people as the building was being scraped away in front of us, it was agreed that the only way we could have prolonged this structure’s life would have been to be much less polite – to sit on the roof and physically prevent the front end loader from tearing it apart.

Forum thread
AA In praise of minor modernism (by me)

Getting that message out
If you are trying to save a building somewhere, videos like the one above are better than photos for bloggers like myself, as you are encouraged to embed them into your site, they will resize themselves to fit, and they contain many images. Photos by contrast lead you on a painful process of obtaining copyright (a lengthy procedure and one I have never succeeded at), downloading, resizing, uploading, inserting. Very few photographers allow embedding from their Flickr sets, even if the photos are for a cause. Videos also have the advantage that if done well, people quickly gain a sense of the arguments and the people involved, which personalises the campaign to the point that they share it with their friends.

28.05.11 in heritage 


New Orleans is losing 19th and early 20th century stuff too, believe or not. Despite national (but non-statutory) grading, whole blocks of modest period houses are being demolished for campus-style hospital expansion in Midcity. The NT for Histc Preservation in the US and others have fought hard for both the Deco skyscraper Charity Hospital and the houses, which are only being saved by moving them. They use vids and email campaigns and have a National base which seems to work every now and then. See their ‘top 11’ endangered places. Problem here is who has the skills and time to make videos and get them up and going, and are there enough interested parties to make it ‘viral’. Lonsdale house facebook got 2500 members, demos, plenty of press, but … both developers and govt had made up their minds ! I did have a recent modernist win lately though through official means – the shopfronts at 100 Collins, fortunately already ‘protected’, this just had to be pointed out to them it seems, plus Council was sympathetic. See Melbourne Heritage Action facebook page.

by rohan on 28 May 11 ·#

Welcome back the NO… keep your heritage strong

by Carol on 4 June 11 ·#

10 Murray crunch time see more open website in same window

Here’s a link to ABC 730 Tasmania’s video coverage last Friday of the 10 Murray St debate in Hobart – all coming to a head in the supreme court today and tomorrow.

19.05.11 in buildings heritage

Architect / protaganist: State Offices (Hobart)


page listing related:   in  Australia   Tasmania   Hobart  

10 Murray goes supreme? see more open website in same window

10 Murray Street

Having had their appeal to the planning court rejected, the Save 10 Murray team are gearing up to take it to the Supreme Court. This requires them to have $30,000 available in the event that they lose. Please consider pledging something here, but please do it as soon as you can. If there aren’t enough funds by the 14th of March, they can’t proceed.

The Supreme Court battle will be fought on legal technicalities, which are described on the Save 10 Murray website. The team has legal advice that they have a case.

I met the 10 Murray team last week in Hobart and was as impressed by their enthusiasm as I was depressed at their description of the tangled politics behind the development. I then popped up to take some photos of the building. Wandering right around it I found a crooked and knotted network of laneways and carparks and backs of buildings that made me question why they want to blow it all away for a plaza open to Southerly gales.

The Federation Square aspirations of the Parliament square scheme don’t make much sense on site. There will be no crowds here other than government bureaucrats trying to light their fags in the wind. The plaza will be ringed by government offices rather than cultural institutions. It will be a cul-de-sac.

The whole parliamentary precinct behind the parliament building is to be sold to Citta for $7.5M, then Citta will construct them a 6 star building which the government will lease back. The government will kindly pay them $8M to bulldoze 10 Murray. Does that sound a bit like the government is paying $500,000 to a private developer to take their land off them?

[pic by me. 2011]

08.03.11 in heritage 


page listing related:   in  Australia   Tasmania   Hobart  

10 Murray appeal rejected see more

The appeal by the Save 10 Murray group against Hobart’s Parliament Square redevelopment has been rejected by the Resources Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal.

The group appealed the Sullivan Cove Waterfront Authority and Tasmanian Heritage Council’s approval of the redevelopment because, “a culturally and architecturally significant building, the iconic 10 Murray Street, was to be demolished”.

This looks like the end of the road for the protest, as the next rather costly step is to take the fight to the Supreme Court.

Save 10 Murray spokesperson Briony Kidd spoke to the ABC : “We’ve obviously put quite a lot of time and resources into the appeal up until now, which we were all happy to do because we do feel very passionately about this, but there are limits to what we can do.”

Previous post on 10 Murray

16.02.11 in heritage 


We’re asking supporters to help fund a Supreme Court challenge. http://save10murray.wordpress.com/supreme-court-action/

Contact us if you can offer support or suggestions or if you want to know more about the campaign: save10murray@gmail.com

by Briony Kidd on 8 March 11 ·#

page listing related:   in  Australia   Tasmania   Hobart  

Parliament Square - a year of it see more

Hobart Parliament Square

On the day before the night before Christmas, the latest episode in a year of courtroom tussling over a key site in Hobart.

At the Supreme Court of Tasmania’s last session of the year, Justice Wood upheld an appeal against the Appeals Tribunal’s determination that the Salamanca Place printing building was improperly listed on the heritage register used by the Heritage Council to approve its upcoming demolition. Phew. Easy to get that wrong, as the ABC appeared to – they illustrated their article with a picture of the State Offices at 10 Murray Street.

It has all gotten rather confusing this year as the Parliament Square proposal bounced around the Hobart courts. The confusion not helped by Newspeak press releases by the Tasmanian Treasurer Michael Aird:

“This revised planning application will run in parallel to the current appeal process for the original planning permit.” ( PDF )

That was an announcement in August for a new planning application by Citta Group, a month after a revised design was knocked back by the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal. The Tribunal appeared ticked off that, having had their original planning application approved by The Sullivans Cove Waterfront Authority, Citta Group came back with a larger design “in response to conditions of the permit”. The revisions would require substantial messing about with the Murray Street frontage and the public square in order to fit in another level of car parking, though this hadn’t been shown on the drawings. The Tribunal found that the revised design was just too far from the design that had been taken to the public in 2009:

“The proposal is fundamentally different. It is different in shape, size, impact, appearance and its relationship with its surrounds.”

Aird didn’t respond well to the Tribunal’s determination, saying that the revised proposal was in fact smaller than the original, and the, “the project will go ahead”. He told the Mercury he supported the application, and was considering special laws to fast -track the project. He has referred the Tribunal’s verdict to the Solicitor-General.

Developers Citta Group didn’t take the news too well either, lashing out at the government:

It seems to us extraordinary that we were encouraged by the Sullivans Cove Waterfront Authority to amend the design with their support but then had the amended project thrown out by the RMPAT with limited opportunity to present the proposal.

The Sullivan Cove Waterfront Authority is a government-appointed planning body that includes the State Government architect Peter Poulet on its Design Panel.

Aird’s frustration could to be due to his department’s twin responsibilities for offloading the eight government buildings as part of the Government Property Disposal Program, and running the development process. These don’t gel terribly well with the Tasmanian Justice Department’s diverse responsibilities for planning, design, and the courts.

In the Treasury’s Parliament Square FAQs , they ask themselves whether the parliament square redevelopment will be “part of the waterfront master planning”. ALthough the site falls within the boundary of the Sullivans Cove Master Plan, Treasury informs us that the, “recently appointed State Architect has been fully briefed on the PS redevelopment and will be mindful of it in his consideration of waterfront master planning.” They then refer back to their community consultation sessions in 2009 as if that was the end of the matter for them.

It was never going to be easy. One end of government sells off a block of government buildings to a developer for peanuts so that they will then rebuild some of them and lease them back to the government. Add other government departments less PPP-attuned. Add a bunch of 556 pesky architects and artists with their eyes on an old concrete building. And lastly, add one of the original architects, Dirk Bolt, questioning the sustainability of demolishing one tall building so that a 5 star one can be built:

There is a perception that 10 Murray Street is old-fashioned and that demolition is modern. This is mistaken. Demolition expresses the throw-away mentality that is as typical of the late 20th century as the building is of the 1960s but, like the building, the throw-away idea is no longer modern. In 2009, to be modern means to treasure both natural and built environments and to safeguard these as assets.

BUTTERPAPER 19.10.09 – 10 Murray St vs the square
BUTTERPAPER 28.09.09 – Another Brut to bite dust

04.01.11 in urban-design heritage


Spell in AKL see more

I have just returned from a few days in New Zealand. The house extension I have been working on there for four years got its code of compliance certificate as I left – a major relief as any NZ architect will know. I may pop a photo below when I figure out how to get one onto this Macintosh…

It was an odd and awful time to be there. On the first day the mine near Greymouth exploded and an old hotel was demolished early in the morning by Auckland’s council. The first devestating event has been well covered, the second understandably not so much.

Auckland has a bit of a reputation for getting rid of old buildings worth holding onto, and replacing them with… well usually junk. The annexes of the Aurora / Palace Hotel in the central city had started falling down of their own accord on Thursday afternoon and council took it upon themselves to help the whole 124 year old building on its way the same night, in the interests of public safety.

To my eye, the cracks shown in the photos are only between the annex and the main building, but I am no engineer. Apparently something happened in the basement that caused the whole building to teeter. The timing is a bit strange though. The building was on the verge of being redeveloped into an “upmarket brothel” for the Rugby World Cup being held in 2011. Those plans are now dust and the developer is planning to sue the council. He was not consulted about the demolition.

NZ Herald 24.11.10 – Demolition report withheld
stuff.co.nz 24.11.10 – history

24.11.10 in heritage 


page listing related:   in  New Zealand   Auckland   Auckland  

Slug rubs Shed 10 see more open website in same window

In a compromise decision if there ever was one, powers that be in Auckland have decided to keep one of the two 98 year old industrial sheds on Queens Wharf, and to build a temporary $9M tent next to it. This was thought to be for Rugby World Cup hoons to party in and so was named “Party Central”. NZ Prime Minister John Keys has jumped into the fray of clamouring pollies to say that he doesn’t think people will actually be getting drunk there.

“It’s a place where there’s going to be quite a bit of celebration… [drinking]‘s one aspect of it but that’s not its role in totality.”

On the small matter of that abandoned design competition, Herald columnist John Roughan toes the line that it was reasonable to waste people’s time with a dud competition: “McCully and Lee were right to invite design ideas as soon as they had agreed on the wharf’s joint purchase last year. It was just possible an inspired idea was lurking in someone’s mind or bottom drawer.” Hmm… they would have been lucky, having briefed a booze barn next to a pensioners’ cruise terminal, on a rickety wharf half half-covered with “heritage”, and then saying it needed to be built in 18 months for a pittance. Oh right, I have one of those in my bottom drawer.

Still everyone I’ve heard has sounded mildly happy with the outcome. Maybe not Jasmax, who will now have to start all over again – the slug does not look like it wants to share the wharf with a big rectangular shed.

Thanks to the NZ Herald for the great coverage of the debate from the outset.

Jasmax temporary queens wharf structure

29.07.10 in heritage 


Shed ache see more open website in same window


The architects-vs-the rest battle to keep the Queen’s Wharf sheds is getting hotter on the pages of the New Zealand Herald.

Background: A half-baked rushed competition was held late last year for the quick construction of a cruise ship terminal and “Party Central” for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Competitors were informed by the brief that the 98 year old sheds had a significant industrial heritage status, being the last of their sort on the waterfront. Many entrants incorporated one or both of them into their designs. The competition was scuttled soon after a winner was chosen, the mayor saying at the time that at least they hadn’t had to spend much on architects.

queens wharf 2009

The local council and regional council, who ran the competition, now support a scheme to demolish both sheds and erect a temporary Party central tent structure.

Architects have come out against this, the general sway being that the sheds are worthy of protection and shouldn’t be demolished without at least a long term plan for the wharf and its surrounds. Architect David Mitchell is leading a group of 21 prominent architects protesting. He says:

“There are noble structures beneath the battered tin sheathing of these sheds, and we now strongly urge Aucklanders to resist the current proposal to bowl them over and replace them with a new building.”

AUT history professor Paul Moon has replied in the Herald that given the track record of architects in Auckland, especially in the ’80s, they shouldn’t be entitled to be the “self-appointed arbiters of public taste” in this debate. For him, the sheds have no aesthetic appeal.

“The fact is that the sheds on the Wharf were designed purely for functional reasons, in an age where aesthetic appeal in industrial buildings was considered even less important than it is now.”

Memories of the Eighties cloud the argument. Architects were complicit in the development frenzy that saw many loved 19th Century watering holes, laneways, thheatres and arcades demolished. When Black Monday stopped developmers in their tracks, Aucklanders adjusted to the pockmarked city of barren at-grade car parks and corporate towers left in their wake. Some, like Moon, haven’t forgiven architects for their part in this – though many of the firms involved were Australian. Some architects, myself included, wonder what it is about Auckland that drives this continuing urge to demolish without considered and coordinated plans for the future.

queens wharf inside


04.07.10 in heritage 


To demolish these heritage listed structures is a pretty poor excuse to make way for a temporary tent. Do they have any other plans for this site after the world cup?

by Eli on 7 July 10 ·#

I don’t think so. That would involve long term thinking. Update on site now – they are keeping one shed – easy compromise – lucky there were two of them.

by peter on 30 July 10 ·#

Auckland's waterside standoff see more open website in same window

Jasmax temporary queens wharf structure

It’s been a mess from the start. Last year hundreds of designers provided proposals for Queen Street Wharf based on a half-baked design brief provided at the last minute. The brief underlined the importance of keeping at least one of the two 98 year old sheds.

A winner was chosen and then then the process was cancelled. The cruise ship terminal was removed from the scheme. All that was required was a tent that will act as “Party Central” for the Rugby World Cup 2011. Now, a few months later, the Auckland Regional Council is proposing to demolish both sheds and put up a temporary structure , designed by Jasmax. The Auckland City Council came up with an alternative proposal in April that reused both industrial sheds. But it doesn’t seem to have the power here. So Auckland will lose its last two wharf sheds and gain a $9M temporary shed. This is a decision that doesn’t take into account the long term future of the waterfront, made because the ARC didn’t want to be “severely embarrassed”.

Queen's Wharf

The Auckland Architecture Association has joined the Historic Places Trust in condemning the plans, calling for the process to be halted. AAA spokesperson Adam Mercer said , “to wastefully demolish the last of Auckland’s working waterfront heritage before the Super City is formed and a comprehensive masterplan for the waterfront can be developed is premature, foolish and wasteful”. That Super City he is talking about is the plan to amalgamate Auckland Councils into one, and abolish the ARC. This is becoming a political battle between two bodies that soon won’t exist.

Whichever way it goes, the architectural fratenity has been badly bruised by the process. Untold hours have been wasted by architects from around the world on an incompetently handled competition. To rub salt into the wounds, late last year Auckland Mayor John Banks said, “I have not yet jumped to a conclusion that the whole show has been a waste of time, because at the very least, at not very great cost, we have got people thinking of this.” Not at great cost to the city perhaps – but costing the many participating architectural firms a good lot.

Last week Tim Greer, of Sydney practice Tokin Zulaikha Greer, published his opinion in the NZ Herald.

In the end, no project eventuated, no thanks were given, only a bit of crowing from politicians about how little the whole fiasco had cost them.

Auckland does not need a Rugby World Cup “Party Central” on the wharf, if the consequence of it is a wharf full of nothing. This is a short term solution for a pivotal site made by a government body that won’t exist after November 1st.

07.06.10 in heritage 


This makes me so sad for Auckland, eh. They never get it right …

by kmcf on 9 June 10 ·#

Northcote bowl's days are numbered see more open website in same window

sketch of northcote bowl

Victorian Planning Minster Justin Madden issued a press release yesterday saying that the Planning Department supported Heritage Victoria’s May 2009 determination that Northcote Bowl is not worthy of a heritage overlay. The City of Darebin had been trying to protect the distinctive 1960s building (by architects Fisher and Jackson) from demolition and redevelopment as 96 apartments.

Previous post
Forum page

22.05.10 in heritage 


Such is progress and such is Justin Madden and the Victorian ALP’s depraved liaison with the property developers.

I used to work here, before Northcote was first taken over by ferals, and the subsequent march of the gentrifiers, when bowling was a real sport for some people, not some ironic hipster pastime. A side issue is that the bowling alley closed due to basically a lack of demand as the yuppies and gentrified moved in, but there are a number of restaurants etc who are using the alleys in their fitouts..riiight. Still, I had some great times there from about 1985-2000..RIP AMF Bowl.

by Ed C on 21 June 10 ·#

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