Our modern heritage is set in concrete
24 December 2005 [Source
The stern frontage of the R.A.W. Woodgate Centre at MLC, Kew.
Photo: Craig Abraham
Victoria's examples of a famed architectural style are to be preserved, reports Julie Szego.
YOU know the buildings even if you don't know they're historical gems. There's the Harold Holt Swim Centre in Glen Iris, the Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees Union in Carlton, and the Total Carpark in Russell Street, which looks like a stack of floating concrete decks crowned by a television set. They are buildings sculpted from textured, off-form concrete, with slabs of blank wall and sharp angles. They are confronting, muscular, focused and, well, brutal.
These buildings are some of Melbourne's best examples of "Brutalist" architecture. And moves are under way to preserve and better appreciate such terrible beauties that date from a more optimistic era, despite their stern character.
Experts concede this is likely to be an uphill battle. "Ugly as hell," is one way RMIT associate professor of architecture Doug Evans describes Brutalism. "All that concrete is not very friendly. You could lose a lot of skin on one of those buildings."
But the Harold Holt pool is likely to be placed on the Victorian heritage register as early as February, giving it the highest level of statutory protection. Once this happens, the Stonnington Council will require a permit to carry out what it says are badly needed renovations. Two other Brutalist buildings, Menzies College at La Trobe University's Bundoora campus and the Methodist Ladies College library at Kew, have been nominated for National Trust classification. Preserving the Brutalist aesthetic was one aspect of the campaign that saved at least part of the AFL's Waverley Park in 2000.
Brutalism originated in the mid-1950s in Britain, building on the work of modern architecture pioneer Le Corbusier. The philosophy stresses the unity of form, structure and function. It celebrates the process of construction, often using off-form concrete that reveals timber markings. The Total Carpark, built in 1965, heralded the arrival of the Brutalist style in Victoria.
The fight over the Harold Holt pool dates back to 2001 when the National Trust became concerned over council plans to renovate the centre, which includes indoor and outdoor pools. "They were probably reluctant to recognise this as important modern architecture — that's just reading between the lines," says National Trust senior historian Celestina Sagazio.
The trust then nominated the building, designed by architects Kevin Borland and Daryl Jackson, to Victoria's Heritage Council for listing. In its report, Heritage Victoria describes the pool as being among the "most notable, expressive, earliest and intact examples of the concrete Brutalist movement". The building was praised for its concrete blocks, windows, circular pedestrian ramps, skylights, service ducts and mezzanine observation deck. Brutalism's "ethical concern" for being socially responsive is expressed "through an honesty in the materials used and the centrality of the user in the design of the building".